In defense of extreme, unbalanced rationality

Ovi Magazine has published a thought-provoking and, to be honest, remarkably annoying three-part article written by Emanuel L Paparella titled "Levinas' Challenge to the Modern European Identity" (link spotted on Nosemonkey / Europhobia).

Paparella starts off by writing about the importance of Humanism, especially Levinas's humanist philosophy, for "the emergence of a renewed European identity", an event which he for some reason considers to be desirable. He writes that "talk of a 'democratic deficit'" in the European Union has been caused by "confusion in the area of cultural identity" due to a battle between Renaissance Humanism and Enlightenment Rationalism. (He uses phrases like "the modern European identity", "the emergence of a renewed European cultural identity", and "the authentic cultural identity of Europe" without ever really explaining what the bloody hell they're supposed mean.)

Now, I always thought the talk of a democratic deficit was caused by things like the splintered European media markets which don't report on EU politics nearly as much as on national politics, EU citizens not paying much attention to EU politics even when the media reports on it, and the design of EU institutions. Perhaps those things were caused by the conflict between Humanism and Rationalism in some manner I don't quite understand, but I'd like the author to spell out his case.

As the argument progressed, I got the feeling that the point lurking in the background is that Europeans just need some religion in their lives. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right. According to Paparella, "an extreme, unbalanced rationality devoid of imagination, feelings, senses and spirit, unconcerned with the ethical dimensions of life, is the equivalent to a refusal to be human, to allowing oneself to become a monster." From the context I gather that this observation is supposed to have something to do with Nazism, but the Nazis had loads of imagination and extremely strong feelings about a great many things. When I think of cool and rational thinkers, Hitler doesn't come readily to mind.

In the third part the link between the Holocaust and rationalism is made explicitly, when Paparella summarizes Berel Lang's argument in Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide:

His conclusion is that there are two important aspects of the Enlightenment that formed the intellectual heritage, which needed to be in place, for genocide to occur in the heart of civilized Europe: namely, the universalization of rational ideals, and the redefinition of the individual human being in terms of its possessing or not such a universal rationality. The genocide, Lang argues, was aimed at those groups who stuck to their own ancient pre-Enlightenment sources of particularistic identity, considered 'irrational.'
That strikes me as a spectacularly misguided conclusion. Nazism was founded in a pre-Enlightenment source of particularistic identity, namely the "Aryan" blood running in German veins. Sources of particularist identity don't get much more pre-Enlightement than that sort of tribalism writ large. The problem with Nazis wasn't that they considered rational ideals universal and hated the idea of anyone having a particularistic identity (like, say, being German). The problem was that they were murderous racists.

But suppose for a moment that the Nazis did hate the Jews because they thought the Jews didn't accept universal rationality. Does that mean that we shouldn't accept universal rationality? The Nazis also hated the Jews because they thought the Jews were greedy and untrustworthy. Should we therefore consider greed and untrustworthiness to be positive traits?
This powerful essay leads many cultural anthropologists comparing civilizations, to begin to wonder: which, in the final analysis, is more obscurantist: religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, or a so called 'enlightened' era throwing out the window the baby with the bathwater and arrogantly refusing any suggestion that it ought to enlighten itself, and not with its own light?
Religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, of course. Duh.

I'm not sure what specific outside source of light Paparella envisions here, but it's worth noting that religion has a damned poor record in the field of preventing mass slaughter. 1930s Germany was a predominantly Christian nation, but that didn't inoculate Germans to Nazism. The Bible contains appalling scenes in which the Israelites at the behest of God wipe out opposing tribes. Further examples aren't difficult to find.


Jan Sand said...

I had been a contributer to OVI on various subjects but was was puzzled, disturbed and offended by much of what Paparella has submitted to the site. When I tried to engage him in discussion I discovered he was so deeply embedded in what seems to me total nonsense that I became completely frustrated. He has several religious zealots to support his obvious illogic and since nobody else seemed to support my point of view I decided to withdraw submitting from the publication altogether as Paparella has spread his idiocy like some malignant fungus throughout the whole site and his comments were taking too much of my time and energy to confront with no support.

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

So much for "freedom of speech! Indeed, atheistic humanism (which has nothing to do with humanism per se originating in 13th century Italy) and rationalism, abetted by technological know-how devoid of ethical concerns, is a culturally fatal mix, as Jung aptly pointed out.

