The Rise Of The Unreasonable Man
The somewhat sexist title of this chapter comes from the following quote by George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends
on the unreasonable man.
George Bernard Shaw , Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists"
Thousands of white papers, green papers, Ph.D. theses, consultations, resolutions and erudite tomes have not made much impact on global injustice. The answers to poverty, development, justice and many other problems have been found, they are known and well-researched and written up by the numerous experts and agencies in these fields. But this vast knowledge is having little effect because powerful interests prevent its implementation.
Thus Reason is now perceived as having utterly failed humanity in its promise to deliver a golden age of justice and peace. This is giving rise to the alternative to reason – unreason, violence and the charismatic “Unreasonable Men” who are hatred incarnate.
Reason has left Africa with HIV and the Arab world with under-development and injustice. The “golden straitjacket” of globalization and IMF monetary policy has proved “simply ruinous”. Faith in the “reasonable man” is at an all time low. In response to this the hope for justice and prosperity and meaning has been transferred to a group of “unreasonable men” (and women).
Right across the globe people who are enemies of reason have become amazingly popular - from Eminem to Madonna to Bin Laden and Moqtada Sadr. Gangster rap, kabala mysticism, terrorism and insurgency now have millions even billions of followers. These enemies of reason are now often seen as greater hopes for the poor than lawful and reasonable discussion by elected representatives and scholars.
Truth is being trashed and documentaries such as Fahrenheit 911, which are little short of being pure propaganda, are now popular, and are not discredited in the media but instead, receive awards. The beheading of a hostage is now videotaped and broadcast on the Internet – and gets millions of hits. Visceral bloodthirsty propagandizing is starting to fill the airwaves in both East and West.
The event that made me realize that reason was dead was an inter-faith prayer day, organized by Pope John Paul II shortly after September 11. At this inter-faith gathering, held at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the great advocate of non-violence, the heads of all the major faiths signed an agreement that there would be no more religious wars, and no more violence based on religious grounds.
But what happened after this day of fine sentiments and prayers and signings and agreements? Did the Jews and the Muslims stop hating and killing each other? Did Osama Bin Laden go on tape and say “Well, the top Muslim imams have said there should be no more killing so I will stop my jihad.” Not a bit of it! Nothing happened, that’s what!
If the same agreement had been made a couple of hundred years ago, there would have been a huge flow-on, wars would have ceased immediately, it would have been discussed for years and the signed document would be framed like the Magna Carta.
But now the signing of such a declaration is just one more media event among thousands – a mere show, with no teeth and no force and no impact. The combined resolutions of the world’s religious leaders are not worth the paper they are written on and have no restraining effect on those that follow them.
And it is not just clerics that are being ignored. Any voice of reason that is not backed with money and power goes unheard – whether it be a wise academic, a pope, an imam or even the General Assembly of the United Nations. Thus the discourse of reason and authority has been replaced by the discourse of power and persuasion by any means.
The Abandonment of Principle
The rise of the unreasonable man has meant a large-scale abandonment of principle. An illustration of this is that torture is now on the rise because it is “effective” even though it is clearly wrong. Power and persuasion by any means is now the driving logic of world affairs.
The large-scale abandonment of reason and principle by almost all parties is not just a minor philosophical shift – it is a moral and spiritual disaster that can only lead to ongoing conflict on a global scale.
Few poor white Americans believe they will receive justice from either of the current Presidential candidates (George W. Bush and John Kerry) – both of whom are strongly identified with the privileged. So they seek their solace in the lyrics of Eminem and the movies of Michael Moore. They go to the unreasonable, the untruthful and the violent to lead them and to shepherd them.
When reason fails people go elsewhere – to drugs, to mysticism, to promiscuity, to alcohol and increasingly to violence and to death. Just before Labor Day each year the Burning Man Festival is held in Black Rock Arizona. In this an annual experiment in temporary community (which its website says is “dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance”). During the festival a huge wooden effigy of a man is burned, along with a vast plywood temple containing prayers. Past themes have included Fertility, Time, Hell, Outer Space, The Body, The Floating World, Beyond Belief and The Vault of Heaven. The Burning Man Festival was attended by over 40,000 people in 2004 and is a post-rational pagan festival in the heart of America.
