Thursday, March 03, 2005

An Homage to Chesterton

Anybody who participates in an Internet discussion soon discovers that the range of audible opinions is extremely narrow. It’s not that original notions don’t appear. They do, but for the most part they rapidly disappear because they are not acknowledged. The Law of Least Hassles takes care of that. To put things in a Piagetian way, adults find it far easier to assimilate input to their existing kit of mental structures than to accommodate significant novelties by actually learning something new. But one shouldn’t assume that the apparent deafness of the public is absolute. From time to time, minds do get changed after all. Effect lags behind cause, however, because processing new ideas requires neurological changes and even more because most of us are too vain to lose an argument on the spot—it would be like taking a dump in public.

Like the catatonic and the comatose, normal individuals register more than they let on. Which is why, for example, radicals who become reactionaries and reactionaries who become radicals don’t have to learn any new rhetorical moves; and, more generally, why the Zeitgeist is able to lurch so rapidly from one set of unwarranted assumptions to another—it’s very easy to overlook the long period of preparation. The pattern is especially obvious in the case of intellectuals who support traditional versions of religion. Granted the prideful perversity natural in a strong mind, defending an indefensibly silly set of ideas is a great pleasure; but even great pleasures eventually stale. At that point it suffices to simply give up the game. One hardly has to be convinced of anything since the mere truth of the secular position had been registered long before.

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