Ari said...

So much for "freedom of speech!

I'm probably making a mistake by asking, but I'm curious: what do you think is the freedom of speech issue here?

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

That question Mr. Ari is better asked to Mr. Sand who withdrew "submitting from the publication altogether..." because it was publishing something other than just his biased views on religion and the poetical and decided to go and peddle them somewhere else, in a less open forum which sympathizes with his views and where he thought he could get more support for his attacks ad hominem. I am afraid that my comment stands: so much for freedom of speech.

I too am curious. What do you think of the issue of the fatal cultural mix as analyzed by by Carl Jung, Christopher Dawson. C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton and others?

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

I also find it intriguing that you take it upon yourself to censor and edit the comments. You have eliminated "a nast habit of his" referring to Mr.Sand's penchant to attack the man rather than the issue, while retaining his characterization of my views by Mr. Sand as "idiocy like some malignant fungus." Once again I need to comment: so much for freedom of speech.

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

P.S. Unless it was due to some technical snafu, you have also censored and eliminated my whole response to your critique (sent before any other comment) of my article on Levinas where I made several points among which the fact that those Nazis far from being hot-headed emotional semi-idiotic types as you seem to claim were very "cool" rationalists who rationalized and planned the Holocaust in less than two hours and then cold-bloodedly executed it in less than four years; moreover they all sported a Ph.D. after their name. It would have been better had they never gone to school.

Once again, so much for freedom of speech.

Ari said...

I knew I shouldn't have asked.

That question Mr. Ari is better asked to Mr. Sand

Not really. It would be downright cruel to ask him to explain your thoughts on the matter.

I do hope you're not making the absurd suggestion that Mr Sand's choices with regard to where he publishes his text have something to do with your freedom of speech. It's his text, after all, not yours. Were he forced to publish it in forums you deem appropriate, that would really constitute a freedom of speech issue.

in a less open forum

Is this a less open forum? I'd bet good money my comments policy is more liberal than Ovi Magazine's, although I'm not sure if the same can be said for Blogger's policies.

What do you think of the issue of the fatal cultural mix as analyzed by by Carl Jung, Christopher Dawson. C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton and others?

Not a heck of a lot, I can confidentially reveal to you.

(I hate it when they try to change the topic.)

I also find it intriguing that you take it upon yourself to censor and edit the comments. You have eliminated "a nast habit of his"...

I can't edit comments left on this blog. I can delete them or leave them be, but I can't change their contents. The software won't allow for it. Ipso facto, you're wrong.

Hmm. I suppose I could delete a post and then impersonate the author. I withdraw the "ipso facto", but you're still wrong.

you have also censored and eliminated my whole response to your critique

Nope. I don't know what happened to your response. Maybe you pressed the wrong button.

far from being hot-headed emotional semi-idiotic types

I don't know where you saw "semi-idiotic". I made no comment on the Nazis' level of intelligence. I didn't say much about their personalities at all, excepting Hitler, I guess.

Nazism as an ideology is extensively concerned with ethics. It frequently comes to horrible conclusions about what's the ethical thing to do, but repugnant ethics is ethics too. Its appeal is more emotional than rational; for example, it's centrally concerned with fostering a sense of a particularist identity that can't be supported rationally.

In 1930s Germany it was a mass movement whose supporters were more concerned with national strength than their personal rights, who wanted a strong leader to tell them what to do, and who bought into racist fantasies. The vast majority of them were Christians, which is only worth pointing out because you seem hell-bent on blaming the whole thing on atheists - of all tiny and entirely powerless minorities.

who rationalized and planned the Holocaust in less than two hours

Do you know who decide on and plan enormous operations really, really quickly? Hotheads, that's who. What's your point, again?

Once again, so much for freedom of speech.

Are you sure the phrase means what you think it means?

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

Indeed birds of a feather flock together. You too as Mr. Sand seem to be convinced that Christians put 6 million Jews in crematoriums between 1942 and 1945. The president of Iran is convience it never happened. How does one start the unburdening of that kind of ignorance? But let us stay with free speech and transparencey and veracity.

