I am reminded these mild early fall days of warm sun and cool nights, of our symbiotic relationship to the natural world. As much as we may wish to bask in our autonomy, the fact is we are of nature, simply a small fairly insignificant component of the natural environment. It’s pretty clear our very existence, dependent as it is on an oxygenated atmosphere and water-rich environs can’t really be separated in any meaningful way from our supportive world.
We are nature, nature is us. If we were pressed to name this embracing entity I suppose we might refer to it as God.
Boy, it sure seems, these days, judging by the public discourse, that we’re all sliding deeper and deeper into irrationality. Passions predominate on both sides of the philosophical divide; the peripheries of the political spectrum appear to absorb more folks daily as centrists disappear. Measured exchanges are being displaced by passionate condemnation; demonization of the Other renders moot any attempts at rational consideration of opposing views.
There appears to be little interest in seeking imaginative solutions to our ever increasing problems. I guess until an unavoidable disaster looms before us we will remain content within our tribes tossing stones, verbal and literal, at our chosen enemies.
It’s really unfortunate we’re all so easily manipulated by the public narrative. When it comes down to it I truly believe we have more in common than we may think.
I’ve been reading that the divisiveness so prevalent these days among folks of differing political persuasions is caused to a not inconsiderable extent by media narratives that posit the news in terms of winners and losers. Rather than defining contemporary problems as mutual and in need of consensus solutions, stories in the news all too often portray ideological differences as warfare pitting one side against the other in a battle which will ultimately determine winner and loser. And, since news outlets no longer see any necessity in offering a balanced story line with pros and cons for any particular stance, partisans can gravitate to the site of their preferred ideological narrative, reinforcing the corrosive divisiveness.
So, I’m wondering if there’s any way to get everyone in the same army in the same camp or on the same team: to get Republicans and Democrats, creationists and scientists, Russians and Islamists and perhaps the entire animal kingdom wearing the same uniform. I fear it will happen only under the threat of imminent cataclysmic disaster. Of course the potential Armageddon will be attributed variously to godless atheism, head-in-the-sand anti-intellectualism, capitalistic excesses, the Infidel, whatever.
I guess that takes us back to where we started. Will we all ultimately be losers?
I went to the county fair this past week as I have been doing for several years now. All rural county fairs, as far as I know, judge the quality of various activities and accomplishments through competitions that any county resident who wishes to can enter. One can compete in art and needle work and garden production as well as have the quality of their livestock judged. There are adult divisions and 4H competitions for children.
Judging by the quality of the 4H exhibits it appears most of these kids are slightly less than marginally involved in their projects. One young fellow put together a poster display about raising sheep in which he borrowed verbatim, short articles on line, printed them and pasted them to colored paper after which he arranged them on a poster board. For this he received a Grand Champion ribbon which makes one wonder about what sort of lessons are being taught and learned here.
In fact, apart from the animals that generally appeared healthy and well taken care of, the adult art and garden exhibitions left a lot to be desired; uninspired, I guess, would be a polite referral to many of the poorly executed offerings. To be honest the fair as a whole made me wonder if my neighbors make up a semi-functional citizenry lacking full grasp of meaningful social exchange.
Well, to be fair, everybody’s busy these days; maybe I should give credit for participation. Still the experience left me little desire to mingle with the masses let alone inspire any warmth toward humanity.
So, it’s come to my attention that through virtually my entire educational existence, a culture of relativistic truth has undermined the notion that some truths are truly and necessarily objectively true. I’ve come to realize that, through careful observation of nature using inductive reasoning practical truths have been and will continue to be established.
I guess this idea of virtual relativity has lodged itself into the peripheries of our intellect in part, at least, because social truths and values have been shown to vary with different peoples. And, I have to admit that sensitivity to cultural pluralism is certainly a good thing. But, I guess it’s led to the confusion that all truths are relative to the unique and differing perspectives of each of us. Moral truths, for instance, will differ depending on one’s sense of religious propriety or lack thereof. But, the process of science which involves painstaking data collection by numerous researchers over extended time periods that lead to useable innovative ideas and are regularly peer reviewed must necessarily be perceived as objective.
Anyway, I have to keep telling myself this, having been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the culture of relativity. Sustaining a healthy natural environment threatened as it is by the onerous pressures of human habitation depends upon accepting the objective findings of science.
As I understand it, science is a discipline whereby observations lead to evidence. The greater the number of observers along with the ever increasing number of observations lead to increasingly firmer, sounder more believable evidence. And, as time goes by and the multitudes of observations reinforce the evidence, truth appears; of course absolute truth can never be achieved because the possibility, as remote as that maybe, of new evidence entering the discussion can’t be discounted. But, practically speaking, from a pragmatic standpoint, science does sometimes reveal truths. And, in it’s unadulterated purity science continues to seek truths which improve quality of life, understanding of the natural world and the origins of our existence.
