Arguing with apes
Olavo de Carvalho
What I explained in the previous article is the most elementary requirement of verbal communication: if you wish your statements to deal with realities, and not only with words, you must possess an adequate mental representation of the object before you can enunciate a single judgment about it, even a hypothetical one. Even if the reality in question is purely imaginary, you must imagine it correctly in order to avoid building your reasoning and arguments without a corresponding representative content.
When I reintroduced the study of the argumentative art in Brazil – with the mimicking apes immediately beginning to talk about it as if they had a long experience in the subject – I didn't expect that the word “argument” would be turned into a fetish. It is typical of intellectual apes to think that everything is a question of “having the right arguments”. They don't even suspect that argumentation is the lowest and most rudimentary aspect of philosophical training. Two perfectly equal arguments can express different ideas, one true and one false, according to the mental representation behind each of them. There are no true or false “sentences”: true or false is the judgment behind the sentence, what you are really thinking – and when you utter an apparently true sentence you may be thinking nothing, or thinking a total falseness which, by coincidence, is expressed with the same words as a true judgment.
Many times I try to analyze the meaning – the judgment – that lies behind what my interlocutor says, and the poor creature thinks that I'm “arguing”. Analysis aims to discover the lived and thought reality at the bottom of a verbal construction, and not to deny or confirm a statement. Arguments are only possible after analysis has certified that both interlocutors have an identical mental representation of the object in discussion. Only then may each one argue whether the conclusions the other reached from the object thus represented correspond or not to reality, to experience, to testimonies, etc. But in the majority of cases what I find out is that my interlocutor doesn't have any representation, all that he has is a verbal scheme that conventionally designates the object. To point this out is in no way “to argue”; rather it is to show that the interlocutor has no condition to argue anything about the object in discussion, but only about words. It gets even worse when the words that substitute the absent object come associated to emotional values and the fellow thinks that while defending those values he is “arguing”. Sadly this has been the outcome of almost all of the discussions I have entertained with Brazilians, especially with “intellectuals”. Genuine arguments – eventually false when confronted with reality, but genuine as arguments – I have found only in the U.S. and in Europe. In Brazil nobody knows any longer what that is.
I notice this misery chiefly in the discussions about religion. Even if the God of the Bible were totally imaginary, you would not be able to discuss Him before you had imagined Him as he is in the Bible. This takes us back to the internal effort that I mentioned in last week's article – the only means to fill the representative content of the expression “the God of the Bible”. As in general the enemies of Bible only read it – when they read it at all – with a firm disposition to void the meaning of its main character, instead of filling themselves with that meaning, the end result is that we have no argument whatsoever: there is only, on one hand, the apelike imitation of the art of argumentation, and on the other, my useless effort to explain to an ape that I'm not arguing with him.