Feeling Good About School

(Blog) School can train us to “always” wait for our feeling of being reasonable to be confirmed.

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Photography by Ivan Aleksic

1. It is reasonable to believe a thing doesn’t exist if you can’t see it if it “is” a thing that if it existed you would be able to see it. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to believe a thing doesn’t exist if you can’t see it if it “is” a thing that can’t be seen. Perhaps it’s microscopic, a virtue like justice, or an alternative dimension of space and time? Hard to say.

It is reasonable to believe a person is mean if someone doesn’t look at you and your definition of “mean” is “someone who doesn’t look at me.” On the other hand, it is unreasonable to believe someone is mean for not looking at you if the actual definition of “mean” doesn’t include “someone who doesn’t look at me.” Perhaps someone doesn’t look at you because they grew up in a culture where direct eye-contact was considered rude? Hard to say.

Takeaway 1

What is rational and reasonable is relative to what you believe is true and what is actually true (which could be identical, but not necessarily). For more, see “The True isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose.

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2. If I do x, then I by definition must believe it is good to do x, and if I believe it is good, I also believe it is rational and reasonable to do. If I jump off a cliff without a parachute, then I must think it is good for me to do so in that instant at least, even if a second later I regret my decision.

If I think it is actually irrational to do x and do x anyway, then I have decided it is good and rational to do something that is irrational. Perhaps this is because I only think it “might” be irrational to do x, and so on.

Takeaway 2

There is no such thing as unreasonable action to the person acting, in the same way there is no such thing as a “bad intention.” If I intend to do it, I think it is good to do, even if it is actually morally reprehensible. Likewise, if I think it is worth doing, I think it is rational to do.

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3. If you believe “mean” means “someone who doesn’t look at me,” then it is reasonable to label someone mean who doesn’t look at you and unreasonable to label someone “mean” who does. At the same time though, if the actual definition of “meanness” is different from yours, you could easily be acting reasonably relative to yourself while acting unreasonably relative to actuality. Thus, in total you could be acting (un)reasonably, per se.

(But wait, if you’re actually acting unreasonable, aren’t you still unreasonable versus (un)reasonable even if you think you’re reasonable? Yes, but that assumes actuality can be determined, which is often not the case, as will be expanded on.)

We should all try to conform our ideas of reality with reality itself to help avoid splits between “what’s reasonable to us” and “what’s actually reasonable.” The greater these splits, the more our (un)reasonableness will “lean” toward unreasonableness versus reasonable, per se. Being entirely reasonable is an ideal none of us can reach (just like being perfect or completely moral), but we should try.

Takeaway 3

We are all (un)reasonable, a mixture of rationality and irrationality, and should do our best to be more rational than irrational by trying hard to determine what’s true. Yes, we’ll still come up short and be (un)reasonable, but some (un)reasonableness is more reasonable than others (not all imperfections are equals).

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4. Fair enough, but what if it is beyond human comprehension to determine what constitutes actuality?

(Please note this doesn’t mean actuality wouldn’t necessarily exist, only that its existence would be indeterminable. You could still be acting reasonably relative to yourself while acting unreasonably relative to actuality, just incapable of knowing you were actually unreasonable. You would only be able to understand yourself as reasonable, though in truth you would be (un)reasonable.)

Well, full reality does indeed transcend human knowability, but there are parts of reality we have reason to think we can know fully, and thus relative to those parts, work should be done to move (un)reasonableness toward if not into reasonableness.

That said, it is theoretically possible that we are wrong about everything we think, because as argued in “On Certainty,” certainty is mostly impossible. However, confidence is not impossible, and this point cannot be overstressed lest we descend into epistemic nihilism.

I believe we have good reason to be confident that a lot of the things we believe are true are in fact true. For example, I have reason to believe my hand is not a hologram. Maybe it is, but I have no reason to think that it is, and thus I am justified to be confident that my hand is real. And so on.

Since we cannot know all of reality, we can never know with certainty that we are entirely “reasonable,” so we should logically err on the side that we are “(un)reasonable” (for we have to assume something about ourselves or cease functioning). We should not assume we are entirely “unreasonable” though, because we have reasons to be confident that many of the things that we think are true are in fact true (even if we are wrong).