Since the whole exchange was copied verbatim and posted in the comment section of Ovi as copied verbatim, anyone can clearly see by a simple comparison that that the comment "a nasty habit of his" referring to Mr. Sand's penchant for attacks ad hominem was in fact eliminated as pointed out. You conviniently ignore the point and forge ahead with the defense of your points of view from what you obviously consider a superior ethical stance. But you see, signing yourself by first name only is equivalent to hiding behind a mask; that lack of transparency means that in the final analysis there is nobody to take responsibility for one's cavalier assertions; it's like the hand that hides after launching the stone, as I pointed out in my extensive reply that got lost in cyberspace. How convenient indeed. So much for open-mindedness and liberality free speech and transparency. I too wonder what you actually think they mean. But perhaps it was a mistake to ask.

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

P.S. Since your first name, assuming it is your first name, is mentioned in this comment in Ovi where Mr. Sand is back to his old tricks, he cannot help himself, in the interest of transparency and free speech, I add here the last posting which has to do with what you have egregiously enunciated about the "ethical" actions of the Nazis:

Emanuel Paparella 2007-10-03 13:37:49 (Ovi):

The wolf, or the wacko as the case may be, in lamb's clothing (and no guiding light)knows mischief and not only does not repent of it but is proud of it. That is indeed Machiavelli's "virtu'," to do mischief and be proud of it because done thoroughly. Mr Ari is even convinced that such kind of competence has an ethical, albeit negative, component. The Nazis for sure would make a rational correction there: Mr. Sand, we did not exterminate four million Jews, we are not amateurs, be precise, the number is six million for your information and if we count the non Jews it is more like 11 million. Give us some credit for crying aloud.

Ari said...

You too as Mr. Sand seem to be convinced that Christians put 6 million Jews in crematoriums between 1942 and 1945.

I don't know Mr Sand's opinion on the issue, but I personally believe that there were non-Christians among the people who perpetrated the Holocaust. If you wish to take issue with my statement that the vast majority of supporters of Nazism in 1930s Germany were Christians, please do so. Bashing straw-men won't get you anywhere.

Since the whole exchange was copied verbatim and posted in the comment section of Ovi as copied verbatim

There are a few noteworthy things about the "copied" text (which can be found here.

First, the date and time underneath it are identical to the ones attached to the comment you left on my blog. That suggests I didn't delete your original comment and post another one under your name, since I would have had to have done so within the same minute you posted the comment. Since it's highly unlikely that I could have introduced the differences, the likeliest possibility is that you must have done it yourself.

Second, there are indeed several differences. In addition to the one you've pointed out, the word "rationalistic" and the phrase "and intrigued by your question" are missing from the comment on my blog. Do you have any theories as to why I would have edited out those particular words?

My working theory is that you introduced the differences by mistake; if you had done it on purpose, you wouldn't have introduced those other differences. What I'm not sure about is if you ever really believed I edited your comment. Did you?

signing yourself by first name only is equivalent to hiding behind a mask

Ad hominem arguments are pretty hard to resist, aren't they?

The wolf, or the wacko as the case may be, in lamb's clothing (and no guiding light)

Awesome stuff, Em.

PS: So much for "So much for freedom of speech!"! Heh.

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

Sand 2007-10-03 19:53:14
I have had many different kinds of pets but the only one who was in the general area of your mental capacity was a praying mantis. I doubt that it's prayers were answered either.

Awsome stuff, indeed. So much for liberality and "enlightenment".

Ari said...

Say, Em, Have you considered admitting that you were wrong to accuse me of editing your comment?

Sand 2007-10-03 19:53:14

Is there some particular reason why you're quoting Mr Sand?

So much for liberality and "enlightenment".

Really, now. There's more to liberality and enlightenment than just mocking your intellect.

Jan Sand said...

I apologize for inflicting Mr. Paparella on you. I found him as irritating as poison ivy and as difficult to avoid scratching.

Emanuel L. Paparella said...

No Mr.Sand, you did not impose me on Mr. Ari; you were found out three months later writing ad hominem arguments (a nasty habit of yours from which you do not seem to be able to extricate yourself) on another site unbeknown to those you had previously attacking in Omni magazine. You are good at dishing out but not at receiving. So it would seem that you and Mr. Ari, whoever he might be, are the ones who have imposed on each other. So much for objectivity and transparancy so beloved rhetorically by extreme rationalists, otherwise known as "barbarians of the intellect."