A large chunk of the world is deeply angry at life. Firstly there is a fundamental sense of rage that is part of living in a fallen world that we know is “all wrong”. Secondly there is directed rage at particular causes and injustices to the person, nation or culture. These fires of rage burn deep and volcano-like they brood within the heart of nations. The “unreasonable men” are tapping into this discontent and using it for their own purposes. Culture is all about the restraint of this rage or its redirection to peaceful means and the upholding of social norms. If we allow people such as Eminem to teach that rage is good, and that violent rage is better - then we are unloosing a truly monstrous force.
Rage and passion and revenge feel sweet and are highly infectious. For the powerless, all the power they have is the strong sense of their own hate within them. This boiling hate is lawless and does not want to be restrained by facts or principles. Hate does not care that it is illogical. Hate knows that it destroys and it enjoys that knowledge. Hate is so lawless that it is not even bounded by basic human compassion. Thus the Chechen hostage takers in Beslan could be cruel to small children, abusing them, starving them and shooting them as they fled.
Among the enraged there is a deep belief that it is futile to follow the procedures of the system. As small instance of this I used to protest against indecent advertising by writing to the Advertising Control Board – until I found that it was run by the advertising industry and that less than one in a thousand complaints received any action. The system was heavily rigged against the complainants with no representation allowed, no appeal allowed and no ability to appear at ACB meetings. I soon found dozens of other examples of rigged regulatory bodies that were supposed to be “helping the public”. When you and I try to confront big industry or governments we are quite simply shut down. It took the “Janet Jackson” Superbowl incident to ignite an explosion of rage at how far things have been allowed to go and the “slap on the wrist” tactics of media regulators. Environmental regulations have suffered a similar fate, being routinely bypassed whenever a significant oil or gas field appears – especially in the Western states of the USA. Thus the citizens right to protect the culture and the environment is being ignored in favor of big business.
Being reasonable simply doesn’t work any more. Ten or fifteen years ago an environmental or moral campaigner could sometimes win a just cause on a shoe-string budget. Now big money, celebrity lawyers and massive media coverage just gets you through the front door. People are waking up to the fact that they have lost the right to use the systems of democratic government to achieve justice.
This has even come to the ballot box. In the electoral map has been carefully drawn USA 95% of electorates are “secure” for one party or another so the incumbent politician is guaranteed a long term in office. Thus Carson, where I currently live is solidly democratic, and no Republican has a chance here. Our local congresswoman hardly bothers to campaign. By careful map-drawing voters have been largely disenfranchised from having any meaningful say in the election outcome.
To sum up – our votes no longer count, our petitions to regulatory boards don’t count, our environmental protests go nowhere, our white papers are ignored, and our Ph.D. theses are politely received and seldom acted on. Reason doesn’t work any more.
The rich and powerful have stitched up the processes of government to suit themselves and as a result they have created a simmering discontent that has given birth to the unreasonable man.
The Abandonment of Reason
The abandonment of Reason has also meant the scorning of traditional theology, logic and so-called “linear thinking”. Some rethinking has been both necessary and good, but much has been wooly and muddle-headed. Beyond this, at an ever-growing fringe it has become violent, dangerous and deceptive. Reason’s impartiality is utterly necessary for the pursuit of justice. Cultures that abandon impartial reason for connection and relationship soon come to have huge problems with corruption as principles are held loosely but relationships are held tightly.
The human needs for hope, justice, and prosperity are so strong and so compelling that people will seek these things by any means – even unreasonable, irrational, superstitious, and foolish means – and increasingly by violent means. If reasonable means seem futile, then the quest will not be abandoned, instead unreasonable means will be utilized instead.
When Osama Bin Laden and the mujahaddeen wrested back Afghanistan from Soviet control it was the first significant Muslim victory since the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The unreasonable man offered hope and with his eloquence and austerity and commanding leadership he soon gathered an immense following as the only Arab leader who could deliver victory. This ability to deliver victory was further reinforced by the success of the September 11 attacks, the Madrid bombings, and the often-effective resistance in Iraq. A century of reason did not deliver self-respect for Muslims but terrorism has done it in a little over a decade.
India, with its British heritage has stepped back from the brink of unreason by voting the Hindu nationalists out of office, yet there are still great forces of rage and intolerance there. Buddhist-Muslim tensions are set to explode in Thailand and in South America and Africa strange new independent neo-pagan religious movements are stoking the fires of revolution. The “unreasonable men” are on the rise and there is some evidence that they are learning from each other.
There is no quick solution to this death of Reason, we will be living with the consequences for at least fifty years and maybe longer. In its extreme form the unrestrained, focused and nurtured rage gives rise to a “cult of death” and that is what we will discuss in the next chapter.