Barely a month has passed since the conclusion of the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh yet the event is already beginning to fade from public memory. What was obviously set up to be a partisan Democratic attack on Justice Kavanaugh quickly descended into an attack on Reason and that should never be forgotten if one cares about the future of the American republic.
Here is why…
The origins of Western thought in Ancient Greece that heralded the Age of Rationality began with Socrates who used epistemic self-doubt as a way towards finding answers.
Socrates‘ acknowledgment that he “did not know” had the salutary effect of making it possible for him to find out answers. If he were sure that he already knew, then he would not be motivated to search for the truth. Socrates urged us to examine our own thinking process through dialogue leading to “discursive truth”.
With this in mind it should be clear that the anti-Kavanaugh crowd during the recent Senate hearings were guilty of one monumental philosophical error: that one cannot discover the truth if one already unquestioningly “knows” what it is, i.e. Kavanaugh’s guilt.
The sociological cause of this current phenomenon is rooted in the American “can do” culture whereby self-doubt has been framed as the enemy of self-esteem and confidence. Because of our obsession with success and building self-confidence to achieve it we in America have been told for generations to overcome our self-doubt. The effect of this socialization technique has had a serious side-effect however: we have eliminated all forms of self-doubt leading to irrationality and ultimately hubris.
The great thinkers have all regarded epistemic self-doubt –questioning one’s ideas and beliefs – as central to rational thinking. This has been absent in the behavior of the anti-Kavanaugh crowd and their “righteous cause”. They do not doubt he was guilty of the accusations leveled against him and they do not doubt their own judgment on this matter. If we are certain of the truth there is no need for discussion. Guilty as charged. Off to the gallows.
In addition to the above instance of irrationality there is the added feature of finding enemies of the cause we are certain is good and true. This mentality centers on the belief that those who are politically opposed to us are immoral or evil and must be treated harshly. Because they threaten our political view (and are evil) we lower the bar of certainty with regard to guilt. Feeling vulnerable and outraged that there are such monsters in our midst we point the finger quickly without need of much or any evidence. A mere accusation made by a few people is sufficient. This is precisely what happened during the darkest days of the Soviet Union when perfectly innocent people were sent to concentration camps based upon rumor and unsubstantiated claims. Is this where we are heading now in America? Do we really want to go there?