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Pallāvaram Why all the fuss about not being “pessimistic” ?
A person’s worldview should stand based on the observable reality itself, not on their attitude about it.
Humans seem destined to never really know the truth about the world they live in.
Not only do its illusions appear impenetrable, but even “the truth” remains an ill-defined concept. In fact, the difficulty with defining truth starts with placing “the” in front of it, since there are multiple ways to give a true account or description. So for the sake of exposition, let us take “truth” to mean that which corresponds most with a mutually discernable reality – one that is observable to all via their perceptions. Contrary to the assertions of our times, we don’t live in an era stripped of such truth. Rather, we live in a political-cultural moment saturated with competing claims on truth, each insisting on the veracity of it’s own version. For reasons inexplicable, we’ve contrived to construct an open marketplace of truths, and the result is a world where anything could be true and yet nothing is. Traditions and opinions, however dubious, have become a place of safety, whilst certainty and facts elicit more suspicion than assurance, leaving us in a most confused and unhappy state.
For millennia there have been debates over the nature of reality, with some saying that it exists independent of human perception, and others asserting that it only exists in the mind. But less remarked upon is the difficulty of describing what one observes even within their own perceptual experience. To show that you understand something, it’s not enough to only state it – you must also be able to explain it by delineating the structure of its parts. Solely clinging to a personal belief will hardly suffice. Besides, people presume their professed beliefs to actually be their beliefs, when in fact their true beliefs are revealed in their actions. And what these actions reveal is that most people believe truth cannot be known. They make statements that reflect a certainty they don’t have, whilst inwardly denying the existence of an objective reality. For such people, truth cannot be determined by rational assessment. In their world, we each choose our own reality, as if from a buffet, and what matters is not the content, but the flavor – the triumph of the emotional over the rational, the deceptively simple over the honestly complex.
Postmodern assertions about a non-objective reality are still hotly debated, but what seems less debatable are the properties of things and ideas that are accessible to most of us through our senses. The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us that such things exist independent of belief, contained within an objective world. For centuries it was the professed goal of learned men and public institutions to detail this reality in fields like philosophy and science. Conversely, there is also a subjective world that consists of internal states of mind. Out of this domain come our beliefs, theories and opinions, which have usurped their objective counterparts to become the kings of discourse in the present age. From news reports to public debate, hardly any commentary is put forth without the protection of presenting one’s words as “opinion”. Plausible deniability is all the rage in our times, as no-one wishes to suffer the accountability that comes with having their claims scrutinized. But it comes at the price of what makes a person distinctive, which is why most people have become other people – their thoughts are someone else’s thoughts, and their lives are a mimicry.
Such individuals demonstrate that a life without thinking is indeed possible, but the unthinking majority end up more like predictable automatons than humans, which is why they would rather talk about how they feel, rather than who they are
or what (if anything) they’ve done.
In a world where we grapple with a deep-set ignorance, everything seems to be running more on belief than knowledge. And even though facts can be checked, few bother going beyond Wikipedia to do so. Is there no solid ground in this vast quicksand of human opinion? The last few decades have seen a surge in post-modern notions of a
non-objective reality, claiming that mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our existence. Perhaps such ideas have become popular because they place a premium on cleverness – a kind of mental dexterity that allows all manner of sleights-of-hand.
One can indeed call it cleverness, yes, but “intelligence”? Hardly.
If a PR company were hired to rebrand the idea of “objectivity”, the first thing they’d likely do is distance it from the word “criticism”. As a word that connotes negativity, “criticism” is mostly taken to mean “chastisement”, like what you don’t want to hear from your parents. A “critic” is someone likely to be your enemy, and to be “critical” has come to mean “ill-disposed” or “hostile” – in short, a hater. Interestingly, this same negative sentiment has now been directed towards objective analysis. The dispassionate scrutiny of society is everywhere condemned in favor of an ambiguous subjectivity. Previously
iron-clad facts about the natural world, from human biology to the nature of climate, are now dismissed as propaganda; atheism itself is too theological for some; revolution is too much of a system; even liberty is too much of a restraint. The new golden rule is that there is no golden rule, as people are increasingly eager to revisit and revise what was once known about art, politics, religion and science. A man may explore a million subjects, but he must not find that strange, reviled object known as Truth. For if he does, he will have fallen into dogma and will be lost. Everything matters – except everything.
