Apropos to the discussion of the diminishment of imagination: I was reminded of the G.K. Chesterton quote from ORTHODOXY while listening to Mars Hill Audio Journal: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.”
What he is getting at here is that the insane fellow tends to have a perfectly thought out, step by step rationale; the problem is the rationale is based on a faulty premise, and the madman lacks the vision to see that.
Ken Meyers was discussing this with Alan Jacobs in reference to C.S. Lewis’ argument that a person required imagination and reason to be able to fully interpret the world. The move of the modern era to denigrate imagination is what opens the door to madmen taking power and becoming tyrants. More than simply an entertainment device, our creative muscles include a moral imagination. (Get the audio journal – I am not doing their explanation justice.)
The danger that Lewis predicts is that it doesn’t require insanity to do the insane if relying solely on the intellect.
We can see the impact of separation of imagination from reason in our own nation. The pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib are beyond a doubt horrific, nightmarish; this is exactly the kind of treatment of other human beings that required the removal of Iraq’s dictator. But it wasn’t Saddam committing/condoning those atrocities, it was us.
And the torture was logical – if you buy the original premises: that our personal safety is worth any cost, that our enemies are less human than we are, that there can be no boundaries for the patriot. If the soldiers involved in the scandal could have seen the photos before the war, I don’t believe they would ever have gone on the step by step journey that brought them to such inhumanity.
They had the logic, but lacked the moral imagination to see where their actions would take them.
I fear that our leadership also lacks such imagination. I believe that is why they can not bring themselves to agree that America will not participate in torture, and why they are more outraged about the photos of Abu Ghraib getting out than they are by the atrocities themselves. John McCain has the foresight to see where the road of torture leads (to the abdication of humanity), but then again he has seen the results first hand.
Do we all need to be imprisoned to have such vision? No. G-d has given us the skill needed, He has equipped us with imagination. We just need to exercise it, to stop labeling imagination as of no value, and we need to meld it with our reason.
Two television programs recently did a nice job of “imagining” for us. JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (yes, the “cartoon,” go ahead, dismiss me now) recently had an episode where a true patriot understood the potential danger of a superpower greater than the United States (the JLU), and transforms himself into a being powerful enough to handle the threat. He ends up battling non-superpowered heroes, and eventually regular citizens who have recognized that he has become the enemy he sought to fight. (Just as we became the torturers we sought to depose).
And the best and most balanced view of life in a post-911 world, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, recently played out a story arc involving the Battlestar Pegasus, a ship that again relied on reason without imagination. We saw the results of justifiable atrocity, and they weren’t all that pretty.
I hope our nation’s leaders watch the Sci-fi channel. We could use more of that kind of imagination.
Just my thoughts,