George Packer: Have Reason and Dialogue Completely Lost Their Holds on Our Times?

George Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker, in a blog post that nails our historical moment with perfect pitch, is something that should be read in its entirety. It can be found here. Below are two quotes from it. The first is George Packer’s observation on the consequences of 9/11 to the jewel of the Anglo-French Enlightenment, which is reason:

Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up. A Florida preacher with a congregation barely twice the number of the September 11th hijackers can rivet the world—will he do it, or won’t he?

And here is George Packer on President Obama’s struggle, as a Jeffersonian and not a Herderian, to hold the center: 

It turned out that the Bush rhetoric of religious understanding and freedom was a lot less potent and durable than the Bush policies. Our Wilsonian phase just took too much effort, required too much suspension of deeper, stronger feelings. And we are out of it now. In Wilsonian terms, we are around the year 1919 or 1920. The noble mission to make the world safe for democracy ended inconclusively, and its aftermath has curdled into an atmosphere more like that of the Palmer raids and the second coming of the Klan. This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”

1919 or 1920. That’s also about the time that William Butler Yeats wrote his poem, “The Second Coming” (1921), the first stanza of which reads thus:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

The times are not smiling on people who want to keep talking. But I’m not giving up. I hope that you aren’t either.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to George Packer: Have Reason and Dialogue Completely Lost Their Holds on Our Times?

  1. andrewclunn says:

    This seems like just another article attempting to claim reason and rationality for the political left. Thankfully, as a critical thinker, I am immune to such thinly veiled propaganda.

  2. concerned christian says:

    My latest comments address this lack of understanding by the left of what’s going on in America. The reaction of the majority of the American People to GZ Mosque is more rational than the attempts by the left to whitewash Islam and defend the Mosque. By treating this reaction as just stupid acts by stupid people who need to be educated, you leave room for any demagogue to capitalize on this situation. As I said before, the terrorism committed in the name of Islam world wide is “the Elephant in the room” pretending that it is just our anxiety and ignorance, and if we just listen to what the Power to be and MSM say, this Elephant will disappear obviously did not work.

  3. Pingback: The Decline and Fall of the Reason Empire « Prometheus Unbound

  4. Scott says:

    I agree with you, Andrew. They say it’s “reasonable” only when you accept their point of view. They claim to be the guardians of tolerance, reason, compassion, and so on. They are not. Most of them are the most intolerant extremists. It’s just that they have the mainstream media and much of pop culture on their side, which makes them look “normal”.

    concerned Christian, you said something very interesting related to this, on another post on this site. You said “We are dealing with a World turned upside down, where positive messages about Islam, based on a Utopian beliefs, are treated as reliable facts coming from those who know the truth, while any criticism of Islam, based on real events, is described as bigoted and racist opinion!”

    Thank you for your comment and God bless you, too. Yes, we are dealing with an inversion. It’s something that God speaks of in the book of Isaiah, in the Bible. “Woe unto them that call good evil and evil good!” This is what’s happening now. Those who are really on the side of freedom and justice, are booed and called racists and bigots. While those who are bigots and are using politics to impose a destructive religion on the world, are called tolerant and good. This is actually a reverse thing, very common in the spiritual realm. Inversion is an aspect of satanism. In satanic cults, they put the Cross of Christ upside down and they do the opposite of the Ten Commandments. It’s like you said, “a world turned upside down”. That means the politically correct crowd and others who fanatically defend Islam against truthful criticism, are brainwashed by Satan. This is a spiritual war, and it’s real, we’re seeing its effects! Jesus spoke of how we can get victory over this spiritual evil forces that manipulate people. “This kind of devil can’t be taken out except through fasting and prayer”. We can talk and try to convince people, they won’t be able to see the truth unless we also pray for them and ask God to help them open their minds and hearts.

  5. Pingback: The Evangelical (and Republican) Cult Explosion | Prometheus Unbound

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