An Age Old Question About Teaching Reason

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My latest essay on Dust in the Light takes up various ways in which we’re seeing the effects of a slipping principle in our society.  Namely, we’re coming to accept that people can go back in time and change the meaning of words not explicitly as a new idea being introduced now, but under the assumption that they always held that meaning and everybody’s behavior should have reflected that meaning all along:

Unfortunately, rationalizing that route to social change has consequences, because one can’t simply say, “as far as I want and no farther.” Once we accepted that an intellectual time machine could go back in history and change words and, thereby, rules, we opened the way for ideologues to mass produce such vehicles.

Sex distinction was written out of “marriage” (with number distinctions now following). The concept of a unified humanity, understanding of differences, is now being written out of “social justice.” And openness is being written out of “solidarity.”

If these things are done as, and understood to be part of, the evolution of humanity (whether in a better or worse direction), then we recognize them as results of change. A debate has been conducted and a conclusion reached. We move forward with a new understanding of the terms. But if definition and context are simply rewritten, then one is always at fault for believing differently than others might believe in the future because the definition and context behind one’s actions is simply erased.

One need only peruse C.S. Lewis’s novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, to see that this question is not new, but are we failing to teach basics of logic and reason in our schools?  The urge to throw off restraints for changes we desire is understandable, as is the tendency to universalize that which we see as obvious in our own times, places, and heads.

But it doesn’t take much consideration to see how dangerous this practice can be, and as the mob expands its circle of erasure (which mobs always do) more people will learn this the hard way, while the number of people remaining to come to their defense shrinks.