What a fascinating year 2020 was. The year of perfect vision demanded that we look deeper and make the unconscious conscious. The quarantines, racial tensions, political tensions & discussions about the colonizer mentality have triggered many of us into a reactionary state where fight or flight impedes our logical thinking. Regardless of demographic or political affiliation, most Americans are still on edge from the 2020 shit show of clashing ideas and cultures.
At the same time, the majority of us are also looking forward in hopes of getting that shit show in order. Like any dis-ease, the root cause must be addressed lest we run in circles treating mere symptoms. But what can be identified and accepted as truth in this crazy world? Many are back to believing the Earth is flat whereas the rest of us thought that one had been solved already.
Throughout our recorded history we have designed institutions such as governments, churches and universities to identify, deliver and (if necessary) protect truth for us. Now it seems we are losing faith in those institutions to fulfill their function. Do our institutions fail out of incompetence & inefficiency or have they intentionally misled us? This is one of the biggest questions causing division in our population. Are we to trust or fear our man-made institutions? Without assessing every fact and figure for ourselves, even trusting scientific research becomes an act of faith. Who has time to asses every "fact" for themselves? None of us. We must specialize our knowledge and rely on trusting each other to determine facts in each field of expertise.
Because we have compartmentalized our population into functions such as farmer, doctor, biologist, etc. we are more dependent on one another now than ever before in recorded history. To complicate the situation further, due to our massive city structures and crumbing community mentality we are dependent on what have become "faceless others". Countless people you will never know determine whether or not your life continues to "work". You have to trust them unless you decide to take your health, food supply, electricity and transportation needs into your own hands.
The majority of us as individuals have outsourced some part of our thinking skills to the institutions we created, so now that faith is lost in the "faceless others" we depend on, we feel handicapped, vulnerable and paranoid. Skepticism has morphed to such profound mistrust that it cannot simply be cured with facts/information. A little skepticism is healthy, but even better than mere skepticism is an informed population with critical thinking skills and the ability to identify truth when they see it for themselves.
So what is truth and why do we as a species struggle so much with this concept that dominates most of our lives? Unfortunately there is no simple, satisfactory definition of ‘truth”. There are “theories of truth”, and their varying definitions go a little like this:
The Coherence theory of truth defines truth as the facts from all angles combined into a unified perspective. Each individual perspective must fit perfectly into a larger system to be considered true. This breaks down when you acknowledge the existence of paradoxes, or the effectiveness and inconsistency of Newtonian & Quantum physics.
Relativism (relative truth) is based on individual axioms that do not need to fit into a larger system to be considered “true". P is true for Q, but only Q. Relative truth is analogous to individual perspective and while valid to the individual, this definition of truth does nothing for us in the greater picture. We cannot use relative truth to build a bridge. In formal logic, any proposition is true when the hypothesis is false and this is a very slippery slope. According to the Correspondence theory of truth, an idea must relate to the world to be considered true. If a belief or statement can be proven to correspond to objective reality, it is valid. This helps us out very little when working with abstract concepts. The Pragmatic theory of truth considers a statement true if it can be applied successfully. In his book ‘The Meaning of Truth, a Sequel to Pragmatism”, Philosopher & Psychologist William James states that truth is a quality which can be valued by its effectiveness when put into practice. Pragmatism brings us bridges, cell phones, nuclear bombs, etc. It endeavors to see the universe as an integrated system, encompassing all human knowledge and thus relates closely to the Coherence theory of truth. Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman was a proponent of Negative Pragmatism and claimed, "We never are definitely right, we can only be sure we are wrong".