It would appear that between you and Mr. Ari you'd have to figure who manipulated the messages. I know I did not. All I did was copying them verbatim with the computer from one site to the other. You Mr. Sand has suggested that a mischevious alien from outer space might have done it. If you meet him as a voice in your mind, you need to ask for an apology for Mr. Ari. So much for "extreme rationality." A modicum of veracity, common sense and courtesy may be more appropriate to the situation.

Ari said...

Great news, folks! I found Dr Paparella's missing comment! Here it is, in all its undeleted glory. Careful observers will note that the poor guy had misplaced it in the wrong comment section altogether. Oops.

But I expect he'll make amends by withdrawing his assertion that I've altered his comments. After all, it's the ethical thing to do. Right, Em?

It would appear that between you and Mr. Ari you'd have to figure who manipulated the messages. I know I did not.

I'll have you know I'm guffawing over here.

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella said...

I stand by what I said: I sent what I said I sent (as the found reply confirms), I did no manipulation, I simply copied verbatim with the computer what I sent to rebut what Mr. Sand was copying and sending to Ovi, but what came out in print had "a nasty habit of his" missing in your blog which was not the case in Ovi. Somebody somehow did some editing. I have nothing to apologize for. As mentioned, the mischevious alien to which Mr. Sand refers to might have to do the apologizing.

The silver lining in this unpleasant exchange is this Mr. Ari, whoever you might be: you said at the beginning of your review of my article on Levinas that you found it thought provoking but irritating. I am glad it provoked some thinking; the irritation was a byproduct but was never intented. Indeed, as I have suggested to Mr. Sand repeatedly, in a forum where sincerity reigns people can well disagree without becoming disagreable. Plato and Aristotle disagreed vehemently but remained friends. Mr. Sand obviously does not believe that it is possible to disagree and still learn from each other. Those who disagree with his positivistic atheistic leftist views get demonized and attacked verbally. I would suggest that such is the mind set of the totalitarian authoritarian personality contemptous of democracy and free speech. If that lesson was learned in this exchange it would not have been in vain. Regards and farewell.

Anonymous said...


The above link may perhaps enlighten those who continue thinking that there was no cool logic to Nazi mass murder.

Jan Sand said...

Although Hitler was one of the most horrific advocates of eugenics wherein designated peoples are eliminated for specious reasons the concept had its roots in the USA and amongst prominent respected intellectuals in the early 20th century. Native Americans in North America and Australian Aborigines were amongst others who were treated horribly and only recently are beginning to be compensated for the frightfully brutal and basically idiotic treatment they underwent under government programs.

Ari said...

I think there's very little cool about the logic attributed to Hitler with regards to the Jews in the linked article, unless we consider anything logical to be cool by definition. He used loaded language, didn't examine his premises, and the logic hardly advanced from being a series of unsubstantiated assertions.

While I'm at it, I'll address another substantial point. In the comment he left elsewhere, Mr Paparella makes the assertion that the Nazis who planned the Holocaust were able to rationalize their actions because they had PhDs. But the planners were selected for a) having the skills needed to plan a massive undertaking like that and b) for being Nazis. Thus you get a group of a) highly educated people who are b) willing to murder Jews. I think one should be wary of making deductions about any correlation between high education and being willing to murder Jews based on a sample group which has been selected for having both qualities.

It also seems trivially true to me that non-educated people can justify to themselves all sorts of terrible actions if they only set their minds to it. I'm sure anyone can think of examples of mass murderers who lack PhDs. I'll note that Hitler, the person most culpable for the Holocaust, dropped out of school at age 16.

Anonymous said...

What Mr. Paparella actually said was that it would have been better for those people never to have gone to school than rationalize what ought never be rationalized since education only increases the amount of damage an unethical person can do. He never said that only intelligent people with Ph.D. can commit dehumanizing atrocities.

Ari said...

Anonymous, Paparella wrote, "If would have been better had they never gone to school. As it was, it they were able to rationalize what ought never have been rationalized." In other words, he attributed their ability to rationalize their actions to their education.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the simple point of the original article on Levinas by Dr. Paparella that reason is constituted by much more than just rationality and logic continues to elude semianonymous you, and Mr. Sand who is publicly proud of his extreme unbalanced rationality. You ought to try reading and discussing together Vico and Levinas. But "political correctness" may be an impediment.

