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May 29th, 2019
Given all our different points of view, the perennial argument about how to be objective arises as a kind of paradox: how can we have an unbiased view of any situation and circumstance if we are bound to experience and view reality through a single, unique and isolated perspective?
Like many big and much talked-about questions: this is potentially just a bad question. The constraints seem quite obvious and total.
We have enough trouble trying to understand a single other person’s perspective on the world, let alone trying to view the world without the bent of any perspective what-so-ever.
We might instead think about this topic on a kind of spectrum. While true objectivity might be impossible, and frankly, it’s a topic that obnoxious enough and large enough that we’ll gladly admit that it’s beyond the scope of this episode, we can ponder something a little closer to home:
that is, times and instances when our own perspective has cracked, and spilled out into new territory. When someone poses a question that reframes our thinking, or when someone’s story is so moving that we can’t help but empathize and secretly feel that we have somehow lived their story also, just by listening. Some might say that this is the stuff of great art: to create bridges between our islands of perspective.
We need only think of comedy to call this kind of event into tight focus. With a good comedian, all the perspectives of everyone in the audience is guided, and slid across the unexpected rails of lateral thinking to new slants on common subjects. When an entire audience laughs at the same joke, part of the pleasure is the sense of community that everyone instantly recognizes when our own foibles and strange ways of living are put on blatant and humorous display.
Leaving objectivity to it’s own devices, comedy here shows how we can often willingly test the waters outside our own perspective, and much like a moving story we empathize with, we inhabit, or gain a piece of someone else’s perspective.
While we might not be able to be objective, it’s entirely possible that we have the ability to be less subjective. This might seem like a complimentary paradox to the original sentiment about objectivity, but it’s much akin to the fact that no matter how good we get at something, we can always get a little bit better.
On the flip side, there’s an important red flag that is often willingly raised and waved around in today’s endless babble.
When a person remarks that something is ‘very real’ for them.
What in name of catshit sandwiches is that supposed to mean?
To claim that something a person experiences is very real seems to invoke a greater, narrower and more intense flavor of subjectivity.
For anything in the experience of a conscious being to be more real than other things such a person might experience is to claim that other things are less real.
Think about this for a moment. How can anyone have an experience of something that is less real?
Well mr. tinkered thinker, you might say: what the person is actually trying to say is that something that’s very real is simply of greater importance than other things.
But I call bullshit. Not because this isn’t true, but because there’s great potential for more than meets the eye, or in this case, the ear.
It simply cannot be overestimated to what degree we influence ourselves by the things we say.
While not necessarily provable, it’s certainly safer to assume that everything we say is programming our idea of who we are, and subsequently dictating who we become and how we act.
Case and point: we all hear people who constantly say they can’t do a certain thing. How often do they go back on their word and give it a big fat consistent effort anyhow? For such people the idea that they have some kind of ironclad inability is very real.
Now, how can such a negative thing be so important? That is if we fit it back into the casual idea that very real is really just a hyperbolic way of giving something importance?
There’s only one mechanism through which we can so bizarrely shoot ourselves in the foot: that mechanism is identity.
Reflect for a moment on the connection between a person’s identity and their behavior. Which is more likely to dictate the other?
And yet, identities are built and compiled from stuff that’s somewhat fictional: whether it be a nation state, or a sports team, or even if we talk about someone who identifies as a doormat, these are all things invented by the mind, they were not discovered in the same way water on Mars is discovered. Water on mars is a fact about reality. Nation states, sports teams, and many other forms of identity are ideas more than they are facts, but they nonetheless guide and dictate our behavior. Such ideas are very real for the people who behave in accordance to such identities, and yet, we might do well to ask, how real are these ideas in the first place?
In addition to comedians, another profession that takes a slice of the cake here is teaching.
To be shown how to do something by another person is to step out of one’s own perspective and endeavor to look at the world through the eyes of our teacher. If we succeed, it’s means we’ve learned something. We can repeat this process forever and constantly crack our perspective and expand it to include the thoughts, ideas and perspectives that others are willing to share. To do so is, inevitably, a potential assault to our own identity. Some people certainly jump from one identity to another after being exposed to the ideas that compose such an identity, but this merely swaps one narrow subjectivity for another, and it often requires a dash of denial to keep the common existence of both identities from implying the obvious fact of an even larger perspective that takes into account both.
To move in the direction of objectivity inevitably involves relaxing the constraints of any one identity, because identity is inherently narrow in focus. Any identity requires this narrow focus in order to maintain a view of the world that will effectively hold together the logic of behavior that cascades from that identity.
It may seem by this argument that the only way to become less narrow is to give up cherished beliefs and ideas, but this is not necessarily the case. The kernel here to chew on is the act of adding ideas, to genuinely entertain them. And while old ideas might fall from a list of priorities, we need not let them fall into disuse, any old perspective should forever inform our current one, just as new ideas will tweak and clarify our idea of what is real.
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