Saturday, February 12, 2005

Iron Mountain Logic

Iron Mountain Logic: Loading your Keystone Fallacy into your First Axiom.
(If you don't buy the premise, you are not bound by the argument.)

Iron Mountain is an important symbol in pk thinking and writing. The pk context for it is introduced in several places at (A search from any page should find them.) Today I come at the symbol fresh, to christen my new resolve to form a pk lexicon at, sketching the new entries here at Iona Arc.

Ah, but pk uses stories to explain things.
Sometime in the mid-1970s a girl friend / voluntary secretary handed me a book: The Iron Mountain Report. Ginny asked me to glance at it and tell her what I thought. Then and there I started to read the first paragraph: and burst out laughing.
Complex emotions played over Ginny's face. She wanted me to explain to her what I thought was funny. I wanted to read a little bit further: before I made an ass out of myself. I wasn't sure I could explain it to her: not without giving her a liberal education that would take years: after taking perhaps decades to deprogram her existing education: IF she was qualified for any part of the process. (My friendship with Ginny was based neither on common culture nor on intellect.)
I judged that Ginny wanted me to explain it to her in a sentence or two: and, without having actually read the book. It turned out that Ginny couldn't lend me the book for more than a few minutes. It was a text for some class. (I hadn't known she was taking a class. Ginny may not have wanted to share such chitchat with the deschooler.) The teacher had assigned it. The class was enraged by the book. The teacher had explained to the class that The Iron Mountain Report was a satire: it was supposed to be funny. No one in the class had found it anything close to funny.
Ginny had seen in an instant that pk responded to it as funny. How come I did: and she and her class didn't? (Had her teacher thought it was funny?)

Once upon a time at Columbia Lionel Trilling had told us juniors that one must read a book all the way through, right to the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph, before believing oneself qualified to begin to judge it. Now don't think for a minute that pk had ever not thought that. Still it was a funny thing for a Columbia professor to say: given that Trilling assigned Homer for Monday, the Bible for Wednesday, and Thomas Mann and Sir James Frazer for Friday: to students whose other professors had assigned Western Culture to freshman, the Greeks, Romans, and Renaissance to sophomores, and physics, chemistry, and mathematics to both. Can anyone possibly be admitted to an Ivy League school without having written more papers on books they haven't read than papers on books they have? Has any teacher in the school (and university) system ever not taught a subject they didn't know, assigned a book they hadn't read? Spent a lifetime reading reviews by reviewers who also hadn't read the book? by columnists whose deadlines were always scheduled before the game was over?
Once in graduate school I commented to a study group on the importance of improvising, agreed to show them how it was done. Milton is a major poet. Still, I had at that date read only two of his sonnets. I ID'd them and told them to assign me any other Milton sonnet and I would on the spot orate a finals essay on it. A glance showed me that it was about water and fertility. I improvised something kin to my present Centers, Edges & Borders essay. One guy who was kneeling at my side when I began commented as I concluded that staying on his knees was appropriate as a homage to my performance. Secondary conclusion: I was bullshitting; but I was bullshitting well. Primary conclusion: I don't believe in bullshitting, nearly everything is already bullshit. I believe in judgments based in actual considered experience, not in lies and postures.

Thus: I tell you as close to the outset as I can meaningfully fit it: I have never read more than a few of the opening sentences of The Iron Mountain Report. And I haven't read those sentences but the one time, three decades ago. I have no business judging that work. I am not judging it. I don't say that my impression is correct. I am telling you what my impression was. What the nearsighted person thinks they're looking at without their glasses on is legitimate data; it is not a variorum view of the thing under consideration. What pk says is not necessarily THE Iron Mountain; it is, avowedly pk's Iron Mountain. (I would like to find time to locate and read the book some day: and then to macroinformationally compare my remembered first impression with my considered, legitimate, then-formed impression.)

Meantime, here's what I remember: close to its top, The Iron Mountain Report said something like Since nothing is more important than that the American way of life be preserved ... therefore, we must be prepared to think about the unthinkable, stockpile nuclear weapons ... defeat Communism. ...
The logic seemed unassailable. Ginny and her classmates wanted to assail it, but couldn't. The logic lassoed and hogtied them. They weren't comfortable, but they were bound. Whereas the lasso missed pk. I don't buy the premise, therefore, I am not bound by the argument.

Should anything be more familiar to civilized man than Iron Mountain logic?
IF you buy the Jew's God, Therefore you have bought that the Jews are Chosen.
IF you buy that Jesus is really CHRIST, and that Christ is really God, Therefore the Jews' Chosenness loses its capital C and Christians are Chosen.
IF you buy that Christians are Chosen, Therefore English colonists really owned the Iroquois territories ... American democracy is really more democratic than the Iroquois Great Law ... and we don't owe anything for our thefts, our plagiarisms ...
SINCE nothing is better than US ... Therefore whatever we do is justified.

Ginny, I hope you're well. I hope you find and read this. And I apologize for not trying better to answer your question back when.

OK, that's a start. Iron Mountain logic is not the most important pk symbol; it's merely the one I had in mind when it occurred to me to launch a collection of symbols. Now I'll try some truly core symbols. Jesus comes next.

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