Sentio ergo sum

Most of us are aware of the famed motto of rationalism, cogito ergo sum, better known as “I think, therefore I am.” In some ways, I wish that this were actually true; it would certainly change the role of the news media.

What we really have is something closer to sentio ergo sum, or “I feel, therefore I am.” I’ll even go a step further, and probably butcher Latin grammar in the process, but how about this: “sentio ergo cogito.” Whether that’s good Latin or not, perhaps the point is still made. The situation in Iraq, a.k.a. the war against terror, has made it really clear that our approach, not to existence (most of us are actually egotistical enough to believe that “I am that I am” refers to us), but to our concept of truth. Reality seems better defined by what we feel, than by what logic and facts dictate.

Consider ex-President and philanderer Bill Clinton’s interview with Chris Wallace last Sunday night. By most accounts – even other, seemingly liberal news outlets – all Wallace did was ask a simple question, and Clinton “lost it.” According to a Newsweek (not Fox) commentary, Clinton was reacting to ABC’s (not Fox) “The Path to 9/11” which apparently portrayed Bill and his boys as wimps. It would seem that Clinton was playing the part of Marty McFly (“Back to the Future”): “Nobody calls me chicken!”

The real news, however, is the reporting and analysis of the interview. Clinton has always been a cold, calculating, actor when it comes to the press, and I don’t doubt that this was just another performance. For the most part, the media seems to be falling (they always did) for Clinton’s act, and somewhat surprisingly, taking Chris Wallace’s (who is a Fox News reporter) side.

Except for Keith Olbermann. Now, even though I disagree with Olbermann’s politics, I generally like him. His show, Countdown, is fresh, original, and Olbermann has a sarcastic wit that could compete with Dennis Miller (now, that would be a news team…). But, sometimes he really blows it, especially when his sentio gets in the way of his cogito.

KO’s opening sentences in his column for today are:

The headlines about them are, of course, entirely wrong.

It is not essential that a past president, bullied and sandbagged by a monkey posing as a newscaster, finally lashed back.

What is this? Sandbagged? Perhaps he uses a different dictionary than I do. He goes on say how Clinton finally spoke the truth about 9/11. Perhaps Keith should spend a little time actually reading the 9/11 Commission’s report. What I think Olbermann has done is let his feelings – that he dislikes Bush immensely and is against the Iraq thing – take the place of his intellect.

He’s not the only news commentator to let their feelings control their thinking – Dan Rather comes to mind, as does Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity (it happens to conservatives, too). It’s hard to do, when we feel so strongly about an issue, or even a person. It’s hard to acknowledge that a difference of opinion based on the same set of facts is possible, and so we fall into ad hominem thinking.

But, as intellectual as we claim to be, the truth remains that we often draw our conclusions, not based on facts, but on our feelings. We don’t like war, so war is wrong. We don’t like Bush or Clinton, so they are wrong.

Now, I could be accused of the same type of thinking – and, I freely admit that I share the same human tendency. However, as much as I dislike Clinton personally, I think some of the things he did as president weren’t that bad. On the other hand, his administration did set the country up for some failures that we have had to deal with since then. And, I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of what Bush has done.

But, I’ve changed my views on some things, including war. I’ve been a lifelong pacifist, but have had to accept that this position can’t really be supported Biblically, without being selective about what verses you read. Sometimes (actually, fairly often) my feelings are wrong (although, sometimes my reasoning is off, too…).

While my frist response is usually sentio ergo sum, I am trying to use the reasoning skills God gave me to think my feelings through. I am not falling into the deception that I can reason everything out – but, “to him who is faithful with little, much will be given.”

Sum, ergo cogito.

2 thoughts on “Sentio ergo sum”

  1. Interesting points, thanks. It seems I am often proving myself wrong, so I must be doing something right!

    I usually point people to Peter’s affirmation of faith, “where else would I go?” I think that statement presumes that Peter knew what the options were, and he could see the difference. Sometimes, that’s the best basis for faith that we can find.

  2. Alden,

    I call this “comparative”. Our brains naturally work towards taking the information we receive and trying to find where it agrees (compares) with our worldview.

    As you state, this leads to all sorts of mistakes.

    We are supposed to be “contrastive”. We are supposed to actively prove ourselves wrong. (Fundamentalist consider it a sin to even conisder how they may be wrong.) This is the ONLY way to remove bias.

    All we know for SURE is what ISN’T true.

    Paul wrote in this contrastive fashion. He proved truth by identifying all the possible options and proving one way was right by showing every other way is wrong. That’s one reason his writings are so powerful, yet so hard to understand.

    Sudoku puzzles are built on this premise…you know for sure when a number fits ONLY when you know for sure it can’t go anywhere else.

    Dan Rather was comparative: If it walks like a duck, etc.,…then it MUST be a duck.

    Being contrastive takes too much effort for the overwhelming majority of people, so we are stuck with comparative perspectives and errors.

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