When valour preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with.


Have you ever wondered what it means to be reasonable? Is it actually an injunction to be fair and sensible about something, or merely to change your mind? Is it to consider the merits of whatever is being discussed and arrive at a compromise that takes both sides of the argument into consideration, so that both sides feel heard? Included? Well, yes…

At the risk of exposing my idiosyncratic plunges into bits and pieces of writings that have interested me however briefly, I suppose I should confess to a short dive into the ideas of John Rawls. Among the tidbits I can remember, I was taken with his feeling that if we wish to obtain any lasting social cooperation, we should try to understand how our ideas might conflict with things that others believe -and to resist trying to use power or status to achieve our own goals. Also to realize that others, using the same criteria that we have used to arrive at our beliefs, may have conscientiously arrived at different conclusions. That they, too, are being reasonable, in other words.

I think it’s more difficult to disparage other beliefs when we come to understand that they were honestly pursued and that, given their analyses, are as valid in their eyes as whatever we are proposing. There are likely very few absolutes to which any of us can point with unflagging certainty.

But, to dispel any suspicion of naïveté, I would hasten to add that it is a hard sell -especially in these times when we are able to surround ourselves so effectively with like minds. And when flouting the common wisdom of our group leads to trolling on Twitter -or for those of us beyond a certain age, ‘unfriending’ on Facebook. Confirmation bubbles are rife; unabashed tribalism is comforting, although constricting.

This isn’t to suggest that the effort of reasonable accommodation need be abandoned, just that it is helpful to consider the reasons for other opinions and assess them on their merits. But, what if the opinion being offered is offensive to you and so egregious that it seems to fall well outside any possibility of compromise? What if the opinion is false, or at least misleading? Would even considering it, undermine what a ‘reasonable’ person would be able to accept as knowledge? In other words, are there boundaries that should not be crossed, even to achieve some sort of accommodation, lest truth itself be undermined? Diluted? Perverted?

Of course, the question must be asked: what is Truth? As data accumulation mounts and its interpretation evolves, yesterday’s truth runs the very real possibility of becoming today’s inexactitude. Naïveté. To continue to insist on some older ‘truths’ risks being out of date -or in the case of, say, phlogiston, or maybe Ptolemaic astronomy, simply wrong.

So then, how to be reasonable and yet accommodate other honestly researched opinions at odds with what is currently accepted as Fact? And is even regarding ‘fact’ in that manner merely acceding to the majority belief -something that may some day be as equally derided?

It’s a difficult question, for sure.

A friend phoned me the other day and told me he had been advised to do a cleanse, and wondered if I had any suggestions. Actually I have never thought much of them, but I was curious about what he was trying to accomplish.

“I’m not sure I know very much about them, Ray,” I said, trying not to sound too sceptical. “But why do you think you need one, anyway?”

“Well, I’ve been feeling a bit depressed lately, and I thought maybe I needed a little boost.” He paused for a moment, as if he wasn’t actually sure. “My girlfriend thought I needed something to get rid of toxins and stuff. I’d put on a bit of weight, and she said I’d been a little too irritable with her…” He let the sentence trail off, as if there might be other reasons if he just thought about it some more.

I didn’t know what to say; the idea seemed silly to me, but I didn’t want to pretend I was an expert on nutritional matters.

“So, what do you think, G?” he asked when the phone line stayed silent.

“Ahh, well I understand there are different types of cleansing… Like colon cleanses, detox cleanses, or even good old fashioned fasting…” I tried to think if there were any other choices, but my mind went blank after ‘fasting’. “What type were you thinking of using?”

The line went silent again. “Uhmm, I don’t really know… she just said that a cleanse seemed like a good thing to try.”

When I failed to respond, he thought of something.

“Anyway she said she’d tried the colon thing, but I don’t know… it sounds a bit, well, gross. And besides, apparently she got a lot of cramps after trying it…”

“The idea of wanting to rid the body of a microbiome in the bowel that is there serving a purpose, doesn’t sound terribly reasonable, Ray. And what makes you think there are toxins building up in there anyway?”

I could tell that answer shocked him, because the pitch and tone of his voice changed. “Come on, G! What do you think we do when we use the toilet, eh? We’re getting rid of toxins and stuff.”

I couldn’t help sighing rather loudly into the phone. “So, what ‘toxins’ actually require a cleansing enema or strange foods to purge them? And anyway, it seems to me that we all do that from time to time with, I don’t know, diarrhea or vomiting…” He didn’t say anything, so I persisted. “How’s that any different?”

He stayed silent for a moment, thinking. “She told me that one of the treatments for tapeworms in the Middle Ages, I think, was plant laxatives, or something…”

I couldn’t help chuckling. “Ray, do you really think you might have tapeworms…?” I shook my head in disbelief, although I know he couldn’t see me. “Come on, eh?”

“G, you’re not being reasonable. You as much as admitted our bodies sometimes need to cleanse themselves of poisons, or whatever…” He took a quick breath. “And what about laxatives, eh? Everybody uses them!”

I could almost see him getting red in the face. “Well, if you’re so worried about these so-called ‘toxins’ accumulating maybe you could just try switching your diet and getting more exercise… You know, reduce their production… naturally.” I hope he noticed my italicization.

The line stayed quiet for a second or two and I could tell by his slower breathing that he was thinking about what I’d suggested. “Actually, that sounds a lot better, G… Anyway, I’ve made a start in the right direction.”

I could tell he was just waiting for me to ask. “And what’s that?”

“I got rid of her. Want to go for a run this weekend…?”

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