You could say that our societies lack of “coherent truth" is what's been slapping us in the face these days by showing us just how fragile and disjunct our system really is. Rather than the year of perfect vision, 2020 could be named “the year of obvious incoherence”. Our country is not simply divided, it's fractured in multiple places and the existence of tension between classes, races, genders, families etc. is not simply enough anymore. Last century, we welcomed the Constructivist theory of truth (i.e. Constructivism) to the party which claims gender and race are manifestations of societal conditioning, not rooted in biology. This is about to get potentially emotional for some. A common response to this line of questioning is "It's none of your business", which may be true on an individual basis, however, if the definitions of words are changing that's certainly every English speakers business and likely why this is still a prominent discussion. If we use the same words with different definitions, how can we claim to be communicating? Diogenes (father of Cynicism) said "What use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings", so here goes. If we hold the tenet that "gender is a societal construct", we cannot place it within the larger system without a breakdown of coherence. This tenet cannot be applied to Obstetrics which depends on the biological necessity of 2 different genders to produce human offspring, regardless of culture. Either we have a breach of logic going on, a misuse of language or we have suddenly arrived in a quantum field where individual thoughts produce individual reality (which is also entirely plausible). P is true for Q, but only Q. But it is still true for Q, despite that it cannot be applied to objective reality. With a society that is made up of individuals, the individual perspective cannot be dismissed. According to Constructivist philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, we can't even be certain that we have hands, so all that is clear to ME is that the word “truth” is losing meaning. Shit, that’s the summary of the Deflationary theory of truth which supposes that truth is not nearly as important as we think. It’s essentially the philosophical equivalent of “fuck it”. Je m'en fous.
With so many contradictory perspectives it seems an impossible task to piece together a coherent reality. It's helpful for me to remember that the clashing of philosophies and ideas is like having a healthy biosphere with all forms of life competing for resources and keeping each other from dominating. But we, meaning humans as a collective, want to dominate.
I don't think I've met anyone immune to the belief that they have found TRUTH, nor to the impulse to spread that truth. As both cerebral beings and apex predators, our intellect is the tool we have used to dominate nature so it's the tool we use to dominate each other. Intellectual dominance, i.e. the urge to be right and deliver truth to others, is what I see as the underlying sickness that's masquerading as the colonizer mentality and it might be something much deeper, more universally human than most care to admit.
We as a species are curious, creative and destructive. We want to understand and change our world just as we want to understand and change ourselves, and sadly each other. So invigorated by ideas, the homo-sapiens excitement over knowledge may be more zealous than we realize. We are so confident in our ability to recognize truth and like dedicated little martyrs we attempt to bring this "truth" and "progress" to our fellow humans. We see this behavior in the religious communities, intellectual communities, new age communities, etc. It's human.
Why else would I be writing this if I didn't feel like my perspective has value to others?
The good news is that this desire to change the opinions and behaviors of our fellow humans is not inherently evil, despite that it so often leads to what most consider evil actions. Hidden beneath all of these domination ploys and superiority complexes is the knowledge that, despite our differences, we need each other. We have our own ideas about what kind of world we want to live in and most of us take action to help create that world. Why would I bother trying to change you if I didn't know how essential you are to making my world view a reality?
The Colonizer mentality is the arrogance that assumes a superior position and forces its perspective. It knows it can't accomplish its goals without your support (or compliance) so it works to gather that support. On a fundamental level, it's simply the urge to gather allies because we recognize that those around us do not always share our “truth”. This is where the thread of dominance and superiority gets pulled tight because this mentality often produces statements like, "People like YOU are what's wrong with this world".
It's a rare person who is able to listen to disparate opinions without attempting to change them. More often than not the urge to be right supersedes the urge to understand. We might as well say, "You should change so that I don't have to”.
The really important question in all of this is not what is "true", but why do we feel such a deep need of this illusive concept of truth? To feel secure? To learn about, anticipate and change our world? To feel justified in dominating one another in the name of truth or progress? Probably some or all of the above. In extreme cases, it could even stem from our apex predator nature which constantly asks, "Who shall be greatest?”.
A brief look at the 100th monkey effect might help us see the error of our thinking.
In the 1950's a study was conducted on a group of Macaca fuscata monkeys that accidentally discovered how quickly and unintentionally useful ideas spread throughout a population. The youngest of these Japanese monkeys learned to wash the sand off her food and this useful knowledge spread throughout the group until the Alpha monkey was the last one with sand in his teeth. The one most concerned with superiority and domination was the last to let down his guard and actually learn something new.
Don't be the Alpha monkey.
Despite our technological advances, we are still arrogant animals who have no idea how the mechanics of life really work. We think ideas are only spread if we ourselves spread them like seeds, however subsequent groups of Mascaca fuscata monkeys on nearby islands spontaneously learned to wash the sand off their food without having had any contact with the 1st group. The innovative knowledge spread without any action taken.
So it’s entirely possible that we don't need to colonize the minds of our fellow humans with our own ideas of what this world should be. If our ideas are aligned with the greater good and evolution of our entire species they might just propagate themselves like a form of life.
Personally I have no idea what truth means, but I am choosing to relax & trust that changing myself will change the world that I experience.
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