A lesson I often try to impress upon my students is that they are humans – homo sapiens. They are given a capacity for wisdom, for thought beyond the now, for reason, for nostalgia, for dignity, honor and courage. But they often do not believe me. I know this because occasionally they tell me. One student recently spouted that we’re simply advanced animals, and we’re only different because we can reason. I told him I had no argument with that.
But more often, these teens tell me what they believe simply by their actions, what and whom they venerate, and what they say to each other on matters much less philosophical.
It’s true, humans have the capacity to reason. Every one of us does so every day in various degrees of complexity. It seems, however, that the value and purpose of reason are what have depreciated. What I mean is this: When I see my students exercising their reason, it is – more often than not – in order to trump another whom they have run up against. They demonstrate just how ridiculous said other is. When their reasoning is questioned, however, often by the other retorting with reason of his own, they do not begin spirited debate. Instead, it devolves quickly into a “f___ you” or the equivalent of “yo mama.”
Reason has lost its honor, and its purpose now is to bring those around us down. It is no longer honed as a rational skill; rather, it is used as a bludgeon. Because it is not honed – and I wonder how many are out there who even know how to help another hone it – our culture is slowly but surely disintegrating. We use reason when it fits our needs, not when it leads us to truth.
Take the current bill in California’s senate: SB1172 (you can read excerpts colored by a detractor’s perspective here). This bill is apparently designed to affirm the validity of the homosexual orientation in young children, so as, presumably, to help that child accept who they really are when they grow older. It proposes to ban most forms of re-orientation therapy for children before the age of twelve, and asserts that to do so would be tantamount to child abuse. Anecdotal evidence is referenced that such therapy can be harmful, although parallel anecdotal evidence could be provided on behalf of the opposite effect. The state of California seems bent on telling people who they really are, and enforcing it.
What’s truly striking, however – and where the real breakdown in reason comes – is when we broaden the horizon to touch on a different, yet very much related, issue: that of transgender identity. One need only listen to NPR for a day to realize that there are some very powerful forces trying to let us know that it’s really OK for you to want to be a man even if you were born a woman. It’s really OK (as I heard yesterday on All Things Considered) to choose to be neither man nor woman, to be both at once, masculinity and femininity fluidly interchanging all at once. It should be OK – as it now is in Argentina – to have an ID card with your female name to replace your given male name, even if you haven’t even had an operation or hormonal treatment. It really doesn’t matter who you say you are, so long as you feel like you’re that person. Besides, eventually technology is going to catch up to your fantasies and make it all come true, anyway.
As I said, the real breakdown in reason happens when we compare notes between the two seemingly unrelated stories. If you are a young person who feels homo-erotic desires, but you don’t like having those feelings, and you ask for help in changing those feelings, you may be eliciting a breach of law. However, if you are a young male under the impression that you really were meant to be a female, or vice versa, all stops and obstacles should be removed from your path – even to the point of national exposure – so as to affirm who you really and truly are, based on your desires.
If trying to change a person from gay to strait is harmful, why isn’t trying to change a person from male to female? Using consistent reason to question the reigning sentiments of our time will undoubtedly raise the ire of many. Blogging as inconsistently as I do, I have nonetheless had my fair share of spiteful comments telling me just how much of a bigot and idiot I am. But this is exactly what I began with. We have come to the place where reason is only lauded and employed when it supports our specific opinion, and when it does not, when the contradictions in our logic are exposed, we resort to bludgeoning our opponent with accusations of hate speech and bigotry, or simply foul language. Debate and dialogue – true, spirited and open – have become obsolete. What’s interesting, I think, is that in this current “debate” of a person’s identity, it is more often the “irrational,” “intolerant” believers trying to use logic consistently, while the “tolerant” can only spiral into froth and insult.
(As a sidenote: could our lack and loss of logic have anything to do with the way we are no longer educated?)