A view from Dave Trott: It's logic but it's nonsense
A view from Dave Trott

It's logic but it's nonsense

The mediaeval period is also known as the Dark Ages.

For hundreds of years, religion and superstition ruled, and what held it all in place was the most thoroughly argued logic: endless debates around the seemingly logical interpretation of religion and superstition.

However ridiculous the original premise might seem, if it could be argued by superior logic, it must be beyond question.

The scaffold of articulately presented logic would prove an impenetrable barrier to questioning the underlying foundation of religion and superstition.

The events that happened in the French town of Autun in 1508 illustrate this.

All living beings were subject to the law, and the law must be administered scrupulously.

It was common, for instance, for donkeys and pigs to be tried for murder, and executed.

So it was with the rats of Autun, they were accused of "Feloniously eating and wantonly destroying" the barley crop, so they must be tried according to law.

Logically, defendants had a right to be heard, so the rats were required to attend the trial.

The first problem was notifying the rats, as they were deemed to be "of no fixed abode".

So, logically, documents notifying them of the accusation and the date of the proceedings were nailed to every tree and barn, and the summons was read out from the pulpit of every church in the area.

But, despite these proclamations, on the day of the hearing the rats failed to attend.

The court was entitled to pass sentence on the rats "in abstentia", logically deciding they had forfeited their right to be heard, thereby confirming their guilt.

But the rats’ legal counsel was Bartholomew Chassenée, who appealed against this.

His logical position was that every accused had the right to defend themselves, unless appearing at court put their life in danger.

He argued that, logically, the rats should be excused: "On the grounds of the length and difficulty of the journey and the serious perils which attended it, owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats, who watched all their movements, and, with fell intent, lay in wait for them at every corner and passage."

The logic was indisputable.

So a position was logically arrived at that the rats couldn’t be expected to attend the court to defend themselves, therefore the rats could not be tried.

This was the sort of scrupulous logic that was followed across mediaeval Europe for cases involving every living thing, from pigs to insects.

The fact that they were tried in a court of law, by lawyers and magistrates, gave credibility to a basically ridiculous premise.

Because we know that animals don’t know what they’re doing: they can’t read, they can’t understand the law, they can’t comprehend right and wrong.

But no-one can get as far as questioning that basic premise because there is too much logical scaffolding in the way.

And all the impenetrable Latin, legal terminology meant simple folk couldn’t question it.

Which is pretty much where we find ourselves today, with technology.

Media companies make the language difficult to understand, to convince everyone that understanding it is beyond ordinary simple folk.

Then no-one can question the premise of ever-increasing technology, which is: never mind what goes in it, just look how well targeted it is.

If we could question it, we’d see this was nonsense.

But we can’t question it for the same reason mediaeval folk couldn’t question executing animals, it’s supported by a complex framework of seemingly impenetrable logic.

Well it may be logic, but it’s still nonsense.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

Topics