Friday, December 12, 2014

Colbert and Wieseltier on the Importance of Thinking and "Truth."

This month marks a remarkable passing of two institutions.  One is the collapse of the The New Republic on December 5.  Following up on my earlier post, here is Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker with the inside scoop. The other is the final show of the Colbert Report on December 18. 

Leon Wieseltier was the literary editor at The New Republic from 1983 until December 4, 2014.  Stephen Colbert hosted the Colbert Report for the past nine years.  Here they are at the very top of their game during an interview on the Colbert Report on October 7, 2014.  It epitomizes what I loved best about he Colbert Report--it's smashing the envelope of conventional conversation in order to unearth unexpected nuggets of truth. Here Colbert succeeds spectacularly.  The exchange shows off Colbert at his best, and it shows why we should continue to follow Wieseltier wherever he goes next.
Colbert: It seems like people at the New Republic are folks that believe in thinking…

Wieseltier: We do, we do.

Colbert: Sell me on thinking …. Because I don’t have to think much anymore. I can just feel. And I can also just open my eyes and take the digital fire hose from my screen, and watch videos, and watch pictures of someone’s pie…. 
Wieseltier: And mistake that for thinking. Yes. … Here’s why you have to think.

Colbert: I’m not mistaking it for thinking, I prefer it over thinking.

Wieseltier: I understand why you would, but here’s the reason: a democratic society, an open society places an extraordinairy intellectual responsibility on ordinary men and women; because we are governed by what we think; we are governed by our opinions—so the content of our opinions and the qualities of our opinions, and the quality of the formation of our opinions, basically determines the character of our society. And that means that in a democracy and in an open society, a thoughtless citizen of a democracy is a delinquent citizen of a democracy. … 
Colbert: What about feeling?

Wieseltier: Human life is never going to suffer from too little feeling. We all feel all the time. We are mortal creatures, we have hearts. And the important thing is not to mistake our hearts for our minds. They do two different things. And if we were only hearts or only minds, we would be monsters. But we’re both. And the role of the mind is to actually question the assumptions of some of the dogmas and the prejudices of the heart. …. 
Colbert: But there is your gut. There is your mind—hey don’t do what you’re doing, we should do something different. Then there is your heart—Oh, is that how I feel about the things that you are doing. And then there is my gut that tells me this is right! …. 
Wieseltier: I agree with you completely, but a gut requires education. I believe in educated guts. The important thing is that we have reasons for our beliefs, and that we can articulate those reasons, and that we can defend them.

Colbert: Here’s a reason for my beliefs. They feel good. It feels good to think that when I die I will go to heaven. That feels good. It feels good to think that I am right. That feels good.

Wieseltier: But you know that it’s preposterous to think that because one feels something is the case, it is true.

Colbert: It’s not “true.” It’s “truthy,” which is greater than truth. It’s inassailable because my truth is based upon what I want to be true, rather than anything the facts can possibly support. Your “truth” requires work, mine requires merely a decision.

Wieseltier: I congratulate you for living in a world entirely of your own.
Here they are in their glory. And I mean this literally.

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