Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"I refute it thus."

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of myself and my dog looking into plate glass. That little moment of self reflection gave me some time to think.

As we descend deeper down the Trumpian rabbit hole into a world where facts disappear and only points of view remain, we are merging closer and closer to George Orwell's 1984

But Orwell isn't the only British writer who spoke about today's madness. Samuel Johnson did too. In Boswell's Life of Johnson, James Boswell recounts the moment that his English friend undid Bishop Berkeley's theory of the non-existence of matter with one swift kick ...

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

Much like my amazement that Learned Hand's "The Spirit of Liberty" speech would ever have relevance to my life in such a direct, personal way, so too am I astounded that this chestnut from philosophical history could apply to an inanity I lived through. 

"I refute it thus." If Orwell saw how political language casually leads to dangerous non-meaning, Johnson saw that there is always a stone to kick if ever you find you're losing your mind.