Friday, October 03, 2008

"mind . . . instead of mentality"

Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126-1198)
Arab Enlightenment: Mind, not Mentality?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In its Special Dispatch Series, No. 2067 (September 29, 2008), "Liberal Syrian Intellectual Georges Tarabishi: Without Secularism, There Can Be No Democracy," MEMRI supplies excerpts from an interview early this year that the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (January 23, 2008) conducted with the liberal Syrian intellectual Georges Tarabishi. In that interview, Tarabishi made some insightful remarks on the difference between thinking with one's mind and thinking with a mentality.

Tarabishi's distinction was made in response to a question that the newspaper posed concerningn reasons for the decline in Arab intellectual culture:
Q: "What is your explanation for the decline of the Arab mind, following the period of openness and flowering in the past? Are we in need of an Arab renaissance project? [And if so,] what would be its outlines?"
The query might be referring to the sort of flowering that ended with the Muslim rejection of Averroes (ibn Rushd) in the 12th century, along with the long decline over the centuries that followed, but Tarabishi seems to take the question as referring to a more recent decline:
A: "It is difficult to answer in [only a few] lines this kind of question, which I have written entire books answering. Here I will just express a reservation about the use of the word 'mind.' I believe that many Arab intellectuals, and the audience they address, do not think with their minds, but with a mentality. There is a big difference between the two.

"It may well be that the renewal of the project of the Arab Enlightenment (nahda), which is currently suffering from severe setbacks, is dependent on the ability of the Arab intellectual to once again go from basing himself on the mind instead of on the mentality. And a mind is only a mind if it is critical.

"What characterizes a mentality is its tendency towards defensiveness and justification. That is what most dominates the prevailing culture today in the Arab world, especially on the Arab satellite stations, which put defensiveness before criticism and stir up emotions instead of stimulating the mind."
I think that this is a useful distinction to make -- a mind versus a mentality. One who 'thinks' with a mentality doesn't really think at all. Such an individual (if that's the correct term) might reflect, but only in order to remember the correct position and repeat the proper response. The purpose of such reflection is to reinforce ideological boundaries and prevent others from crossing the borders.

Those who do cross are accused of having betrayed their identity.

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