In a postmodern world, even gods and sacred objects must change or lose their vitality,
as any deity that remains stuck in its original purpose will soon become obsolete.
How did subjectivity take on a cloak of liberal righteousness and shift from being an aesthetic virtue to a moral one, as if the unclear claim should be considered superior to the clear one? In most traditions of expression, ambiguity is a flaw and clarity is prized; politicians are condemned for vagueness and there’s nothing worse than a manual full of confusing instructions. Even movies are derided if their plot-lines are confusing.
To elicit a desired response from the public, communication was once required to be precise – but not any more. In an age atomized by mass media and a culture of narcissism, the masses have become entirely private; they’ve been deprived of seeing and hearing others, and of being seen and being heard by them. People have become imprisoned in the subjectivity of their own singular experience, which does not cease to be singular even if the same experience is multiplied across countless individuals.
The end of the common world will arrive when things are seen only from one perspective, and thanks to the ubiquity of consumerism and the Internet, that end draws nearer each day.
Facts are indispensable to providing us with reasons for our beliefs, so if we have no respect for the distinction between true and false, we may as well kiss our prized “rationality” goodbye. One aspect of this rationality is learning how to distinguish between variables and constants. There are certain unchangeable features of reality around which variables circulate, but people have developed such a poor grasp of the former that they’re unable to manage the latter. As an illustration, imagine yourself aboard a commuter train: you could stay in your cabin, but you could also walk from carriage to carriage, go to the toilet, visit a friend or sit at the bar. Yet none of that activity affects the most unchangeable feature of your journey: the train itself. Today, people wish to debate the presence of the train, and this inability to situate themselves within the context of the human narrative is what leaves people lost in their understanding of reality.
The truth about Truth remains a contentious issue, with humanity still caught in the middle of it – challenged on one side by their dreams of a more ideal world, and assaulted on the other by a reality that denounces the emptiness of those dreams.
One can almost sympathize with their plight, yet the question must still be raised:
when did it become a badge of honor to stand for nothing but a belief?
When did opinions triumph over knowledge? Especially when some people assert themselves so strongly despite not knowing what they’re talking about.
But heaven forbid that substance should come at the expense of sentiment.
This is the West after all – we like gym, pop culture, sports and reality TV.
Thinking has mostly become a sign of pretentiousness in a time when the masses prefer feelings over facts, as their once-trusted knowledge degenerates into an abyss of uncertainty. Subjectivism now reigns supreme, having turned self-deception into a legitimate school of thought that propagates one of the great hoaxes of our age, and comically enough, its success lies in how it compels people to play this hoax on themselves.
greekspeek for thought
Because people don’t have an objective approach to reality,
they have to be stimulated and guided through advertising, marketing and propaganda.
Is opinion and ideology really something you want to lean on?
I’m not saying they should be ignored, but if you depend on them too heavily, they’ll fail you.
People say they want to know things, but when you tell them and they don’t like it, they decide it’s suddenly no good.
So why even bother?
When people say “I don’t like it, so it can’t be true”, that’s the opposite of objectivity.
Most people have been rendered incapable of being objective.Why? Because if they could see things rationally, they’d figure out the truth and the jig would be up.
You cannot be objective without having command over you emotions, just like you can’t maneuver on an icy road without the necessary driving skills.
You have to be apathetic about the human condition in order to be objective about it. Should a scientist be attached to the results of his research, or should he simply draw conclusions on what he finds?
Mankind has a loathing for learning, as seen personified in archetypes like the nerd, bookworm or nutty professor.
Such characters are almost always shown in a derogatory light in movies and TV as a deliberate propaganda against being learned.
Granted, they’re sometimes socially inept, but the messaging behind such characters is that being popular is better than being learned.