31 Dec 2020

Breeur (2.2) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.2.2, “Reduction to Stupidity”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.2

Alternative Facts and Reduction to Stupidity

 

2.2.

“Reduction to Stupidity”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(2.2.1) Truth can have a value in the sense of it having a significance to the situation or to the people involved; it has a sense or meaningfulness. Stupidity is not so much the error itself but rather an indifference and negligence toward a truth’s significance. “Someone is stupid as soon as he or she tends to neutralize the value of the truth they missed. Hence, for example, a puerile or clumsy reaction to diminish or even to annihilate the relevance of the things they ignored. With this reaction, the stupid act betrays pure weakness, betrays a lack of power, a stupid reaction is negative and sometimes vicious – it could be attributed to the frustration caused by the failure to deal with what the situation demands from them” (38). (2.2.2) Stupidity also then is more than merely making an erroneous statement resulting from a mistake in our understanding or reason; it also requires that we diminish the value of the truths we neglected. For example, suppose we say something wrong about an important book. (The error is the act of saying the false thing.) The stupidity would manifest to the extent that we try to diminish the value of the book or of literature in general. The error here makes a difference, on account of the fact that the truth we ignored has real importance (the book truly is worth our closest attention, and we should have learned more about it), but we try to make it seem like it made no difference. “That act of irreverence targets the frame of values and meaning in which the truths about that book emerge. To mock these values is a mean way of excluding them from my world, it is a way of narrowing the domain of what counts and is at stake in my existence to that realm of things that I can tolerate and abide” (38). Breeur then notes that by trying to demean the truths we ignored, thereby “narrowing the domain of what counts is at stake in my existence,” we also enact “a narrowing of responsibility, i.e. of my necessity to grasp things vitally” (38). There are a number of ways we accomplish this. One is to adopt opinions. Since we do not form them ourselves, we are still thereby ignoring the value of the truths they mask over, when we adopt them. (2.2.3) Breeur offers an example. He was listening to the radio. On the program were people sampling a particular kind of music. One listener did not know or recognize that music, and it also seemed to offend his tastes. He says that he hates it and offers criticisms. Another listener on the program, a musicologist, tried to explain how it actually holds notable musical value, even in the face of these critiques. The first listener conceded all the positive and interesting traits about the music but still could not acknowledge its overall value; “he was not ‘open to it’.” We wonder, wherein lies this person’s stupidity? (2.2.4) Although the first music listener on the radio program was given ample reason to appreciate the music’s value, his response was still to devalue it, with his justification being that “this was simply his opinion, and that he couldn’t do anything about it” (39). He believed that he could not change his character in such a way as to appreciate it. At the same time, he preferred not to “question and discuss the truth of the musicologist’s claims regarding that kind of music” (39). (In other words, he “knowingly” ignored the significance of these true things about the music’s interesting traits.) This means that by positing some inexplicable inner cause for his not liking the music, he is saying that these truths about the music are not significant enough to override his supposed inner sources for dismissing its value. He strips these truths of their power to command one’s appreciation. And herein lies the listener’s stupidity. “Reference to some deeper, opaque, mystical origin of his tactless reaction is simply a way of neutralizing truth claims in the musical (if not the broader artistic) realm. He ‘accepts’ the truth, but only after having denuded it of its value and function” (39). (2.2.5) Making use of opinions functions in two ways. {1} It immunizes us from the criticism that we are really in fact in error. For, we reason, “My opinion does not aim at any | truth, and hence cannot be false. I escape the danger of being blamed, and the necessity of assuming that responsibility” (39-40). Here the stupidity lies in the fact that we deny the importance of truths that in fact do matter. {2} By adopting and spreading opinions, we block the flow of truths in others, whose statements of truth are reduced “to hot air”, in that we may note to them that these statements could be true, but nonetheless they have no value for us anyway. Breeur calls this the “reduction to stupidity.”

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

2.2.1

[Stupidity as Negligence Toward the Significance of Truth]

 

2.2.2

[Diminishing the Value of Truths We Ignore; Doing This By Means of Opinion Adoption]

 

2.2.3

[Illustration: Listener Who Denies the Value of True Things About Music]

 

2.2.4

[The Stupidity of the Listener as Residing in Them Holding to an Opinion Rather Than Developing an Appreciation for the Music]

 

2.2.5

[Opinions as Protecting Us from Criticism for Our Errors and as Spreading the Flow of Others’ Truths]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

2.2.1

[Stupidity as Negligence Toward the Significance of Truth]

 

[Truth can have a value in the sense of it having a significance to the situation or to the people involved; it has a sense or meaningfulness. Stupidity is not so much the error itself but rather an indifference and negligence toward a truth’s significance. “Someone is stupid as soon as he or she tends to neutralize the value of the truth they missed. Hence, for example, a puerile or clumsy reaction to diminish or even to annihilate the relevance of the things they ignored. With this reaction, the stupid act betrays pure weakness, betrays a lack of power, a stupid reaction is negative and sometimes vicious – it could be attributed to the frustration caused by the failure to deal with what the situation demands from them” (38).

