March 9, 2018 (date of original publication)
The Millstone News
by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Photo (Featured Image)
‘‘Boston, Ma., 1980,’’ from the series ‘‘Americans Seen.’’
Photograph by Sage Sohier, via Joseph Bellows Gallery
There are many things in life which confound me. Being caught off balance should not however be the springboard from which to leap to improper conclusions. Following is an account of what I consider a more solid basis for making important decisions. Foremost – as my succinct introduction implies – one should not feel the necessity to decide something when discomposed. It is imperative in such circumstances to remove oneself from the fray of the moment to deliberate more keenly upon the subject at hand. What follows are the specific standards by which I believe one should assess a matter.
It is oddly normal when confronting an especially puzzling dilemma to abandon rationality. This isn’t to suggest that one behaves irrationally but rather that strict logic simply falls by the wayside. What then remains? If indeed the active mental acuity peculiar to the rational mind is put aside, then the thing which fills the gap is often nothing more glorious than submission. That is, we choose to capitulate to whatever persuasion is being advanced rather than discover by what might be both taxing and tedious enquiry what are the elements in its favour. Logic is after all such a taxing and unglamorous undertaking.
The first step therefore – when logic fails – is to embrace instinct. To trust in one’s instincts is by no means an easy step. In fact it is a tact which requires as much study and experience as any other behaviour to achieve its proper manifestation. Nonetheless because instinct is associated – as well it might be – with visceral and even animal behaviour it appears to lack authenticity in the discussion of more elevated human conduct. But when discombobulated – and not having the immediate resource of logical analysis at hand – it is by far the safest default (and certainly much better than taking the proverbial leap of faith). Instinct mustn’t be confused with faith. Faith implies belief in something which may or may not exist; instinct on the other hand invariably signifies something which has a compelling overture which it disheartens one to ignore. If once we “listen to our instincts” and therefore feel motivated to do something, then it is time to engage in the next step by which to arrive at a proper conclusion. And even if the instinctive reaction is to step back from embracing something, it still behooves us to continue the examination more closely. What matters is that trusting one’s instincts is the preliminary step. Though it may not be determinative of the ultimate outcome it will however predict the general flow of proper analysis; otherwise we effectively overlook a critical period within the total picture which may in the end be determined upon a balance of considerations.
The second step in overcoming perplexity is to believe what one sees. Like instinct this indicia is sensory-based and therefore plausibly more reliable, at least initially, than a more abstract intellectual construct. What contaminates our visual clarity is often a pre-existing mental disposition; that is, we come to a meeting expecting certain things and we end by filtering what we see to fit what we want to see. For this reason the nexus between instinct and believing what one sees is critical. It forces us to abandon preconceived notions and to accept what in fact we see (which metaphorically might well include what we hear – yet another sensory perception). Words are easily manipulated and disguised by surrounding circumstances so it helps to isolate the words and to accept them strictly for what they are.<
The third step is the progressive insinuation of logic into the proceedings. Because we so often assume the paramountcy of others, many of us are reluctant to question their deductive reasoning. We erroneously conjecture that they must know what they are taking about either by virtue of their age, professed knowledge or experience. These are treacherous grounds upon which to found a complete decision. Certainly they will inevitably include a persuasiveness – and perhaps not mistakenly so – but it does not excuse us from applying fundamental principles of logic to the assessment. My belief is that any question can be discussed and resolved in simple terms (even though the implementation may subsequently require technical and recondite input). This being the case, then it follows that the exposition of a problem and the explanation of its answer are founded on equally simple terms. For example, the assertion of the problem itself requires the blunt ability to demonstrate it. If the proponent fails to illustrate the problem in a digestible manner then any answer which succeeds must itself be questioned. It is not an uncommon inductive leap in evangelist thinking to make any number of unsubstantiated presumptions from which the most peculiar deductions liberally flow. The pollution of such thinking will lead to one result only – c’est de la merde! In plain terms do not presume that the failure to follow the basic format of syllogistic reasoning is an oversight. Once again this conclusion is conjoined with trusting your instincts and believing what you see.
The fourth step is the isolation of the fluff from everything else. No matter how astute one may be in assembling a case for instinct, belief and logic there is always the issue of fluff to deal with as well. Fluff is the colloquial for balderdash and bluster. As its name suggests, it can succeed to camouflage the entire production. Obfuscation can appear in many different forms – it may be purely material (like fancy surroundings laden with iconic objects such as luxury vehicles or mansions); it may be important people or celebrities; it may be an overwhelming congregation of people; it may be an orchestrated display. Whatever the fluff it is usually distinguishable as having one object only as its purpose and that is to accommodate the conclusion or illusion being promoted – not the thought process to get there. Given the allure of fluff (and what is often mistaken as its congratulatory effect) it is difficult to dilute its import sufficiently to afford a sober analysis of it. It may even involve the lustful appeal to sexual appetites (though in business matters that particular ploy is usually supplanted by appeal to the more rapacious appetites involving status and success).
When one at last combines the reduction of instinct, sensory perception, logic and bluster, then we are in a position to draw a conclusion. Some decisions are of little import. If however the decision is considered important – either because it affects one’s health, safety or future – then it matters what we decide to do. One mustn’t be dissuaded by the hapless conclusion that the result has failed to achieve our expectations. Part of the fun of living is the application of the small grey cells with which we’re each endowed to the debate at hand. There are normally other opportunities for good decisions even when the window for bad ones seems more pressing. Don’t allow yourself to succumb without being convinced.<
The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
by T. S. Eliot
And I have known the arms already, known them all —
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
Dear Ms. Sohier:
I am writing to you because I have appropriated a photograph which I believe may be subject to your copyright.
Be assured that I have acknowledged your entitlement; and, sadly that my base of interest is minuscule by any measure so the likelihood of broadcasting far abroad is slim (though certain of my subscribers reside as far afield as Europe and the South Pacific Ocean).
In any event I was clearly taken by your talent and I accordingly complement you.
Best wishes to you and your family upon the advent of the Winter Solstice.
Naturally should you wish me to remove the photograph for any reason I shall do so. In the meantime attached below is a snap I took yesterday; it’s the view from our drawing room window upriver to the Village of Appleton.