One reason I liked the praise of reason is that it's a vitally important human capacity that too often is taken for granted. It's the foundation of every well-functioning society and organization, from the smallest to the largest.
Yet too often we only notice the importance of reason when it's missing. As in religious dogma. As in political posturing. As in pronouncements of authoritarians. As in attempts to ban books and decry science.
At the moment Israel is embroiled in a war with Hamas, which attacked Israel from its base in Gaza. Reason isn't going to end the war, but it sure would have been nice if reason had been more in evidence during the lengthy disputes between Israel and the Palestinian people.
As you can read in the transcript I made of Harris' remarks about reason, he views reason as the only viable means of bringing enemies together who don't like each other. Reason can't guarantee a cooperative outcome of a dispute.
But it's a heck of a lot better than killing each other.
Problem is, reason requires two or more reasonable people to function. This is obvious in recent Republican debates between presidential candidates. The moderators will ask a reasonable question, then the candidates generally toss reason aside and resort to emotional polemics instead.
The result: a lot of heat but little light.
Harris starts off by referring to the project of improving human wellbeing, the overarching theme of his conversation with Duqum. In places I probably got some words wrong in this transcript, but overall it's accurate.
The only thing that is safeguarding this project, collectively, really, the only tool beyond just the goodwill that wants that project to succeed -- the love, kindness, and gratitude that would release those fears -- is reason.
All we have is a disposition to talk about facts, to care about facts, to be consistent, to be self-aware of our own ignorance and our own capacity for self-deception and wishful thinking and cognitive bias, to meet other people.
There are eight billion strangers. No matter how many people you know, virtually everyone is a stranger. And all you can do is reason with them from a basic inclination to cooperate and find some future that is compatible with more and more of us, more of the time, leading better lives.
We need to recognize that we're all in principle on the same team, in the limit, and try to solve increasingly complex problems and build the tools to do that. Or we're going to fail spectacularly at the attempt to do that.
And our failure will be totally predictable. Our failure will be born of failures of rationality, failures of goodwill, failures of love, failures of kindness. Failures to act in what really is in our own best interest if we could only see it.
The idea that we could ever wind up in a condition that is permanently zero-sum is just a crazy illusion given the circumstance we're actually in.
How good life could be, if we just got our heads screwed on straight and cooperated without political division, and dogmatism, and all of these structures that reliably cause conversations to fail. It really doesn't seem wrong to expect something like a utopia if only we could get over our very basic political and apeish disinclinations to cooperate with one another.
Reason is the only tool for the job, because its the only algorithm you can run where even if people don't like each other and are emotionally unavailable -- they're resisting playing well with others -- because of its universal characteristics, with reason you can show your enemies how they're contradicting themselves.
Reason has the capacity to force conversions and really drag people kicking and screaming across the finish line of cooperation, because at bottom reality has a certain structure and certain things are true and certain things are false.
Certain maps fit the territory better than other maps. And even if we are confused about the game we're playing, people tend not to like to bump into hard objects in the dark, right? They want to know where they're going, and insofar as there are right answers to any questions of importance, reason is the thing that will insure we're tracking that.
So apart from people who are completely psychotic or completely psychopathic, meaning they're fundamentally unavailable to any kind of cooperative effort, reason is the thing that, even in the absence of appropriate love and good feelings, is going to align all of our interests.
Yeah, on some levels, it's the only game in town for strangers to play.