The following letter, published in the November, 1971 “Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists”, was a response to the article, “The Mounting Tide of Unreason”, in the May, 1971 “Bulletin”. The piece, by the magazine’s editor and co-founder, Eugene Rabinowitch, ended with — “Neither unthinking revolutionary impulses nor transcendental contemplation, nor reliance on animal instincts, could guide mankind through this, perhaps the greatest crisis in it history. Reason alone can make it a crisis of growth, not a convulsion of death.”
A comment on Eugene Rabinowitch’s generally admirable essay, “The Mounting Tide of Unreason” (Bulletin May 1971) is in order.
Reich Minister Speer, after reflection in Spandau, was able to observe:
Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities. (Albert Speer. “Inside The Third Reich.”)
For technology, I fear you can substitute Dr. Rabinowitch’s phrase, “the logical, rational activities of the cerebral cortex,” on which he would rest Man’s primary hope in the approaching crisis.
I suggest that the actual achievement of a “totally rational individual”, one who has totally subordinated his “emotional responses”, is also the achievement of the insulation of ratiocinative processes from the exercise of moral judgment. I much prefer – by professional bias as a lawyer and by personal philosophical predisposition – the model of the “reasonable man”.
The state of “reasonableness” may be defined as that mental set in which the affective and analytical mental processes are integrated by a fundamental organizing principle: the mutual accommodation and interdependence of individual and community survival. Pragmatically, the reasonable man is characterized by a tendency to reject purely abstract formulations of human problems, and a readiness to tolerate views which purport to be – on an abstract plane – wholly irreconcilable with his own. It is his decline in this century – both within and without the scientific community – which I find chilling.
Jay B. Gaskill
Copyright ã 2003 Jay B. Gaskill