Amoeba’s Lorica: The Critical Condition of Critical Thinking

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba reckons it just as well that the Hebrew sages, posing as “Moses”, who first came up with the Ten Commandments are no longer with us. Had they survived into the modern era, their bitter remorse over not securing copyright protection for their creation probably would have done what the intervening millennia had failed to do, and killed them off. As they realized that centuries of murder and mayhem in the Middle East could have been avoided, because the holders of an effective copyright on the Decalogue would have been able simply to buy off all contenders for ownership and occupation of the Holy Land.

It’s not like these sages didn’t know that they had a hot property. After all, they thought enough of it to make sure that it appeared twice in the Pentateuch (the “Books of Moses”).

And if they had had any doubts, the flood of imitations since surely would have erased them. Ambrose Bierce, he of the “Devil’s Dictionary”, himself had at least two cracks at it, most likely taking the Bible’s doublet as his inspiration and justification. Both of those attempts owed so much to their source material that Mr Bierce stood at risk of being charged with violation of the eighth commandment of the ten. To such a charge, Mr Bierce doubtless, given the opinion of his readers, and his society, evident in his work, would have responded, “Same as you!”

This evening, YFNA happened upon another fond imitation, this one created by the British mathematician, philosopher, and all-around smart guy Bertrand Russell. Russell’s work, which appeared at the end of an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in December 1951, has been bandied about on blogs, in memes, and on Facebook generally under such titles as “A Liberal Decalogue” (“liberal” in this context meaning “social liberal”), or “Ten Commandments of Critical Thinking and Democratic Decency”. Russell, YFNA reads, styled himself a (social) liberal at the time he wrote these commandments, but later wrote that he had never been one, presumably realizing, finally, that adherence to an ideology – any ideology – was incompossible with the processes of logic to which he professed to adhere.

Upon reading Russell’s decalogue, YFNA could not help wondering how Bierce, or even Russell himself, would have responded to it, if it first occurred or was presented to them in this Common Era year of 2017:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

But if you actually want to get anything done, tell everybody that you are certain, and make sure you give them no reason to doubt it.

2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

So what, if you can convince everybody that all evidence is faked anyway?

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

This is bad how? Remember Marketing 101: “If you let the customer think,
you have lost the sale.”

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

That may be so, but it is also the only victory that matters, for it is the only one that accomplishes anything. Argument for analysis just confuses people, while argument for entertainment merely titillates them. Neither gets a mass of people to do stuff. Only authority does that.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

Respect doesn’t matter. Perceived self-interest does. They don’t need to respect you, just follow you.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

You kidding? You don’t wish to suppress such opinions, you wish to promote them. How else do you propose to set them up as targets for your attack?

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

A wildly eccentric position is the surest path to power and riches, if you can sell it.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

You might ask Professor Einstein about the ‘pleasures’ of intelligent dissent. And he was one of the lucky ones.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

Define ‘truth’. Good luck with that.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Have you been paying any attention to the prices of tickets to Disney theme parks, or the price of Disney stock? The world is full of fools, and the profits that can be made from them.

Then again … a fire built from ten logs, if properly managed, should burn far into the night.

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