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.
I’ve been reading that despite the nature vs. nurture debate it’s likely that a moral sense is innate in us all, the result of evolutionary selection dictating an inherent need we share to bond with our fellows. According to the late James Q. Wilson, even the most hardened, egregious individual has a modicum of moral sensitivity. Granted, there are other factors affecting a person’s behavior, self-interest leading to greed among them, but in the deepest recesses of our psyches we need positive human relationships; we are social animals and this fact leads us to desire to do right by others.
I know, as we look at those around us and perceive what appears to be a generally accepted moral relativity, an innate moral sense seems somewhat counter-intuitive. But, even tiny infants exhibit sympathy and practice fairness through sharing. Given the divisive nature of the world we live in perhaps we all need to become a little more child-like; offer a friendly smile and pat on the head, maybe even a hug to the next person we meet. What’s the worst that could happen; other than legal action?
I’ve been reading that the idea of ‘time flow’ might be an illusion. According to some theoretical physicists time is maybe better thought of as a series of ‘instants’. On this theory, past, present and future are meaningless; all ‘instants’ exist within a block of time. ‘Now’ is a timeless instant that is recorded in memory, but as it distances from ‘now’, dissipates as it is retired to deeper recesses of the mind or is moved deeper toward the blocks periphery.
In such a perspective a loved one’s death doesn’t mean non-existence but is comparable to the existence of someone living far away, beyond communication lines. And, me blowing out candles at my 10th birthday party is just as real and in existence as me writing this right now.
As Dan Falk, in the book, In Search of Time, points out, psychologically, linguistically, we are so locked into a flowing time, block time is pretty counter-intuitive to real life experience. Still, I bet those inclined toward religious practice might kind of like the idea.
I’ve been reading and thinking about fanaticism, how and why it arises and the forms it takes. The idea can certainly be thought of in terms of most any passionate belief, but most often, I think, it is thought of in terms of religion.
At some point in the development of the human intellect belief in some sort of supernatural entity was a given; it defined a singular reality. But, as the mind evolved toward reasoned thought, belief in nature spirits gave way to religion, with its requisite doctrinal, dogmatic and political implications, which in turn led to skepticism. Beliefs came to a fork in the road and took it. As beliefs grew further and further apart, fanaticism reared its ugly head; people at opposite extremes being absolutely certain about things no one can be absolutely certain of. Unfortunately, this seems to be the place where humankind presently resides.
I guess a lot of people like to grasp certainty and then not think about it too much anymore. It would be good, wouldn’t it, if everyone put a little energy into questioning? You know, questioning what we can truly know, questioning the efficacy of our chosen beliefs, questioning the legitimacy of our op positional stances. Wouldn’t the resulting cooperation override the necessity of blind faith?
Apparently there is an aspect of Quantum Theory called retro-causality which suggests that something could be done in the future that would affect what occurred in the past; something you could do now that would change what happened then.
It all has to do with sub-atomic particle ‘entanglements’; apparently, simply observing one of an entangled pair changes the nature of the other one which alters what was a micro-second ago. Extrapolating from this brings into focus an idea sci-fi writers have been exploiting for decades: time travel. While some theoretical physicists are pretty sure time travel can’t happen I have to wonder: as I was passing a local elementary school recently, a question on the school’s electronic poster board asked: Do you have a student in Kindergarten next year? Any definitive answer to that question would suggest there are, indeed, people living in the future.
I’ve been thinking about what the concept of progress means these days. I’m pretty sure that, from a materialistic standpoint it has something to do with economic growth: increased consumption to drive increased production to hire more workers to then increase consumption; seems pretty circular and pretty unconcerned about depleting the earth’s finite resources.
My inclination is to see progress more in terms of a bigger picture that has to do with mutual respect for each other and our environment. I really thought we were moving in that direction but recent events have truly shaken that belief. I thought pluralism and tolerance for others was being widely embraced. Sure, there are pockets of reactionary dissidence, even dangerous terroristic hostility, but I really thought that most of us were on the same page, you know, as far as mutual respect for social and cultural differences.
