Pluralistic Reasoning for Social Justice: From Metaphorical to Poetical

In the Seventeenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 15th, our merry band, consisting of the scouts Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole and Mnemochirianne the Centaur, who are now joined by Vulphystrix the Both-Andian whose role remains undetermined, carries on the quest to mutate both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze and thus to tame and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They now understand that understanding the creature and its environment is not enough to ensure they can get the job done.

You will recall, perhaps, that this whole thing began with quite a different merry band, consisting of a ghost named Olde Stephen, and myself. We conversed, and eventually decided that in order to hunt down the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, tame it, and put it to work, we would need to use Metaphorical Reasoning. We may even have said, there or someplace else, that if we could ever figure out what Poetical Reasoning was, we might need that. Faute de mieux, we went ahead with the Metaphorical, yielding a fine parade: a dark tower, a slug-horn, star-nosed moles, a centaur, a  yottapede, a charged global membrane (thanks to B.W. Powe) that morphed into a charged ooze, and finally a fox-hedgehog (or porcupine) both-andian. Somehow, in all this confusion, Olde Stephen slipped away, or was forgotten,—I am not sure which. I may have done too, depending on who “I” is in this narrative.

I should explain that the question of who “I” may be has strong Leacockian roots. You can find it in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) over which controversies rage concerning whether the narrator is Stephen Leacock himself, or a character invented by him. I myself believe the latter, but that’s a question for another day. So too is the question of whether Stephen Leacock, in that book, is engaging in Metaphorical Reasoning or describing a real place and real people, caricatures though they may be. I have waffled on that issue, but now believe he is using Metaphorical Reasoning to talk about some aspects of Social Justice. By dropping hints, however, that the place and people could possibly be real, he allowed the thread of his Metaphorical Reasoning to be overlooked by the reading public and even by some scholars. George Orwell, in Animal Farm, did not make that mistake, nor do I intend to make it. Hence the Slug-Horn, Yottapede (successor to the Dark Tower), Charged Ooze, Mole, Centaur, Both-Andian, etc.

“Is not a Centaur also a both-andian?” I hear you asking yourself. Or do I? Yes, it is, I reply, but a different kind of both-andian from the fox-hedgehog (or porcupine) species. Which one will have the greatest effect on the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze remains to be seen.

It suddenly occurred to me that so too is the star-nosed mole, a creature, a kind of mammalian fish, who “swims” through the dirt (in water too) assisted by an almost unique sensory system and physiology. By blundering around in all this for sixteen weeks I appear to have evolved three interesting approaches to the bi-polarity essential to the unsolved-riddleness of Social Justice: one a blend of polarities (what we used to call in high-school chemistry a “solution” (and isn’t that an interesting pun in our context), who is Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole; one a fusion or “compound”, who is Mnemochirianne the Centaur; and one a collusion, or “mixture”, who is Vulphystrix the Fox-Hedgehog (or Fox-Porcupine). Now what can be done with that, by way of Metaphorical Reasoning? That too remains to be seen.

The professor who taught me and my classmates the Theory of Finance showed us how a Diversified Portfolio becomes the best kind in a Stochastic Environment, that is, one governed by Uncertainty, and why. This was a most excellent lesson, and I intend to profit from it. I will use, therefore, not only Metaphorical Reasoning, but also Colloquial Reasoning (that is, the play of several minds in conversation) as the Labyrinth Walkers have been doing, or trying to do, in the Tuesday Blog, and also Rhetorical Reasoning, as Stephen Leacock did in his The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and which is, or should be, the approach of the Wednesday Blog. Referring to him and others who have tackled the problem brings up the possibility of Historical Reasoning, which I have not been attempting yet but probably should. How I will manage to weave those four together remains to be seen.

What the Metaphorical Challenge, if I may so term it, boils down to is this: How are both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze, living as they do in a symbiotic relationship, to be changed so as to advance the cause of Social Justice? Some kind of gradual evolution by incremental self-induced adjustments would seem to be called for, given the nature of these creatures as it has become entrenched. How are Astranasus, Mnemochirianne, and Vulphystrix to stimulate the necessary processes in the face of the inherent difficulties and inevitable resistance? Perhaps to combine the Metaphorical with the Colloquial, the Rhetorical, and the Historical in one joint endeavour is not only the diversified, but the only possible way. Perhaps that is what is meant by Poetical Reasoning.

You are wondering, perhaps, because I am wondering, why I am not making a place for Scientific Reasoning. I mean no disparagement by this omission. The capacity of Science to understand and explain what is exists in the real world remains unmatched by any other cast of mind and technique. We will make what use of Science we can, what we can find, to understand the Yottapede, the Charged Ooze, and their symbiosis. These are hugely complex organic creatures undergoing their own processes of constant evolution, however, and we run the risk that Science, with its cautious incrementalism and infinite capacity for taking pains, cannot take us where we need to be on time. Stephen Leacock taught us the importance of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour in the quest for Social Justice. I have extended him into an explicit recognition of Doublethink as an important addition to the necessary cast of mind. He did not have the word, and therefore did not get that far, at least explicitly. I think that Science is doing and can do great things for us in Knowledge. Imagination, Compassion, Humour, and Doublethink belong to the realm of the Humanities, although not when they are being cautious and taking infinite pains. We need the Humanities when they are taking giant, inspired leaps, when they engage, that is, in Poetical Reasoning.

The Slug-Horn is the weapon, not the microscope, or the rocket engine, or the super-computer (with or without AI), or the laser, or any of the other amazing tools. We just have to figure out how to blow it with effect.

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