The title is an ironic gesture to a disturbingly cheerful (some, like me, might say saccharin) tune by Bacharach and David, but my intention is to talk about what is less happily categorized as circular reasoning. This is one of those fallacies that has been recognized for so long that the medievals gave it a Latin name: petitio principii. It is also one of those painful failures of basic reasoning that goes beyond the narrow confines of formal logic, or introductory critical thinking classes. This is one of those monsters of bad thinking that empower authoritarian minded individuals and their enablers to unshamefacedly spout about “alternative facts” and other infantile drivel. You see, the problem with a circle, as well as with a mind that reasons in one, is that the circle is closed; inquiry, on the other hand, is (by necessity) open and ongoing.
I’ve talked before (several times, in fact) about what Altemeyer describes as the “compartmentalization” that occurs in authoritarian belief and ideology. One can scarcely dignify this latter as “thinking,” regardless of the degree of sophisticated cleverness employed in maintaining those compartments as air tight against all facts and logic. Authoritarian thinkers, following Hamlet’s example, keep their minds, bounded in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space, were it not that they have bad dreams. (Of course, Hamlet was being ironic, and mocking his interlocutors, something the Mango Mussolini’s enthusiasts entirely fail to grasp.) The thing is, these people choose to be bounded by a nutshell, all the while imagining themselves in princely command of infinite space. Meanwhile, their bad dreams (which are the trailings of reality, dogging them despite their dogmatism) are the sources of their willing embrace of Trumpian neo-fascism. Because the nutshell – the “nut house” – in which they have bound their minds is a tightly enclosed circle that permits no entry from reality. Continue reading