CSotD: The Clods of Unknowing

Joel Pett reflects a mood set by others.

Today’s headline puns on a mystic 14th century text in which the writer contends that we can’t know God through intellectual striving and so must approach faith through a more contemplative route. It wasn’t new then and, of course, it isn’t new now, though it is kind of funny that someone wrote a book about it and funnier still that people have read and discussed that book for some 700 years.

It’s a bit like photography for the blind, because the disconnect is about the limitations of the medium.

There are art museums where the blind are encouraged to touch the exhibits, and, of course, they not only can experience music but are often credited with a finer appreciation of it, which isn’t necessarily true but is worth bringing up because there may also be ways in which those who don’t intellectualize things may have a finer understanding of them than those who do.

Which I don’t believe, but perhaps that’s because I skew way towards the intellectual end of comprehension.

Point being that calling people “stupid” is not only a poor tactic in winning them over but shows a poor, overly judgmental understanding of how their minds work. Which won’t be helped by reading a book on the topic.

Mind you, it doesn’t make sense that the fellow in the green shirt began things by asking for an intellectual explanation despite his inability to process what followed.

But Tucker Carlson does the same thing every night: He poses a presumably intellectual question, then stares into the camera with an expression of utter bafflement, which endears him to an audience that is staring back at the television in the same incomprehending stupor.

The difference between Tucker Carlson and Thomas Merton being that Merton was a sincere mystic and Carlson, as Amanda Marcotte explains in this Salon piece, is a cynical con man.

To put it in theological terms, if there is a Heaven, Merton is most certainly there, while Carlson had better pray — or at least hope –there is no Hell.

Carlson’s dumb act is a fake, and part of a dumb act that has been cultivated several times in history, and, specifically, for the past several decades in the service of authoritarians who make a virtue of not understanding what’s going on and, instead, of putting your faith in leaders who offer the comfort of simple, decisive answers.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(John Cole)


(Matt Davies – AMS)

The effectiveness of this anti-intellectual populist movement is such that, when the FDA announced its approval of the Pfizer vaccine, Biden made the necessary, pro-forma appeal to those who had doubted, urging them to now get the vaccinations that can help blunt the pandemic.

But few cartoonists or other observers expected anything more than, as Cole puts it, a shifting of the goalposts, or, as Davies says, a hardening of defiance.

The shared point being that this is a reflexive, not a reasoned, response.

Jonathan Swift wrote

Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired: for in the course of things, men always grow vicious before they become unbelievers

And it’s important to note that he said this, not in his capacity as a satirist, but in his capacity as a minister, advising a young cleric.

So, while Cole demonstrates the tendency to cling to beliefs in the face of reason, Davies illustrates Swift’s point about how people respond with hostility to attempts to correct their unreasoned beliefs.

As President, Biden is required to point out the facts and hope to reach some at the edge, but he must surely have known that he would not persuade those who have made their defiance of science a matter of faith and loyalty.

Which leaves the practical question of, if reason will not persuade people to behave in a socially responsible manner, what will?

And, for those of us who prefer to debate more rarified matters, whether the Tucker Carlsons and Laura Ingrahams and other peddlers of toxic theories do so knowingly or are themselves true believers?

Neither question offers much of an answer, but the second one does lead to this

Juxtaposition of the Day #2


(Michael Ramirez – Creators)


(Lisa Benson – WPWG)

The Juxtaposition here is telling, because Ramirez makes no attempt at an intellectual argument: He simply declares that Biden is stupid, repeating a bit of rightwing trollery in which, having ignored four years of covfefe, hamberders and defiant, prideful ignorance, they insist that the current president is not up to the task.

Less a matter for Dean Swift than for Lewis Carroll:

Repeating nonsense makes it true, or, at least, makes people believe that it’s true, which, for practical purposes, is the same thing.

Benson’s cartoon is more challenging, because Biden’s polls are down, which makes the argument somewhat compelling on an intellectual level, though her depiction of a black hole greatly overstates matters, which is, of course, how editorial cartooning is supposed to work.


Her argument relies on her readers not knowing, perhaps not caring, the extent of those falling numbers or how they compare to other presidents at this stage of their first administration, and I recommend this interactive graphic, which shows everyone back to Eisenhower.

But, as Tweed noted, his constituency didn’t read and the move to universal education has not changed the fact that some people operate on intellect, some operate on faith and never the twain shall meet.

Even when Trump himself urged his faithful to get vaccinated, they booed him rather than abandon their beliefs.


Finally, Chip Bok (Creators) may have, in his faith, stumbled onto an intellectual challenge for those who like such things.

Is Biden cooperating with the Taliban deadline because he is a feckless traitor, or because he’s relying on Trump-built agreements that will aid in getting Americans and Afghan allies out of the country?

My guess is that we’ll know September 1.

At least, those of us inclined towards knowing things.


One thought on “CSotD: The Clods of Unknowing

  1. Oh, Ivermectin from the feed lot
    All the live long day.
    Ivermectin, apple flavor,
    Just to keep disease away.

    I don’t listen to my doctor
    Though he’s tried to warn;
    Ivermectin’s what I’m taking,
    Till Gabriel blows his horn.

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