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The slogans we say

| Monday, March 22, 2021

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in a time of such unprecedented access to information, there is so little wisdom? Despite our resistance to this idea, we all know it to be true. There’s so much noise, so much talk for the sake of talk. We often find ourselves evoking mantras and slogans without really thinking about what they mean.

In this column, I want to look at a few of the slogans used so often today.  What might they really be saying, and are they true? What we find may be uncomfortable, but I hope that you will sincerely think about the truth behind the mantras we so often say.  But with any further ado, let’s get on to the slogans.

“Follow the science”: We’ve heard this how many times over the past year as the reasoning behind Covid restrictions. The suggestion is that the science determines the guidelines, and that if you don’t agree with the guidelines, you are really denying the science. But this is tremendously misleading. While science may inform one’s decisions about protocols, they are never what ultimately determines which restrictions are put in place.  That’s because protocols (and any law of real significance) are not scientific statements but moral ones. Lawmaking deals with ethics, what “should” or “ought” to be done. Science does not deal with moral questions but only what “is.” In other words, science provides you with data, but it doesn’t tell you what to do with that data. The one who crosses this line between science and ethics is no longer a scientist but a philosopher. They may still be wearing a white coat and a name tag that says “Dr.” but they have departed from their field of expertise. This doesn’t mean that their suggestions aren’t valid, but we should recognize that they are no longer doing science. We too often fail to see the distinction between scientific claims, and moral statements and laws which cite scientific statements. But it is essential that we do. When we separate the worlds of scientific observation and ethics in our minds, we begin to think more clearly about both of these spheres of inquiry and the issues at hand. 

“My body, my choice”: Let’s take a step back from the abortion debate and just consider the words by themselves.  It seems pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t it? What I do with my body is my choice. No one has no right to tell me what I should or should not do with my body. What is really being said here is that I am the ultimate moral authority on how I use my body. I get to decide, and no one can tell me otherwise as it’s my choice. I am free to do whatever I see fit. I am accountable to no one and to nothing.

I shudder to think of this slogan’s consequences. To accept this is to take a wrecking ball to civilization. Under such a view, quite literally anything goes. Anything. There is no way to actually persuade people to do what’s good and stop doing evil. Who are you to tell me what I should or should not do? We lose any sense of a higher and objective moral authority and any Supreme Judge to which we will be accountable for all done in public and in secret. Good and evil become nothing but differences in personal preference.

“But you are mischaracterizing our views,” I can hear some of my pro-choice readers saying. “I don’t believe this.”  I am glad you don’t. But please use another slogan. What I outlined above is simply the logical outcomes of what the words mean. The slogan is a philosophical statement that outlines a soul-destroying picture of humanity. If you don’t believe in the worldview the phrase describes, please don’t use the statement.

“In our modern, enlightened age…”/“It’s the 21st Century”: These phrases are often used as fallacious attacks on the “old-fashioned” and “outdated” beliefs of the past. This is when someone tries to dismiss the validity of a view simply by associating the idea with the “unenlightened” past (as if objective truth changes with time). This type of ad hominem attack is prevalent today and quite successful at disqualifying entire time periods and groups of people. The medieval ages and the Puritans, as C.S. Lewis has noted, are common victims of this fallacious ridicule.  Lewis was quite insightful on our persistent problem of what he called “chronological snobbery.”  In his book “Surprised by Joy,” he writes:

“[‘Chronological snobbery’ is] … the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions that are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

I remember being stunned the first time I heard Lewis explain this. I so often find myself slipping into this way of thinking. We do it so often without even thinking about it. It’s just natural to us. Lewis’ thoughts would do us much good if we reflect upon them and remember them when we think about the past and ideas from the past that we often irrationally dismiss for no other reason than being old.

Although we only covered three slogans, I hope that you will sincerely think about what’s been said. Am I right, and, if so, how might you move forward?  And what other slogans might need rethinking?

Andrew Sveda is a sophomore at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, PA majoring in political science. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading, and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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