The end of the year tends to be an introspective time, as a quick glance at the rest of this section will tell you. It is a time for asking the questions that are not asked the rest of the year, questions like “Why do I write a column entitled ‘The Voice of Reason’”?
It is a rather arrogant title. I did not first think of it, but I have never once tried to change it. Therefore feel free to assign whatever blame you feel I deserve.
I kept the title mainly because I think it is a snappy way to summarize what I try to accomplish in this column.
I don’t claim to always be right. It would be ridiculous to assume that Ultimate Truth stood unveiled before a college opinion columnist alone. Opinion columnists should be contented to think of themselves as a baseball player: batting .300 over a career is enough for the Hall of Fame.
Anyone looking through back issues of this column will find no shortage of truly wrong things. Predictions that failed to be borne out, sloppy generalizations, absurd logical conclusions … it’s all there. A column I wrote about the decision to intervene in Libya last year, filled with pessimistic warnings about a second Iraq, stands as an especially good example of this, but it is hardly the only one.
Being wrong often does not bother me that much. Everyone is wrong most of the time. The real test is who is willing to admit it to themselves and others. Socrates ended up concluding little more than that he knew nothing, and he is remember as the wisest man of all time.
I keep the title “Voice of Reason,” not because I think Reason speaks through me as if I was some sort of Delphic Oracle, but because I think that reason is a goal worth striving for.
Immanuel Kant wrote long ago that he lived in an age of enlightenment but not an enlightened age. It summarizes our own time equally well.
The ability of individuals to educate themselves in an era of the Internet, free public libraries and a guaranteed basic education has never been better. Yet ignorance, that old enemy of humanity, continues to find newer and more insidious ways of thriving.
The political Right gives us a variety of illogic born of religious fundamentalism (creationism, homophobia) and of willful denial of evidence that contradicts their worldview (climate change, whether or not rape causes pregnancy).
The Left behaves largely in the same way. Science is granted a bit more respect on this side of the spectrum, but just as with their right-wing compatriots, if its conclusions are ideologically unacceptable, it is generally ignored (“the link” between autism and vaccinations, anyone?). In addition, the Left has given us postmodernism and all the damage in the Enlightenment project that comes with it.
Then there are the non-political enemies of reason: laziness, groupthink, rumor, fear, conformity and so many others. Reason, valued by many, still finds itself under continuous attack, as it always has and always will be.
We liberal arts students should be willing to act in its defense. This column, then, if it has a goal, is to play a small part in that defense. There are few tasks so important.