I’ve been reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco for quite some time now. I am a terribly slow reader and a terribly busy boy, but every time I get around to it, I am in awe of the Eco’s ability to make broader points about the fundamental nature of humanity within his points about the nature of religion within the confines of the story.
Today, I ran across another one of those beautiful moments. I don’t wish to spend too much time pontificating. The quicker I share Eco’s words, the better. But in the name of context, here’s a short summary.
The novel is told from the perspective of a novice monk, Adso, in the Catholic church who is an apprentice of a particularly insightful monk, William. William has these amazing skills of perception (reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes) that guide the two of them through the mysteries of a particular monastery. Fundamentally, the novel is a murder mystery story, but it is also SO MUCH MORE. William thinks deeply (arguably too deeply according to many of the other monks) about the history of reform within the church, the nature of heresy, and the constant struggle for power. These ideas are lenses by which he aims to understand the mysteries in front of the duo. As a result, the two often discuss philosophical questions through the lens of the goings-on in the church. This particular conversation centered around the concepts of heresy and orthodoxy in the church, but subtly touches on the concept of rationality and its applicability in a society that is sitting precariously on an 8-layer cake of emergent absurdism. Now despite my desire to set the passage up more, I believe it speaks for itself. Enjoy!
” But who was right, who is right, who was wrong?” I asked, bewildered.
“They were all right in their way, and all were mistaken.”
“And you,” I cried, in an access almost of rebellion, “why don’t you take a position, why don’t you tell me where the truth is?”
William remained silent for a while, holding the lens he was working on up to the light. Then he lowered it to the table and showed me, through the lens, a tool.
“Look,” he said to me. “What do you see?”
“The tool, a bit larger.”
“There; the most you can do is look closely.”
“But the tool remains always the same!”
Don’t have the profound words to perfectly encapsulate how this describes modern social and political discourse, but I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. I am uncertain if rationality as a tool is capable of resolving the problems of the present day. Is attempting to be rationale in the modern day just as absurd as trying cut a steak with dental floss? Certainly, I think most would agree that rationality is not the way to win the scarce currency of attention in our modern world. Easier to construct your own reality and convince people its correct than to convince them to search for the truth themselves. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m scared that despite how much one may try to use rationality to correct the ills of society, it may only be good for magnifying its absurdity.