Friday, March 14, 2008

Distinguishing - The Heavy Lifting

The purpose of reason is to know reality - to observe the facts and to draw conclusions in order that one know what to do. Reality consists of the world external to oneself and oneself, the being whose needs are to be met in order to live.

The power one has in this process is known as "distinguishing." That is knowing one thing from the rest of reality such that it becomes distinct in your mind and you are able, therefore, to actually use what you know. I ran into this term in Landmark Education years ago and have been seeing it in other places although it is not highlighted as "distinguishing" as it is in Landmark.

Last night I went to a lecture by Dr. John Lewis, an historian, whose lecture was entitled, No Substitute For Victory. ( The audience of maybe 60 people was mostly Muslim and believe me, he had his work cut out for him to distinguish his thesis, stand for his thesis, and let the light bulbs come on. And, he wasn't exactly calm in this process either. He was intense and I could tell that he had to let the irrationality of some of the comments roll off him. And, they weren't benignly irrational either. They were meant to render him unfit to stand before any group and say what he was saying. The older Muslims were the most vehement in their intention to stop him in his tracks.

His point was that Islam is joined with the state and this is the essential problem. The history of what happens to a country when religion is one of the purposes of the state and the consequences for their people and for other states is voluminous. Furthermore there is only one way to handle this when it becomes a problem for other states: Destroy the government and rebuild a peace which specifically bans any connection between that government and religion. In each case where this has been done, a peace has been created which has been a huge benefit to the people who had to live under the "State as Religion" regime and because of free trade resulted in the prosperity of not only them but their trading partners. (He said he was writing a book about these historical results. Creating a structured peace has happened many times from ancient times through modern times. It just isn't well known or understood.)

Dr. Lewis had to go through this and distinguish his point from many onslaughts. In the beginning, people were identifying as Muslim and since he was saying that the regime in Iran had to be destroyed they naturally thought that he was saying that Islam had to be destroyed. No, he wasn't saying that. Any person is free to be a Muslim if he wants. His point is that it cannot be the function of the state to promote that or any other religion.

Another point he had to distinguish was that the Muslims attacked him although he was only quoting the radical Muslims down through the ages. Any attack on any Muslim was an attack on them and thus they had no power to call any Muslim to account. He used an example that if an Objectivist entered his house and tried to rob him with a gun, he would call the police and have him arrested. In other words, he wouldn't protect him because he was an Objectivist.

One of the widely held cliches held not only by Muslims but by many non-Muslims is "Violence begats violence." He then drew out examples from history where the opposite is true. Trying to get along with violence maintains violence. Squashing it completely and structuring a peace stops it. He gave the example of Sherman marching through Georgia. Had Sherman not squashed the power brokers of the South, we would still be having skirmishes and serious battles between North and South.

Link to an article by the same name by Dr. John Lewis:

One of the fundamental principles of distinguishing is that when there are two positions, one A and one non-A, any bridging between the two or rapprochement with the other side destroys one's ability to make the distinction. In that act, one has lost his case and the other side wins or is, at least, left to fight another day.

A turk illuminated this principle in a very startling and clear way. I have to say that I've appreciated Bush because he has gone after the Muslim Statists, exactly what I think he should do, but, this revelation had me hate him.

Turkey is a secular state, a fact that they are very proud of. There was never a wording about Turkey that suggested they were anything other than a secular state - until Bush got in office. He and the State Department referred to them as a moderate Muslim state. This characterized them as essentially a Muslim state and tied religion to the state. After 9/11 and because the United States blurred the principle of the separation of church and state, Turkey began having religious uprising. Now I don't know if these uprisings were simply due to the victory that 9/11 represented for Islam, or if they were fostered by America's acknowledgement that a religious state is OK. At any rate, because of Bush's Christian background and the importance he places on bringing religion into the state apparatus, he in his seemingly innocuous formulation threw out a basic principle on which this country and any peace is founded, namely the separation of church and state. This is unacceptable.

Here is a link to another case of distinguishing, this time around the subject of Libertarianism. To distinguish depends on knowing and knowing that you know. You have to know something all the way down to its roots in reality in order to be a powerful distinguisher. In this example, libertarianism throws away its roots and starts in midstream, namely with the principle that "the initiation of force against any man or his property is banned from social interaction."

A final note. The matter of distinguishing is not just something that is social. If you do not distinguish a particular value in your own mind, you cannot gain it. To gain a value, one must be absolutely clear as to what it is and what it is not. This requires one's ability to distinguish.

1 comment:

rville9755 said...

Steve, even in our society, the U.S., we have lost the recognition that we too are a secular society. Because so many politicians are catering to religious sentiments, they don't want to make the argument that we need to defend the secular framework and why it is important to do so. Even the liberals, as usual, would prefer to leave it unmentioned to avoid angering the theocrats that they hope to fool into voting for them.