It is deeply unlikely that we are right about everything, yet even if by chance we were right about every possible thing, we couldn’t confirm we were so omni-right (a Gödel-esque problem). Consequently, thinking this way about ourselves would require an assumption that the very act of making would suggest we were unreasonable. Thus, it is rational to treat even that person who happens to be omni-right like everyone as “(un)reasonable.”

(Please note that rationality that seeks certainty where only confidence is possible must “wear itself out” and likely devour itself like a snake eating its own tail (seeing as the point of being certain that even “certainty is mostly impossible” is likely unrealizable). But in regard to what is certainty versus only confidence possible? That’s hard to say, but I argue in “On Certainty” that 99% of matters are matters of confidence versus certainty, so assume that once you have confidence, you have enough.)

But what issues are worth trying to achieve confidence over? That is a question you must decide on, though I think it’s pretty obvious in practical life. Still, the question will be expanded on in “Ascent Landing” by O.G. Rose.

Takeaway 4

It is reasonable to assume yourself to be “(un)reasonable” versus “entirely reasonable” or “entirely unreasonable.” If you believe this about yourself, you will be self-skeptical, and that will help you fight self-deception, but there are no guarantees.

(Please note a great trick of self-deception is making you believe you have fought and overcome self-deception, and maybe in the past you did, but today is a new day. Try to stay awake.)

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5. What are the parts of reality we can know with confidence?

That would require thinking and learning to determine. More particularly, it would require thinking and learning that entailed no guarantees.

Following the thought of Neil Postman and his emphasis on “the medium,” I personally believe that many schools (even regarding the humanities because professors can grade harshly what they don’t agree with) unintentionally train students indirectly to associate thinking and learning with definite outcomes (even colleges, especially before graduate work). If this is true, this is a problem. This is not to say every school is bad, that dissertations don’t entail new thought, or that there are not thousands of incredible teachers (some of whom actually helped me avoid the problems listed in this work), but to say that the general structure of school itself (“the medium”) can impart subliminal messages about what kind of knowledge should be pursued, valued, and focused on. For more on this, see “Trivia(l)” by O.G. Rose.

(Please note that my interest in this short work is to highlight some habits of thinking that school may have ingrained in us so that we can recognize that we consciously need to work against those subconscious habits. This is not a work on education reform: that would take a book.)

We can be sent out into life believing that real thinking and learning entails guaranteed outcomes and ends with certainty. After all, if we study well, the teacher will tell us we got all the answers right on the test (which means somebody knows all the answers, and it’s possible for us to know them too).

As a result of our schooling, when we are encouraged to think and learn about something that we might ultimately not be certain we learned anything about, we may conclude it’s not real thinking and learning (especially if it also doesn’t get us a job).

Similarly, if learning about x only makes us feel confident that x is true versus certain, we may believe we “did the learning wrong,” and engage in an endless quest to be certain of x. This could cause us unhappiness, anxiety, paranoia, and perhaps insanity (think Thomas Pynchon).

According to what school can indirectly teach, learning that increases uncertainty is especially false learning. This is a problem, because I contend that if you’re learning about deep and complex matters (say for a dissertation), an increase in uncertainty is likely unavoidable (at least along the way). If you challenge your own self-deception, for example, you will feel self-deceived (paradoxically, self-deceived people don’t feel self-deceived, for otherwise they would change), and this feels confusing.

School can teach us to associate being confused with failing to learn or bothering ourselves with ideas that won’t be on the test, get us a job — that don’t matter. Personally, I believe the deepest kind of thinking does increase uncertainty, so unfortunately I think school has trained some of us to associate the deepest thought with false thought.

Worse yet, in growing up habituating ourselves to thinking and learning with definite outcomes, we are likely emotionally and mentally unprepared to deal with risky thinking and learning that we need to check and balance our (un)reasonableness and tendencies for self-deception.

