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by | Mar 1, 2021

A 17th century philosopher named René Descartes struggled to make sense of the mind-body problem. He understood that thoughts originate in the brain, but he observed that mental activity is ephemeral, without physical substance. How can this be? he wondered.
Ever since, philosophers have called Descartes’s philosophy “dualism.” They concur that what occurs within the mind exists in a separate reality from what occurs in the physical world.

The 16th century writer Michel de Montaigne tried to describe the way a human mind works. “Men do not know the natural disease of the mind; it does nothing but ferret and inquire, and is eternally wheeling, juggling, and perplexing itself like silkworms, and then suffocates itself in its work.”

He compared the human mind to: “A mouse in a pitch barrel.”

An issue that upset Montaigne was the abundance of laws on the books, designed to curtail crime. He wrote, “We have more laws in France than all the rest of the world put together,” and then he quotes the Roman historian Tacitus, “As we were formerly overburdened by crimes, so we are now by laws.”

Mind vs. body; crime vs. law.

Edmund Burke, the late eighteenth-century British politician, read of events unfolding in France during its revolution, and was horrified. He wrote, “Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.” “Levity and ferocity.” Wild hilarious laughter matched point for point with rage and harsh words. Crimes jumbled with follies. Mind vs. body; crime vs. law; levity vs. ferocity; crimes vs. follies.

Thomas Paine witnessed events during the French Revolution, but unlike Edmund Burke, Paine was pleased, because he detested France and England’s monarchy. He wrote, “Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other influence the great bulk of mankind. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.

“The two modes of government which prevail in the world, are government by election and representation; and government by hereditary succession. The former is known by the name of republic; the latter by that of monarchy. “Those two distinct and opposite forms, erect themselves on the two distinct and opposite bases of Reason and Ignorance.”

Only Thomas Paine could write that way. Whenever he put ink to paper, he exuded confidence, certainty, fearlessness, and intellectual snobbery. Only he would dare to fix a republic upon a solid base of Reason, but place a monarchy upon a slippery slope of Ignorance.

Mind vs. body; crime vs. law; levity vs. ferocity; crimes vs. follies; Reason vs. Ignorance; a republic vs. a monarchy.

In a recent podcast, I heard the author Simon Winchester describe how journalists and politicians have moved from a former-day respectful “suspicion” of each other to a now distasteful “cynicism.”

Back in the mid-twentieth century, journalists expected politicians to lie, or to embellish, or to leave crucial pieces out of their statements. As a result, a reporter’s boss expected his or her journalists to confirm everything from multiple sources, in order to ferret out the full truth.

But today, suspicion has given way to a raw brand of cynicism. Each party is convinced that the opposing party is wrong about all issues, distrustful of their intentions, anxious to crush them, even to annihilate them, and unwilling to ever cooperate with them to achieve a meaningful result.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a different outcome.

Another example of dualism: deference or democracy. Some people’s minds are geared toward getting in line and following a leader. These people want someone to lead them.

We all know of pitiable examples where a woman will submit to a man, or a man to a woman, or a political party to an elected official, or a flock to an ill-advised theology, or a committee to the loudest and most forceful member, much to their detriment. Yet, they do it.
Democracy though relies upon equality. Each member in the group has a vote. The group’s body of delegates votes and selects a leader to represent them. If that representative fails to perform his or her duties, the group can and will fire him or her, and hire another.

In a democracy, it is the group that retains the power, not a king or an elected official.

Mind vs. body; crime vs. law; levity vs. ferocity; crimes vs. follies; Reason vs. Ignorance; a republic vs. a monarchy; suspicion vs. cynicism; and deference vs. democracy. Each an example of dualism.