Tuesday 21 December 2010

Political correctness replaces intuition with imagination


Intuition is built-into humans.

We come into the world equipped with intuitions (or 'common sense'): with knowledge and dispositions; and these - combined with reason - are what we use (or are meant to use) to make sense of the world and understand what we should try to do.

On top of this - for some people, in some places, comes divine revelation - but this too is meant to be built upon intuitions.


Modernity in its most recent guise of political correctness challenges intuitions and erodes common sense by (in effect) demonstrating that this intuition is not always true, that common sense may sometimes be mistaken; then having dispensed with common sense asking asking each person to imagine what might instead be the case.

Even if it is possible merely to imagine that an intuition might be untrue, sometimes, under some circumstances; then the assumption may follow that it is not true at all.

And if intution is un-true (or could be) then 'therefore' anything might be true.


Intuitions are constrained, and are indeed often universal.

Imagination, by contrast, is unconstrained - because imagination can be supported by rhetoric, depictions in art, social pressure - by many things.

So we get a vaunting of imagination and a denigration of intuition.

We are asked to imagine all sorts of things; then, having cognitively-modelled, having played-out these imaginations in our own minds and in public discourse, we may soon come to 'believe in' these imaginations - especially when these imaginings are not contradicted or when apparent contradictions can be re-framed as harmonious by further imagination.


The logic is perfectly captured in John Lennon's song where the listener is asked to 'imagine' that: there's no heaven above us (but only sky) and no hell below us; all the people living for today; there are no countries and nothing to kill or die for; no religion; all the people living life in peace; no possessions; no need for greed or hunger; all the people sharing all the world.

The listener is told that the exercise is easy "if you try" (and of course the song helps in this), and is cautioned not to reject the message on the basis that the the singer is a dreamer; but informed (perfectly correctly) that the singer is "not the only one" to imagine these things, and that he hopes someday the listener will join all these dreamers "and the world will live as one."


Leaving aside the specific depiction of life as ideally a matter of inert inaction; the logic is that if you can imagine something, and can get other people to imagine along with you, then anything is possible.

And this is, of course, so dominant a feature of mainstream culture as to be an utterly banal platitude.

The credo: If you can imagine something, and if you really want it enough, then it will happen.

The idea is that the limits of possibility are set only by the limits of imagination and belief.


While individual imagination and belief and desire are rather feeble and labile in most individual people; they can seem limitless in scope and ambition when supported by the massive strength of the public discourse generated by the modern mass media.

When you are convinced that you are 'not the only one', then everything feels possible.


So, on the one hand we have this vast and unbounded sense of possibility and on the other the very specific and probabilistic intuitions of common sense.

So imagination displaces intuition; and a bird in the bush is worth any number of birds in the hand - since birds in the hand are known and circumscribed; while there might be (and you cannot prove that there are not) any number of birds in the bush - and these birds may have attributes as vast as the scope of one's imagination (aided by the promptings of the mass media).

And if you really want these imagined birds enough, then (we are told) you will get them.


And so our culture of political correctness leaves the narrowly constrained path of reality for the infinite horizons of delusion.



SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce, and all your online friends.

I now look forward to your postings every day, gloomy as they might seem. Indeed, I have faith that fathoming the truth can, in the end, only lead to joy.

Since this is one of the themes of this very season, I send you all two gifts. Here they are:



Isn't the internet wonderful!

Merry Christmas

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks - and Merry Christmas to you!