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Conclusion

What is rational is relative to what I believe is true, and it is impossible for me not to act rationally to myself. Thus, I am constantly acting relative to what I believe is true, even if the truth is indeterminable. I must necessarily experience myself as “rational,” even if I am actually “(un)reasonable.” I must always be potentially tricking myself, yet I need faith in myself (and the world) to function.

We need to think and learn about things we are not guaranteed to see results regarding so that we can at least manage the inevitable problem of us necessarily operating “rationally” according to what we believe is true (rightly or wrongly). Unfortunately, school has trained some of us to only associate real learning and thinking with what guarantees results.

Additionally, school can provide us with a sense of what we should study, so we are led to believe that if no one is telling us to look into something, there mustn’t be anything worth looking into. School can indirectly suggest that whenever there is something worth learning about, someone will tell us about it. Consequently, we can be set up not to look into things on our own, and at the same time, assume we would be looking into things if there were things worth looking into.

Worse yet, it’s kind of immoral of us to look into things on our own. After all, who do we think we are? The teacher? We can be lead to believe that if we go searching on our own, we might lose our minds, because who do we think we are to think there is something out there that no one is telling us is out there?

School can imply that when we’re right, someone will make us feel right, and when we’re wrong, someone will correct us, so either way, there’s nothing to worry about. We should just keep going and assume that if we’re doing something wrong, someone will come along and set us straight. And as we live our life, we should avoid everyone who makes us question if we’re doing something wrong, just like we should avoid everyone in school who tempts us not to do our homework. We should just keep going and assume we’re doing nothing wrong…

Thanks to school, I fear many of us don’t check and balance our innate feeling of “being reasonable” — we just keep assuming someone will tell us if we’re wrong and thus assume our reasonableness while ignoring all counter-feelings. Consequently, we may not do work to remind ourselves that we are actually only (un)reasonable and in need of constantly working “toward” reasonableness. We can assume we keep what matters about ourselves and the world in focus.

It’s considered good not to make a big deal of stuff, and when a teacher doesn’t tell you to study something, if we do, people can accuse us of making a big deal of something we shouldn’t. We are lead to believe that if there was something we needed to focus on, someone would let us know, and so we end up assuming that we think as “big picture” as we need to think, and anyone who tries to think beyond that is “overthinking things.”

Unfortunately though, relative to the real “big picture,” school can teach us a very small percentage of what’s good to know, and so what can end up happening is that people who actually think “big picture” are often accused of “overthinking things” when really they might be the only ones “thinking things in the right proportion.”

If there is no “big picture,” there is generally only small stuff, and if after school we stop looking into the “big picture” — assuming someone would come along and tell us if we needed to — we end up only having the little stuff to take up our thoughts. Thus, we will probably overthink the little things, because the little things are all we have to think about (which makes us lose even more sight of the “big picture”).

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P.S. In closing, there are great teachers and professors out there who avoid the problems listed out in this reflection, and I haven’t visited every school to say what they are all like. However, I personally grew up in a school system that mostly imparted these fallacies through its “medium,” but that’s not to say everyone had the same experience as me. At the same time, I had teachers and professors that taught me out of these fallacies. For that, I am grateful.

Also, it’s way easier to critique than to create, so I am guilty here of noting problems without directly offering suggestions for how school could be done better. For this, I apologize and will try to address this shortcoming in future works.

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P.S. It could be argued that it’s not school which incubates an aversion to risk-taking and uncertainty but society and human nature itself. That’s a very fair possibility which leads to a “chicken and eggs” problem. Perhaps all of us are naturally risk-averse and school just reflects our deeper natures? If so, is it really fair to hold school accountable for that? Probably not, but perhaps idealistically, I think school should help us overcome our natural shortcomings more than accept them. This isn’t to say every school does or that nothing good comes from school; in fact, I’d hate to live in a society without it. Rather, what I’d like to see happen is that — to put it generally — college professors who claimed to use the Socratic Method actually used the Socratic Method. Out of around forty who made this claim, I had five: William Wilson, John Nemec, Vigen Guroian, Randolph Pope, and Lisa Wolfork.

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2020 UNO Prize Finalist. The Write Launch. Iowa Review. Allegory Ridge. Streetlight. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M Review. Poydras. www.ogrose.com

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