Unfortunately, skepticism as to ulterior motive has led some to doubt scientific evidence, and, I guess, for good reason. On the one-hand vested interests claim justification in the name of science for activities that benefit a few and may potentially do harm. Then, also, those who find scientific findings contradicting their preferred world views tend to discount the evidence as atheistic. And so, science becomes politicized, in part because the complexity of the evidence is difficult for us non-scientists to understand; in fact, it sometimes sounds like nonsense to our untrained ears.
So, political science (not to be confused with the discipline that studies scientifically the way politics works) may very well become political pseudo- science when in the hands of the politically astute, casting doubt, for many, on all scientific findings. Which is, indeed, unfortunate. It kind of sounds oxymoronic doesn’t it.
I’ve been reading that pretty much everyone, when asked, can provide a personal life-narrative that sums up or provides the gist of who we are as individuals. Apparently, usually, these personal stories are arrived at after the fact, post-hoc, and are largely fictions we construct in order, I guess, to have something to tell those who wish to know us better. Or something.
Well, maybe our stories aren’t total fiction but they are likely to be exaggerations, elaborations and/or simplifications that we deem make us appear better and more empathetic to those we wish to impress. So, anyway, this has me thinking about what my own story might look like if I were totally honest. How honest would I be in spelling it all out?
The thing is, next to every experience I can recall that puts me in a pretty good light there exists, in the shadows, an embarrassment, something I would prefer not to share no matter how much sympathy it might elicit. When I think about my childhood relationships with my peers, the challenges of reaching adulthood, what I’ve learned along the way, accomplishments, deficiencies overcome…..or not, I think it might be best to avoid offering a personal narrative at all. Those who are put off by my reticence will just have to find someone else to be touchy-feely with.
I’ve been reading, lately, that we apparently don’t all live in the same ethical world, that our moral perspectives diverge sometimes pretty dramatically, and, that this fact may very well account for the conflicting religious and political stances which seem so prevalent these days.
On the one hand you have those who champion the individual, operate according to the ethic of the golden rule: do no harm, treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated and exercise compassion for all vulnerable living things. And then you have another sizable constituency whose ethics centers on a sense of sacredness, pledge loyalty to a higher authority and firmly believe one’s social benefits be tied to one’s contributions.
It certainly seems to me both of these ethical worlds exist upon pretty sound foundations and I suspect the residents of each respective world probably have more in common, ethically speaking, than the on-going, divisive, media narrative presents. Maybe it’s time to invite my neighbors (who I’m pretty sure are firmly ensconced within the opposing camp) over for tea. As long as I can come up with conversational topics that don’t involve politics or religion.
I’m being led to understand, these days, that there are certain innate values within the human genome that when melded with cultural norms pretty much define irrevocably who we are (not discounting the onward march of evolutionary change).
Tendencies toward care for others, loyalty to our own, recognition of higher authority and above all the deep-seeded need to seek out and find sanctity are so deeply innate that reasoned explanation, reliance on an exclusive rationality as ultimate explanation for how and what things are can be embraced only by those who fight off what we innately feel to be true. And, further, such vehement denial of one’s true self isolates from the sort of social cohesion necessary for anyone to reach beyond ego and be truly open and happy.
Being a fairly private individual myself and always having been kind of averse to group bonding of any sort I found these ideas required a bit of thought. Initially the saccharine notion of sitting around a campfire singing Kum ba yah came to mind. But then I realized there were groups of more or less like-minds that I more or less fit into. And that I found the interactions (usually sports related) with these groups rewarding and important parts of my life, really, which makes me think the conception of some sort of innate need for social bonding is probably accurate. I still wince at the thought of singing Kum ba yah though.
I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by a moral psychologist who claims pretty much everyone lies, cheats and steals. Apparently most all of us have such a deeply-held, innate self-interest that, given the opportunity, dishonesty is inevitable.
Excuses made to avoid an unwanted invitation are likely to be lies. We do this, I guess, because we all want to be well-thought of and it’s pretty clear unremitting truth will make anyone pretty unpopular. And when it comes to cheating, laws are set up such that everyone who drives a car will inevitably cheat in some way, at least in terms of speed limits. As far as theft goes, ‘borrowing’ items from one’s workplace, even if justified as improving one’s work efficiency is never the less stealing.
So, as I think about it I guess I have to admit I fit the profile. I can claim, I suppose, I do no grievous harm to any individual. I do have to admit, though, I’m a liar, cheat and thief. The worst of it is I still think I’m a pretty good person.