Checks And Balances

Checks And Balances

To The Reader’s Forum:

This holiday, I suggest we give thanks for our mental capacity as humans. Compared to other animals we have been given extraordinary capacities of thought and reasoning. We are able to predict likely outcomes of events and plan accordingly. We can construct moral systems and judge whether someones actions lie within the same. We can create and be entertained by art in its many forms.

These latter abilities, the artistic ones, may be by many people considered as the most explicitly human as they require more of the intellect than just advanced computational power. They requires emotions. Here comes the schwerpunkt, as while you could say that the adding of feelings makes humane out of human, and their removal makes a sociopath, their contribution is a mixed bag. It is particularly mixed when dealing with complicated and large problems, such as for example the governing of a country. At one extreme our emotions may drive us towards a social system where humanitarianism is everything – excluding balancing forces of crass, cold utilitarianism. While the idea of infinite humanitarianism may sound cozy, I think we can all agree that the system would have problems feeding and clothing us.

We could probably also agree that, while this tendency must be checked, it has sofar not been a serious problem. A more serious problem originating in unchecked emotions in relation to an art is tied to our love of story telling. We may be seduced to believe an easily understood tale that appears to explain complicated problems – especially if it makes us feel good about ourselves. Enticing enough of a story and it may put us in a hypnotic trance, in which lies and hyperbola can be believed, and in which logic and adherence to moral systems are effectively suppressed.

The history of the last century readily serves up multiple examples with disastrous results, mainly with minorities playing the role of the villain of the story. In order to avoid transplanting such destructive episodes to our own country in our own time, we must let cold logic form a check against populist messages pandering to our egos, messages telling us that we are always right, while the outsiders are wrong – if not outright dangerous. Let’s exhibit restraint and avoid the siren call of fairy tales, which when followed will get our ship stuck in the mud of complacency – if not outright sunk in the tempest of competition.

So, let us this holiday give thanks for our mental capacity – both the cool logic and our artistry, but keeping in mind they must always check each other.

Karl Holmgren



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