 

[(Recall from section 2.1.6 that: (quoting the summary)

In order to overcome stupidity, it may not be enough to simply favor realism (which holds that there is an objective reality to which our claims might veridically correspond) over skepticism (which holds we can have no such reliable access to reality and may make room for bullshitting, because bullshitting involves an indifference to the truth values of one’s claims.) The reason this strategy can fail is that “The truth a realist has access to can be as stupid as the errors of the antirealist” (37). Breeur also notes that antirealists do not simply deny that we can have access to reality or that there even is an objective reality in the first place. Rather, antirealists hold that any such access to reality is insufficient for guaranteeing “sense and meaning” (37).

So, simply insisting that truth is correspondence to reality is insufficient to guard against stupidity, because there very well may be no meaning, sense, or significance to that reality or truth (so it might be “stupid” to take note of such truths), and also, many false things can have great value (and so it would not be stupid to utter them). Let me try to put this in my own words. Statements might be said to have an aletheic value of true or false. That is one sort of value. A statement might also be said to have a semantic content, something perhaps like an intensional meaning, or however we want to construe it. That could be yet another “value” of the true or false statement. Yet, what concerns us here seems to be an altogether different sort of value: a true statement (and possible a false one too) can be said to have a significance-value. By this I mean that the semantic meaning of the sentence indicates something that makes a difference in the world or in our lives, somehow. This might be most basically illustrated with practical values, perhaps. “The cat is on the mat” could be true, supposing the cat is on the mat, but if someone utters it, the statement could very well lack significance-value. First suppose you are walking through the room while holding a tray of drinks, not able to see your feet or what is below you, and you are about to trip on the cat. If I yell, “the cat is on the mat!” then this would have great significance to you. Or, if we are writing a childish poem and we are looking for a memorable rhyme, it could prove significant (even if false). Or, if we are looking for a convenient sentence to illustrate a philosophical point about meaning, it could prove handy (and often in those cases it is false or its actual truth is irrelevant). However, if you and I are sitting in our chairs, chatting, both looking at the cat sitting on the mat right there in front of us, and I utter, “the cat is on the mat,” that statement (although true) could have absolutely no value or worth in that situation. You may even look at me like I am a total imbecilic for saying it. The fact of the cat being on the mat does not indicate something that makes a difference to us. Stupidity, Breeur says, is an indifference or negligence toward the meaningfulness of truth: “the real domain of stupidity is not error or indifference to truth – its ‘real element’ is an indifference, obtuseness, and dullness concerning the value of a truth, concerning what Musil called ‘das Bedeutende’ (the meaningful). [...] Some truth may be meaningless – some error may have some dignity. [...] Someone is stupid as soon as he or she tends to neutralize the value of the truth they missed. Hence, for example, a puerile or clumsy reaction to diminish or even to annihilate the relevance of the things they ignored. With this reaction, the stupid act betrays pure weakness, betrays a lack of power, a stupid reaction is negative and sometimes vicious – it could be attributed to the frustration caused by the failure to deal with what the situation demands from them” (38). I will try to see if I may find an illustration. Suppose you are in a situation that calls for one kind of behavior. But you do not realize that this behavior is called for, and you act inappropriately instead. Then next the truth is brought to your attention, namely, that a different behavior was called for. You cannot take the mistake back, so instead you try to make the situation you are in seem to lack any significance, thus it did not matter what behaviors you took. I am not sure if that is on track and also how to make it more concrete. But suppose you and a friend walk into a room, and you see people are sad. You want to cheer them up, so you start telling jokes. The people respond with horrified faces. You turn around and see a dead body in a coffin: you walked in upon a funeral commemoration. Perhaps your friend witnesses your mistake, but your response to her or him is to insult the people attending the funeral in order to make it seem like – although it really was a terrible mistake – it did not matter, because the people there do not matter. The stupidity here would not seem to be the fact that you made the mistake in the first place of telling jokes at a funeral (perhaps that is more properly the “error); rather, the stupidity is your negligence toward the significance of that truth (that you acted very inappropriately). (If so, this strikes me as also being a sort of foolishness). (P.S.: Breeur’s example in the next paragraph is far better than this poor attempt).)]