Jan Sand said...

I am curious about your term "extreme unbalanced rationality". Are you implying that to be rational is to be unbalanced (which seems to me to be a contradiction in terms) or that you feel it is wise to have a good dose of irrationality as a beneficial mental component?

Anonymous said...

One must assume that you are addressing your semi-anonymous rationalist buddy Mr. ari, for he is the one who used that term as a badge of honor and a title to take issue with Dr. Paparella's article on Levinas in Ovi. Up to now neither you nor him seem in any way disposed to consider, not necessarly agree with, the idea that reason encompasses much more than rationality and logic, albeit Mr. ari claims that the article was thought provoking as well as irritating. A reasonable person would have to conclude that the advice stil stands.

Jan Sand said...

I find it amusing that someone labeling himself (herself?) as anonymous as your buddy Paparella raged so violently against someone not clearly identifying him/herself.
But that is an aside. Like Mr P. you are strong on reference but sparse on actual information. Whatever the original source you indicated me as suffering from extreme unbalanced rationality so I assume the accusation is clear in your mind. Why are you so reticent in clearly defining the term? You claim there is more to rationality than reason and logic but again are totally secretive as to what precisely these elements are. Are you bluffing or can you clear up the accusation simply and directly without my reading an obscure treatise?

Ari said...

I guess this would be a good time to note that the comments from "anonymous" are highly likely to have been written by Paparella. Whenever a comment from "anonymous" or Paparella has appeared on this page, minutes before my web counter has recorded a visit by someone with an adsl-*.mia.bellsouth.net host name, using MSIE 6.0 on Windows XP, and referred here from the Google search results for 'Emanuel L. Paparella'. Then there's the way "anonymous" sounds exactly like Paparella.

Tut-tut, Em. The Pope wouldn't approve.

Anonymous said...

It gets more and more intriguing with every posting, the anonymous blogger with an anonymous box as a choice on his blog accusing one who wishes to remain anonymous of his anonimity... and finally revealing the secret agenda of his critique: the ax to grind against Catholicism with that reference to the Pope. Ah, the never ending wonders of extreme unbalanced rationalism!

Jan Sand said...

This last "anonymous" post is absolute confirmation that it is merely a mask for Paparella. The reference to "ax grinding", the use of the undefined and totally vague "extreme unbalanced rationalism" are positive indications of Paparella's authorship. So the interest shifts away from other concerns to Paparella's sanity.

Anonymous said...

If one does not like a message one calls the postman insane and that absoves one from having to deal with it. It is the oldest trick of hard wired rationalists. Could Ari and Sand be one and the same in the same asylum called "extreme unbalanced rationality?"

Ari said...

Alright, two more "anonymous" comments! Our friend from adsl-*.mia.bellsouthet.net was spotted at 05:10, 15:11, and 15:31. (I hope the links work.) The "anonymous" comments were posted at 05:17 and 15:31. What are the odds?

Now, let's see what our friend from Florida had to say for himself.

accusing one who wishes to remain anonymous of his anonimity

No such thing happened, of course. Really, Em, when you invent a second identity for yourself in order to defend your primary identity, I reserve the right to bust you for it. Such behavior is quite dishonest and, coming from you, frightfully hypocritical besides.

the ax to grind against Catholicism with that reference to the Pope.

Implying that the Pope disapproves of your silly sock-puppetry seems pretty innocuous to me. Saying the opposite - that His Holiness finds nothing wrong with your antics - would be cause for offense.

Could Ari and Sand be one and the same in the same asylum called "extreme unbalanced rationality?"

Dude has problems.

Anonymous said...

As Shakespeare put it “the lady doth protest too much.” Hilarious also how one anonymous mask who allows anonymous postings on his blog, then tries to “bust” an anonymous mask accusing it of hiding behind a mask and of anonymity and dishonesty to boot, after having previously called him insane. Logically two anonymities would cancel each other. Moreover, can the insane be dishonest too? Which way do you want it? Indeed, this diatribe behind masks which began with a pretentious and pompous defense of extreme “unbalanced” rationality has the characteristics of the clever rationalist with propensities toward deranged behavior. Rationalism is like a snake eating its own tail. Do you hear the gods laughing?