On Solid Ground?

I’ve mentioned that I get emails from folks; emails of the “pass this along to your friends because they need to know” variety. These are usually political or socio-economic or religious in nature, and usually tinged with a bit of rancor and/or fear. (Although, come to think of it, I haven’t received as many of them since I’ve started blogging about receiving them…)

I thought about finally doing my own mass emailing, by sending this article to everyone I know. But then I thought better of it; I don’t want to be a pest, and I’m unconvinced it would have any more affect upon its recipients than theirs do upon me. So, I’ll instead blog about it.

The article is a decent, quick, populist presentation of what many of us have come to realize: that humans believe they live their lives objectively, while in fact they live them quite subjectively. When we “analyze” a situation or idea, what we actually do is take our preconceived ideas and interpret all available data in such a way as to “support” these preconceived ideas. What I like about the article is that it bluntly covers the simple notion that we all start with a belief about a particular concept, and then set out to prove to ourselves (and presumably to others) that our belief is accurate. What the folks in the article are talking about is that along the way and toward this end of proving ourselves, we reject, interpret, restate, judge, assemble and package intellectual materials as needed to convince ourselves that after careful, thoughtful, open-minded investigation we’ve demonstrated that we were correct all along. The article also points out that this happens most dramatically with views that are “hot” topics, like religion and politics, because these ideas often involve our individual senses of identity. In my opinion, what’s very important to understand about this is that we don’t realize we are doing it when we do it. We really think, we are convinced, that we are being methodical, intellectual, reasonable and logical—but we aren’t.

Actually, the thing I don’t like about the article is that it doesn’t go far enough, and leaves room for the inference that if we didn’t do this, that if we just “looked at facts honestly,” and “applied the proper forms of reasoning and logic,” we’d see the truth. What the article doesn’t cover is this: the frameworks of “proper reason” and “logic” are, themselves, built of assumptions and are subjective systems that have been “proven well enough” in much the same way as the issues they are supposedly analyzing objectively. Further, the article never gets to the point of making the more sweeping claim that this charge of subjectivity is an onion that can peeled all the way down to a core that, actually, never is to be found. Everything, including the frameworks of everyone noted in the article, and every framework that agrees or disagrees with them, is questionable. There is no solid ground. You cannot reach objective views by determining them with subjective presuppositions and methods—and all the presuppositions and methods are subjective. The bricks and mortar, all the way down to the aggregate, cement and wetting agent of our perceptions and thinking processes, are dubious. (And, yes, I would agree that a framework that views all frameworks as subjective is, obviously, subjective and built upon preconceived ideas; this is simply more proof of the point.)

I couldn’t agree with any of this more strongly. It’s all pick and choose; all of it. At this point, though, I want to point out that there are a couple of grand mistakes that can be made, and often are. Mistake one is for somebody to conclude that since all frameworks are subjective, the necessary conclusion is that there is no point in believing in some objective truth in life. Mistake two is to conclude that I (me, the author of this post) am somebody who is making mistake number one.

If my wife, in a mixture of anger and hurt, is trying to express her feelings to me and I honestly can’t grasp a clue as to what she’s trying to say, this doesn’t mean she feels nothing. She obviously feels something very strongly, something very real and important to her, and therefore should be strong, real and important to me. In her, and in these things, is truth. It is here, right in the middle of us, surrounding and challenging and sustaining us. The fact that I cannot dissect it, that I cannot name it, that I cannot measure and quantify it, does not lessen its reality.

I can’t and don’t claim to truly understand the heart and mind, the precious and invisible interior, of my daughter’s developing identity as she enters puberty and begins her path to adulthood and womanhood. But this doesn’t mean her humanity does not exist. It is real, and she is beautiful, and I love her. In her, and in these things, is truth. It is here, right between us, surrounding and challenging and sustaining us. The fact that I cannot dissect it, that I cannot name it, that I cannot measure and quantify it, does not lessen its reality.

Of course I recognize that in this post I am coming from a place that is no more and no less than my own framework, but my claim is that Truth, while ineffable, is all around us. My claim is that Truth is unimaginably larger and infinitely beyond what we can name. It is not our property, as if we design and create and define and label and so own it. We do not own the truth as if it were a car, or a home, or a pair of shoes. Truth, you see, belongs to God, not to Man, and we hate that this is so. Some of us hate this so much that we believe there is no Truth until we declare what it is, and some of us hate this so much that we believe that since we can’t declare what Truth is, it obviously doesn’t exist.

As different as they may appear in the fierce polarization of their political or religious views, most people are very much alike: they share in the mistake of believing there is no Truth unless and until they say so.

And, ya know, I just have to say that in my framework, that sounds far too much like playing God.

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