We have the truth we merit, dependent upon our way of measuring ourselves against the exigencies of reality. Truth has no meaning at all outside of this fact. The real friend of truth, says Deleuze,38 is the one who makes truth submit to the hardest | test, the test of sense and value. Hence the real domain of stupidity is not error or indifference to truth – its “real element” is an indifference, obtuseness, and dullness concerning the value of a truth, concerning what Musil called “das Bedeutende” (the meaningful). What makes sense, in a truth, and what does not. Some truth may be meaningless – some error may have some dignity. More generally, one could venture that even passions, emotions, and activities or actions may be stupid, stupidity extending beyond the realm of thought. Someone is stupid as soon as he or she tends to neutralize the value of the truth they missed. Hence, for example, a puerile or clumsy reaction to diminish or even to annihilate the relevance of the things they ignored. With this reaction, the stupid act betrays pure weakness, betrays a lack of power, a stupid reaction is negative and sometimes vicious – it could be attributed to the frustration caused by the failure to deal with what the situation demands from them.

(37-38)

38 Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche et la philosophie (Paris: PUF, 1997), p. 118.

(37)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2.2

[Diminishing the Value of Truths We Ignore; Doing This By Means of Opinion Adoption]

 

[Stupidity also then is more than merely making an erroneous statement resulting from a mistake in our understanding or reason; it also requires that we diminish the value of the truths we neglected. For example, suppose we say something wrong about an important book. (The error is the act of saying the false thing.) The stupidity would manifest to the extent that we try to diminish the value of the book or of literature in general. The error here makes a difference, on account of the fact that the truth we ignored has real importance (the book truly is worth our closest attention, and we should have learned more about it), but we try to make it seem like it made no difference. “That act of irreverence targets the frame of values and meaning in which the truths about that book emerge. To mock these values is a mean way of excluding them from my world, it is a way of narrowing the domain of what counts and is at stake in my existence to that realm of things that I can tolerate and abide” (38). Breeur then notes that by trying to demean the truths we ignored, thereby “narrowing the domain of what counts is at stake in my existence,” we also enact “a narrowing of responsibility, i.e. of my necessity to grasp things vitally” (38). There are a number of ways we accomplish this. One is to adopt opinions. Since we do not form them ourselves, we are still thereby ignoring the value of the truths they mask over, when we adopt them.]

 

[(Some comments. I find interesting here the notion that we have a responsibility to acknowledge and even appreciate the truths that we ignored while in error. And this is also a “necessity to grasp things vitally.” In other words, we should not be stupid in this way; yet, as we noted, we do this because we feel powerless and perhaps also ashamed of our ignorance or mistake. What is called for is a full and profound acceptance of that pain. It seems that it might involve a deep humility. It is not that we “beat ourselves up” for making the error, which we acknowledge. Yeth we still endure the pain and humiliation for the sake of living life more “vitally”. Truths that matter, that make a difference, that count in our lives, which we might have erroneously ignored and thereby caused us pain, are at the same time things that can grant us vitality when instead of demeaning or neglecting their value, we rather fully acknowledge their worth. Perhaps we might find this in our normal daily behavior. We might frequently be neglecting truths in our lives that in fact are of great significance, but are unpleasant to acknowledge the value of. By doing so, we “narrow the domain of what counts” and perhaps this is why we often find ourselves occupied with trivialities as distractions.)]

Stupidity in this sense exceeds the domain of erroneous statements controlled by understanding and reason. Suppose, for instance, that I make some erroneous statements about an important book. The stupidity emerging from these statements will be “a project” (as Sartre would say) to conceal the awareness I would have of my ignorance and error by discounting the value of that book, or of literature in general. That act of irreverence targets the frame of values and meaning in which the truths about that book emerge. To mock these values is a mean way of excluding them from my world, it is a way of narrowing the domain of what counts and is at stake in my existence to that realm of things that I can tolerate and abide. That narrowing finally means a narrowing of responsibility, i.e. of my necessity to grasp things vitally. There are several manners of achieving this neutralization. One of them rests on the propagation of opinions. Indeed, an opinion claims to be neutral with regard to our responsive relation to being. An opinion never compromises me, it is opaque and heavy as a stone. Contrary to concepts, you do not have to | form opinions, you adopt them. Hence, they do not signify or manifest any original endeavor to understand what happens to you, they do not emerge in an effort to determine yourself in relation to some affliction or situation in the world. On the contrary, an opinion helps you to mask such necessity.

