Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The article about Camus in the April 9 issue of the New Yorker (which is unfortunately only online for subscribers) contains this quotation from Camus:

We have witnessed lying, humiliation, killing, deportation, and torture, and in each instance it was impossible to persuade the people who were doing these things not to do them, because they were sure of themselves, and because there is no way of persuading an abstraction.

How does one talk to those who are so sure of themselves that they never doubt the validity of their actions, no matter what the content of those actions may be? If you perceive someone as being so full of certainty and completely unwilling/unable to be skeptical about their own beliefs, then perhaps the only thing to do is not to talk to them, but to talk to others who are not as uncertain, to help them avoid being persuaded by abstract certainties that lead to "lying, humiliation, killing, deportation, and torture."

Still, it would be nice if the people in power were not engaged in those activities quite so unreservedly.


Near the end of the article, Adam Gopnik paraphrases Camus's position on place as follows: No human being is more indigenous to a place than any other. This rootless cosmopolitan applauds such a point, but Camus's basis for it is quite convincing: his mother may have been a French colonist in Algeria, but she worked as a cleaning lady; she had none of the privileges of the colonial. And Camus, born and raised in Algeria, was as Algerian as anyone else born and raised there.


Dr. M. L. Grim said...

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately as I follow and interact with rightists on Twitter. I somehow imagine that I might persuade them that they are "wrong," but I'm quite positive this is not possible. And as one of them said something like, "If someone in an argument is willing to use their fists, that's the end of the argument."

There are times when persuasion is no longer practical and intervention must ensue.

Andrew Shields said...

For me, the intervention has to be political: you have to try to defeat the ideas of those you think are wrong. The specific case that made me realize this involved a "fundamentalist Christian" on the Texas School Board whose goal was to rewrite not biology but American history so that all the "Founding Fathers" would look like "fundies" too.

Dominic Rivron said...

I seem to remember Wittgenstein said something to the effect that you can't argue rationally against an irrational belief (I must admit I read Wittgenstein's quotes, not his books).

I once ran into a man on the street in Leeds who tried to sell me his brand of religion. He held his particular brand's holy book in his hand. He told me it was the word of God. How did he know? I asked. He solemnly opened the book and pointed to a line. "It says so here, on page 145..." he said.

Andrew Shields said...

Dominic, it's interesting that the man had an evidence-based approach to his religion. One might disagree with him about what constitutes evidence, but he did try to provide you with evidence!