Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Self Control and Reason

Our society loves reason. It values intelligence, too much really. In an evolutionary worldview our dignity as humans derives from how big our brains are. They tend to see other things like our ability to love, our ability to appreciate beauty and our ability to tell right from wrong as artifacts. Our intellect, that is what makes humans special.

At the same time our society hates self control. When you suggest people need to stay away from pornography or premarital sex many people just don't get it. How could one refrain from doing these things when your hormones tell you to do them? Like controlling the body's passions is a non-option.

The strange part is that self control is required for us to benefit from our reason. Our intellect can control our will but if our will can't control the passions of the flesh then we end up knowing what we should do and unable to execute it. People with addictions see this. Often they are described as stupid. Actually they can be quite intelligent. They know they need to quit. They just can't control their desires. So their intelligence does them no good.

So it seems quite odd to value reason and dismiss self control. Yet you see it all the time. Society makes a real effort to educate young people. That is to develop their intellect. How much effort do we put into making sure those people can actually live out the choices their intellect leads them to? Mostly we assume they won't. No matter what you decide you are going to do the same thing anyway so here is how to manage the risk.

It is not just with sex. We get the same issues with greed. We can analyze our financial problems or our environmental problems. We just can't control ourselves. People act in their short term material interests. Politicians act in their short term political interests. We can see what should be but we can't make it happen. Our intelligence does us no good.

But it is worse than that. It is not just that our intelligence does no good. Our reason ends up being infected. In AA they call it stinking thinking. That is when your intellect can't control your behavior then your intellect starts to rationalize what you are doing. Intelligent people can accept really lousy arguments because the alternative is to admit they are powerless to change their behavior. Like Mark Shea likes to say, "Sin makes you stupid."

Satan always lies. He says if you abandon God you can have the dignity of being rational. Not a good trade anyway but it is a lie. You still end up irrational. So you lose your soul and get nothing in return. That is the only deal Satan can offer you.

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