(38-39)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2.3

[Illustration: Listener Who Denies the Value of True Things About Music]

 

[Breeur offers an example. He was listening to the radio. On the program were people sampling a particular kind of music. One listener did not know or recognize that music, and it also seemed to offend his tastes. He says that he hates it and offers criticisms. Another listener on the program, a musicologist, tried to explain how it actually holds notable musical value, even in the face of these critiques. The first listener conceded all the positive and interesting traits about the music but still could not acknowledge its overall value; “he was not ‘open to it’.” We wonder, wherein lies this person’s stupidity?]

 

[ditto]

Consider the following: I was recently listening to the reaction of someone on the radio who was asked to comment on a piece of music he did not seem to know or recognize. Moreover, that kind of music apparently was not his style. His reaction was surprisingly annoyed and irritated in the vein of “I hate that kind of music, it is a pure mixture of genres, has no structure, misses any purity, etc...” In answer to this, a colleague musicologist tried to explain the importance of that music, the inner structure, refinement, ingenuity and inventiveness of it, etc. The original respondent listened to this and, in response, conceded that his points may be true, but that did not change the fact that he simply could not stand it, that he was not “open to it.” Of course, one may wonder why this lack of openness causes so much irritation. But this is another problem. The question is: Where is the stupidity in this case?

(39)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2.4

[The Stupidity of the Listener as Residing in Them Holding to an Opinion Rather Than Developing an Appreciation for the Music]

 

[Although the first music listener on the radio program was given ample reason to appreciate the music’s value, his response was still to devalue it, with his justification being that “this was simply his opinion, and that he couldn’t do anything about it” (39). He believed that he could not change his character in such a way as to appreciate it. At the same time, he preferred not to “question and discuss the truth of the musicologist’s claims regarding that kind of music” (39). (In other words, he “knowingly” ignored the significance of these true things about the music’s interesting traits.) This means that by positing some inexplicable inner cause for his not liking the music, he is saying that these truths about the music are not significant enough to override his supposed inner sources for dismissing its value. He strips these truths of their power to command one’s appreciation. And herein lies the listener’s stupidity. “Reference to some deeper, opaque, mystical origin of his tactless reaction is simply a way of neutralizing truth claims in the musical (if not the broader artistic) realm. He ‘accepts’ the truth, but only after having denuded it of its value and function” (39).]

 

[ditto]

In trying to justify his reaction to (i.e. his lack of comprehension of/receptiveness to) that music, the respondent said that this was simply his opinion, and that he couldn’t do anything about it. It was beyond him in some sense. His temperament, his character, his personality, his psychology, it simply refused to tolerate that kind of thing. But, at the same moment, he didn’t want to question and discuss the truth of the musicologist’s claims regarding that kind of music. Hence the stupidity: Reference to some deeper, opaque, mystical origin of his tactless reaction is simply a way of neutralizing truth claims in the musical (if not the broader artistic) realm. He “accepts” the truth, but only after having denuded it of its value and function.

(39)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.2.5

[Opinions as Protecting Us from Criticism for Our Errors and as Spreading the Flow of Others’ Truths]

 

[Making use of opinions functions in two ways. {1} It immunizes us from the criticism that we are really in fact in error. For, we reason, “My opinion does not aim at any | truth, and hence cannot be false. I escape the danger of being blamed, and the necessity of assuming that responsibility” (39-40). Here the stupidity lies in the fact that we deny the importance of truths that in fact do matter. {2} By adopting and spreading opinions, we block the flow of truths in others, whose statements of truth are reduced “to hot air”, in that we may note to them that these statements could be true, but nonetheless they have no value for us anyway. Breeur calls this the “reduction to stupidity.”]

 

[ditto]

The role of promulgating opinions in this context is clear. First, it is a manner of escaping the risk and the inevitable charge of being “in error.” My opinion does not aim at any | truth, and hence cannot be false. I escape the danger of being blamed, and the necessity of assuming that responsibility.39 But to so reduce judgment is stupid: It is merely a refusal of the fact that truth may be at stake, that truth may matter. Second, in this manner I reduce the other’s thoughts to hot air (“What you say may be true, but it is of no value to me”). This neutralization is precisely what I would call, as a phenomenologist, the reduction to stupidity. It is a kind of short-circuit that hinders the truth from flowing and shining. To claim the right and freedom to utter, state, and propagate one’s opinions is a manner of claiming the right to exercise this reduction without constraints.

(39-40)

39 For an insightful illustration and confirmation of this line of thought, cf. Kyle Barrowman, “Signs and Meaning: Film Studies and the Legacy of Poststructuralism”, Offscreen, Volume 27, Issue 7, Available at: https://offscreen.com/view/signs-and-meaning-film-studies-and-the-legacy-of-poststructuralism

(40)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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