Ask any random stranger if they are reasonable, and almost all will either tell you they are reasonable or at the very least will jokingly tell you they aren’t via some cliché line about how their therapist says they are.
Unfortunately, I do not think any of us are as reasonable as we think we are.
I often thought of “reasonable” as meaning fair or moderate. This is one definition of the word, but the core of a reasonable person is the ability to exercise reason. All of this seems intuitive at first, but in practice, it is not. The ability to reason requires a person to understand sound logic. It is at this point of understanding logic that I have an intellectual bone to pick with our culture and with our education system.
(Before I pick this bone, I want to say that I am writing about education at large. This is not a direct attack on the Potosi School District in any way. In fact, what I have to say applies just as much to a place like Mizzou as it does to an elementary school. )
Did you know there are fundamental rules of logic? Of course you did, but I bet you couldn’t state them. I couldn’t. Neither in grade school nor college had I ever been taught the basic fundamentals of logic. Yet I found myself answering “critical thinking” questions throughout grade school.
Critical thinking begins with good logic. And teaching students to think critically without first establishing the rules of logic is like trying to teach algebra to someone who doesn’t know how to multiply or divide.
Have a look at the four fundamental laws of logic:
1. The law of non-contradiction: A thing or idea or statement etc., cannot both be true and not true in the same way at the same time. For example, black cannot be white and simultaneously black at the same time.
2. The law of the excluded middle: A statement is either true or false.
3. The law of identity: A thing is what it is. As in, it has a specific nature. For example, I am 5’9” tall, and that does not change even if I say (or wish) I am taller.
4. The law of rational inference: There should be sufficient reason for a thing to happen. For example: If A=B, and B=C, then A=C.
As I said before, many think that logic is implied in critical thinking, but after working as a teaching assistant at Mizzou, I can tell you that contradictions run wild in the essays of many college students.
What is even worse is that these laws do not just apply to abstract thought, they apply to our day-to-day lives as well. Finances, morality, philosophy, law, lifestyles etc. all are thrown into chaos when a person chooses a particular course of action and hopes for a better result than what these laws would dictate.
See, the reason one uses the laws of logic is to come to a conclusion about what is true or not true. However, our culture, especially academia and the social sciences is questioning the idea that truth exists in a shift of thought that some call “postmodernism.”
To clarify, let me compare this to modernism. Modernism is the system of thought that is exemplified in the scientific method. The idea is that there are some things we do not know, but if we develop a hypothesis and test it, we can come to a conclusion about what is true. Modernism assumes that there are some things that are absolutely true and in the marketplace of ideas, we can debate, experiment, and test assumptions to argue for what is true.
Postmodernism rests on a foundation that says there is no such thing as absolute truth because all truth is relative to the preconceived notions we were all raised with depending on our upbringing.
For example, you might think that cannibalism is absolutely bad. However, to someone who was raised in a cannibalistic tribe, it is good — nourishing in fact. And, it is not their fault they were raised that way. So, who are you to say they are wrong for what they believe?
A less striking picture of postmodern thought could be that where one person sees a forest, someone else might see “just” a group of trees, and a bird might see a home, and a lumberjack might see a business opportunity. For the postmodern, the nature of all things is dependent on the interpretation of the viewer.
On the surface, some of these basic tenants of postmodern thought seem to make sense, but with just a little more digging, the foundations of postmodernism fall apart. Postmodern thought can also lead to incoherency and extreme views about people who do believe that there are some absolute truths to argue for.
It is under this postmodern view that the word “tolerance” is being redefined.
In the good old days, tolerance meant that you could completely disagree with the ideas another person had, but you would respect the right of that person to hold whatever view they wished. However, you could still maintain that there is, in fact, right and wrong, and make arguments for what is true or morally acceptable.
Under the postmodern view, it is not OK to even believe that some things are right or wrong. Being “tolerant” to post moderns means accepting all views as equally valid. Agreeing to disagree, or even respecting another’s view is not enough. If you say someone else is wrong, postmodern celebrities such as Oprah would say you are intolerant.
I would argue that acceptance is not even enough in the pop-culture today. The shift is that now you must endorse and even advocate whatever beliefs, lifestyle or decisions anyone else holds — unless, of course, that person chooses to believe that there is such a thing as truth. In that case, the truth-believing person is to be labeled as an intolerant bigot.
I find myself agreeing with the man who said that this postmodern view is a kind of “philosophical stupidity the likes of which has never been unleashed on mankind.” Under a little scrutiny, the system falls apart.
For example, let’s examine this statement: “There is no absolute truth.”
I wonder, is that statement true? Absolutely?
The same sort of question could be asked of the statement, “All truth is relative.” That statement is true relative to what? Is it absolutely true because if it is, then we are looking at a pronouncement that is not relative and disproves its own self. If that statement is relative to something that is not absolute, then we don’t have to regard it.
Problems arise for the postmodern view on tolerance as well. Postmodern tolerance means one must agree with and accept all things or be labeled as intolerant. Not only is this contradictory, it is incoherent.
You cannot tolerate someone with whom you already agree. The very word tolerance means that you believe someone else is wrong in some way.
To look at a belief or action and say, “I think that is wrong,” is not intolerant as long as you are not advocating violence or ostracizing the person with whom you disagree.
But to ridicule and label people as narrow-minded bigots because they hold to a certain view of truth is intolerant.
And this happens all the time in pop-culture and mainstream media with the vitriol usually directed towards people of monotheistic faiths and social conservatives — all in the name of tolerance.
It is hypocrisy.
However, it is easy for me to imagine someone who holds to a postmodern view of the world to ask, “Klint, who ever said everything had to be coherent?” To them, I would simply reply, “Would you like me to give you a coherent answer?”