It’s hard not to fall into pessimism, even though I know large numbers of people think as I do. I guess it may be time to take things more seriously, take to the streets, I suppose; shout from the roof tops. And in emulation of our new president I’ve decided not to pay my taxes this year. Who’s with me?
I guess it’s pretty clear there are those among us who presume moral entitlement, whose imagined self-worth provides them the impetus to butt into lines, swerve dangerously through traffic, and, generally, push off the stage those they find to be in the way of their selfish desires. Depending on the degree to which such people imagine their superiority, their behavior may range from petty annoyances to total disregard for the welfare of those around them.
I’ve been reading that there is evidence to suggest egregious behavior of this sort is becoming more and more common and that it threatens to undermine the values necessary to maintain a cooperative, free society. Cooperation all too often depends on realization of personal benefit. The idea of acting in the interests of mutual benefit for all, of equality and justice, is waning, no longer a viable concept for some.
I guess our capitalistic notions of ‘working hard to get ahead’, which certainly accounts for much good being accomplished, can get out control sometimes, a bit too dog eat dog, blinds some people to the true values of mutual well-being.
I’m going to start thinking more about mankind’s common entitlement to a reasonably happy and content existence, maybe spend some time working toward a more just distribution of resources. Maybe I’ll invite the neighbors over for tea.
I came across this idea, the other day, a comment by Elie Wiesel that suggested we all must take sides. Neutrality, he said, helps the oppressor, silence encourages the tormentor. I guess he was thinking of his time imprisoned during WWII, but the idea sure seems applicable these days. The problem is it takes a lot of energy to take sides. It’s a lot easier to look the other way, to sink into the peaceful oblivion of a misconceived optimism totally unwarranted by the dire events of the day. A head-in-the-sand situation, I guess. And then there’s the problem of feeling impotent, that no matter how one might choose to act it will be too little to make a difference.
Between the desire to bask in undeserved optimism and rationalizing my non-action, I seem to be keeping my Will well distracted. Some people, I know, will seek out a motivator to guilt them into action. I don’t respond well to cheerleaders and guilt is a fairly constant companion anyway. So I guess, for starters, I’ll resolve to spend some time each morning contemplating humankind’s inclination to base instinctual behavior after which I will relish the purity of the Will evident in nature’s lesser phenomena. Perhaps the collective Will will assert itself at some point. I guess it’s pretty clear, though; I have taken sides haven’t I.
I came across a commentary, recently, suggesting it might not be such a good idea to introduce thoughts philosophical to young people. I guess the thinking was that young minds were not developed enough to handle deep thought, which made me wonder what the commentator thought philosophy is. Philosophy, it seems to me, is, to a great extent, about reflection: thoughts about relative moral values, how best to deal with difficult situations, maybe thoughts about what might underlie our daily existence.
While children may be less inclined toward thoughtfulness, they are certainly intellectually savvy, dealing, as they do, with the rough and tumble world of the playground. What they do have is a general openness to alternatives, particularly when it comes to human relations. Provided a forum for reflection, I suspect most will reach an attitude of tolerance for the other.
So, in my opinion, given these terribly divisive times, I think philosophical thinking should be encouraged in the schools. I have this feeling that, given the opportunity, children could reach out to our hardened unswayable opinionated psyches and teach us all philosophical perspectives on tolerance and mutual respect.
I’ve been thinking, lately, how natural selection manifests itself in myriad ways among plants and animals: adaptation to changing environmental conditions ensures survival of species. And, individuals with superior survival skills pass on their genes to ensure superior off-spring better capable of surviving and thriving in harsh natural environments.
It seems in some ways unfortunate similar evolutionary progress doesn’t happen among humans where mating practices appear to be pretty thoughtless with regard to what sort of off-spring might be produced, you know, in terms of the capabilities needed to deal with life. The less-able results of indiscriminate coupling are, of course, cared for by the more able and humane where as in the animal kingdom such unfortunate progeny would certainly parish.
Still, it seems to me compassion should rule the day. I do think virtuous behavior toward the less fortunate should be expected of thinking beings, but, being thinking beings, mankind might do well to think before passing on seed.