One of the salient contrasts in Lehi’s dream is that between those who cling to the iron rod and those who enter the great and spacious building. On the one hand, the former grope about in a blinding fog, doing their best to find their way along a path which they cannot see. The latter, on the other hand, are (somehow) able to see this path from their vantage point up in the building, but are thus unable to follow it. The question I wish to raise is this: which is more rational, to do without understanding or to understand without doing? Indeed, one can interpret the river which separates the rod from the building as the distance which is required for any kind of “objective” analysis. Obviously, Lehi thinks it better to follow the path rather than survey it from a distance.
I would also suggest that Darwin – or Darwinian thinking at least – agrees with Lehi on this point. His “dangerous idea” was that the living things of this world – humans not excluded – consist of vast amounts of design without planning, intelligence without articulation and rationality without understanding. Ants, birds and dogs are all able to cope with their complex environments in ways which are nothing short of brilliant, and yet they know nothing of their own brilliance. Hopefully it’s not too irreverent to suggest that each of these creatures is blindly following their own version of an iron rod.
Let’s go one step further by applying Darwin’s dangerous idea to itself. I would suggest that when people place their trust in stories, customs and traditions which lead them to behave in rational ways that they do not themselves understand, they are in fact being very Darwinian. Of course, these same people have no idea how Darwinian their behavior really is – but this too is exactly what Darwin would expect. Here we have vast numbers of people which act in a way which is very rational without having any appreciation of that fact or the rational principles that underpin it.
By contrast, I would also suggest that most of those who do understand Darwinism do not behave in a very Darwinian manner. They do not trust processes and traditions which they do not understand, thereby rejecting the application of Darwin’s idea to themselves and their environment. Contra Darwin, they act as if unarticulated intelligence is not intelligent at all and that there is no such thing as rationality without understanding. Thus, in some sense, many of those who do not believe in Darwinism are more Darwinian than those who do.
This brings to mind the old warning against “paralysis by analysis” which roughly means that the very act of analyzing some behaviors serves as a stumbling block to successfully engaging in those behaviors. The flip side of this coin might be “competence through ignorance”, “felicity through simplicity” or “fluidity through stupidity.” These two sides, I submit, correspond to the two sides of the river in Lehi’s dream. In other words, I interpret Lehi’s dream as illustrating how an unanalyzed faith is, pragmatically speaking, a better faith.
The most obvious objection to this Darwinian anti-intellectualism is that it shouldn’t be applied across the board. Yes, some types of behavior cannot be analyzed without thereby distancing ourselves from them and it is possible that it would be better for us if we didn’t look too closely at some of our traditions, but we have no reason to assume that this holds for all or even most behaviors and traditions. Some types of behavior are actually refined by analysis. It is thus up to the anti-intellectualist to articulate which stories, customs and traditions – if any – his analysis holds true for.
The reply to this objection is yet one more application of Darwin’s idea: the anti-intellectualist need not articulate or understand that a tradition is incompatible with analysis in order to intelligently and rationally protect it from analysis. In other words, the anti-intellectualist need not know or understand that a tradition is incompatible with analysis in order to rationally protect it from such. If a tradition is truly incompatible with an intellectual analysis of it, then the rational thing to do is not analyze it, full stop.