Public discourse sure seems divisive these days. There seems to be a lot of people holding pretty strong oppositional opinions on a host of contemporary issues. The disagreements appear to be pretty deep; not just apples and oranges but more of a god/Satan divergence; a profound philosophical divide beyond any sort of reconciliation; neighbor versus neighbor has led to political gridlock. I’m inclined to level some of the blame for the situation on football; it’s all come down to a win or lose situation.
Which has led some wise pundits to suggest we need a change of attitude; a spirit of compromise along with a sense of civil exchange of ideas; allow the other side their dignity while articulating your own point of view clearly and calmly and try to avoid taking the issues personally.
I grant you this isn’t an easy task when you know for certain the other side is clearly wrong. I wish I could tell you I’m immune to this discordant dilemma but reading the news from the perspective of my favored apps keeps me regularly angry at the other side, and, I suspect, the other side is similarly seething while absorbing the bias of their favored sources.
The conundrum brings me back to a need to spend more time on my meditative practices: focus on by-passing the Self, allowing disquieting thoughts to evaporate, strive for ultimate nature of being, seek believable truths. It’s difficult but I can think of no better solution and maybe I’ll eventually reach a point of toleration for those on the other side.
I’ve been mulling over the relationship between objective truth, subjective belief and fact, lately. As far as I can tell, facts are those things that are unmistakably true, that must under all circumstances be the case. Facts are those things having occurred, like the Norman Invasion, things that will occur in the future like the ultimate physical demise of all biological life forms and concepts beyond doubt like gravitational force. Propositions that border on objective truth, then, are those concepts and theories that are most in-line with the facts. Subjective belief on the other hand, provides important personal ground for living, maybe, but is not required to conform to any sort of irrefutable facts.
Now, it seems to me, in order to progress in our understanding of the world around us we need to generate useful knowledge. Some people undoubtedly feel subjective beliefs offer useful knowledge and I hesitate to dismiss them out-of-hand, but I’m afraid such a stance lacks the flexibility needed to truly progress. To progress we need to be able and willing to set aside what we once understood to be the case in favor of new ideas, theories that conform better to the facts which have been and continue to be revealed to us.
And these days with the significant problems we face I’m thinking we better root for the creative, progressive problem solvers who are reaching beyond what we now know. Here’s hoping solutions will be found before we find ourselves inextricably caught in a trap of our own making.
I’ve been thinking, lately, about the nature of family, you know, the shared warmth of common beginnings, but also the dissonance of having come to know, or supposed, an identity inconsistent with one’s upbringing and parental values. The realization that family will probably, we being adults and all, be well in the background of one’s life, nevertheless exist as emotional support; a safety net of sorts one can always cast when burdens become particularly heavy is reassuring if only in the abstract.
Family is the true protection against solitary oblivion; a respite before our final demise and our re absorption into the mother of us all.
I’ve been reading about this idea that we all have, at the base of our instinctual understanding, a faith that sustains our very existence; a faith in the existence of something without which survival would be impossible.
This something may be, I think necessarily is, of a very nebulous character and in fact, if and when it takes on too specific an identification may very well lose much of its potency. Naming it is losing it. Our rational selves are inclined to try to grasp this something, identify it, get intimate with it, worship it, maybe, but any such action only diminishes it. All we can and must do is acknowledge its existence.
We might think to construct symbols for and procedures by which we can more easily gain access, to keep it close to our waking consciousness, but any such activity must be of an abstract nature, no more than a parallel reference acknowledging only the existence of this something that defies labeling of any kind because this ground of being is essential to our very nature.
Ok, so I kind of get this, you know, and I can sense hopefulness on even the dreariest and most depressing of days. I guess, though, I maybe should pay a bit more attention, not lose awareness of this ultimate sustainable essence, my very being depends on it and as difficult as it is to think about something so ineffable and adverse to description I will dedicate contemplative time to reaching deep.
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 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.
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’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.
As abrasive, ugly and, I guess, pretty comical public debate has become these days maybe it’s time to extol the virtues of the high energy levels our contentious philosophical exchanges generate. However distasteful, things are certainly better than the political structures in other parts of the world that are inclined to censor oppositional views of any sort (that couldn’t happen here, could it?).
Still, I have to question motivations sometimes. I’m afraid rather than championing fairness and what’s best for all, it appears, often, folks’ primary concerns center on me and mine, my own situation and how it measures up to what I see around me; seems like arrested development sometimes; a perpetual adolescence.
The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill reminds us that in any debate, both positions will contain a certain degree of truth; issues are never simply black and white. So, it’s up to us all, I guess, to try to make reasonable sense of the oppositional view rather than mindlessly rely on logical fallacies, strawman simplifications and ad hominem put-downs to bind us with our allies and reinforce what we wish to be the right and only view.
As I contemplate these ideas I’m fully aware of my own complicity, my own inclination to jump on my preferred band wagon, you know, thumb my nose at the opposition. But, at least it gets my blood pumping, raises the old energy level; better than wasting away in lethargy ville I suppose.