The Pangloss Syndrome

Because I try to post something new almost every day, I’m delighted by how often random forum conversations serve up grist for my philosophical mill. Today I was talking to katrinka/fennario (Stella Waldvogel) on one of the cartomancy forums about the book Tarot on Earth by Tom Benjamin, who apparently subscribes to the belief that, no matter how you “cut the cards,” whatever homegrown method you use to pry meaning out of mute bits of printed cardboard is somehow “right,” regardless of informed insights to the contrary offered by established precedent or tradition. Even if one rejects all ground-rules and boundaries when the only star by which one chooses to navigate is intuition unalloyed with “book learning,” the assumption that no intellectual compass is needed by which to steer a course is right up there with “It’s all good” as a travesty of uncritical thinking and one of the great falsehoods of our fraying “New Age” world-view. It supposes that everyone – regardless of credentials – is an “expert” in their own right and no-one is accountable for measuring up to widely recognized standards of proficiency or excellence in interpretation. If something “feels” valid from the intuitive reader’s subjective vantage point, then it must be the truth. There are many historical figures far smarter than most of us who have already been down that road and they occasionally left a written record of their explorations; to categorically dismiss that wealth of knowledge and wisdom in favor of our own subconscious noodling seems both perilous and uninformed.

I’ve taken to calling this blind faith in the cult of personal omniscience the “Pangloss syndrome.” In Candide, Voltaire’s philosophical “road-trip” narrative, the rather hapless “hero” of the title had a traveling companion and spiritual advisor, Dr. Pangloss,  who was fond of saying at every unfortunate turn of events, “Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” Believing that everything we say in a reading is germane to the occasion (and moreover, correct) because we unequivocally “feel” it to be so smacks of the same kind of presumptuousness that Dr. Pangloss exhibited. I can almost hear the unspoken justification: “My motives are pure, so my methods must by association be flawless. Don’t bother me with facts, I’m on a roll here.”

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