Saturday, November 19, 2016

The "Others" Aren't Crazy

Our country is deeply divided because people don't take the time to fully understand those who disagree with them. Too often the perspective of the "other" side is reduced to one-liners, memes, or the personification of a stereotypical Liberal or Conservative. This is because worldview-reduction is easy and safe. It doesn't require intellectual work, it makes you popular with the "sames," and it places the blame for anything that goes wrong in the world squarely on the shoulders of the "others."

Those crazy "others."

In this post I want to show that the "others" actually aren't crazy.

The "others" have a fundamentally different way of looking at the world. Both you and the "others" look at the world through a lens, and if that lens is different, you will likely come to different conclusions on important issues, such as abortion, evolution, climate change, or immigration.

Far too often, when "sames" and "others" discuss these issues, they talk past each other. Side A makes an argument, Side B makes a different, unrelated argument, and Side A fails to respond to that argument. Or Side A makes an argument that is valid if the world is seen through the perspective of lens A, but invalid if seen through lens B, and vice versa for Side B.

Both sides are making valid arguments on the surface, but the underlying difference in lenses in not addressed. This is what makes the "others" seem crazy. An argument made by Side B, seen through lens A, appears crazy.

Let's look at an example. (it will be helpful to take a quick glance at this short post on how I structure philosophies before reading on)

Read the table from the bottom up. Under the "Lens" column, you will see the perspective of each side built from the ground up. Roots are fundamental, core beliefs (note that Roots stand independent of one another; Root 1 and Root 2 are not sequential). Trunks are core beliefs that build on Roots. Branches are philosophies that build on Trunks. Twigs are philosophies that build on Branches. Leaves are applications. Leaves are what you actually see people doing.


Note that both Side A and Side B share a common root: "Cares about the lives of other people."

But if Side A only acknowledges the trunk, branch, twig, and leaf-level philosophy of Side B, it would appear to Side A that Side B does not, in fact, care about the lives of other people (from the perspective of Side A, Side B thinks that the inconvenience of pregnancy is worse than murder) (from the perspective of Side B, an early-stage fetus is not a human life, and a pregnancy would have a major, negative impact on the life of the mother).

I understand that there are many sides other than A and B when it comes to the topic of abortion, these are just two I picked out as an example of how to compare.

One more example. Again, read and compare sides starting from the bottom of the chart.

See how the difference in fundamental, core beliefs changes the way the two sides see the world? Each step along the way acts as a primer, and sways each one way or the other. Once they get out to the leaves, they completely disagree with one another.

And if the Fundamentalist cites the Bible to the atheist, the atheist will think that the Fundamentalist is crazy. If the atheist doesn't agree with the Bible, then the Fundamentalist will think that the atheist is crazy (or that the Holy Spirit is not guiding the atheist).

Once again, I'm only using these two perspectives as examples. I understand that there are many traditions of Christianity other than Fundamentalist Christianity, and that evolution is consistent with many of those traditions. I picked Fundamentalist Christianity in particular for this chart because it takes a hard line on evolution, and makes for a good contrast with atheism.

This is why it can be extraordinarily difficult for people with different fundamental worldviews to discuss incendiary issues with one another. It's not that the issues themselves are so incendiary, it's that the discussion forces each side to question their fundamental ways of looking at the world.

If they speak to one another on the level of leaves, they appear crazy to one another.

If they speak to one another on the level of twigs, branches, or trunks, they may again appear crazy to one another.

If they speak to one another on the level of roots, they will finally end up finding their real disagreement. But to do this is to open up one's most fundamental beliefs to scrutiny--it means admitting the possibility that one's most dearly held beliefs could be wrong.

Image what that would look like for a Christian. If Christianity is false, then that Christian would have to give up on God, lose his/her social circle, reformulate everything he/she thinks about the world, and possibly much, much more. It can be a truly terrible thing! (I know, because exactly that happened to me)

But it's not hard for only Christians to question their fundamental beliefs. It's hard for everyone. Atheists switching to Christianity also face social pressure. For some it can be directly life-threatening, as is the case for Muslims in certain countries. To question your worldview takes a tremendous amount of work and courage; the willingness to give up everything for the pursuit of truth.

There is, however, also a cost to a failure to be willing to question your own worldview. If our society fails to do this, our world will become more and more divided as people cower away from  understanding the "others." The groups of "others" will become more and more concrete, and further and further apart from the "sames." If no one is willing to question their own fundamental beliefs, we will all be fundamentally divided.

This is the real great wall, that has already been built. The wall that keeps us from understanding the "others." The wall that protects us from questioning our own fundamental beliefs. This is the wall that divides our world in a way that can't be crossed with ropes or ladders. It's the wall that truly keeps the "others" out.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Just stumbled across this post following your comment on a blog I was reading. I really like how you explore both sides of the debate to the roots and I think I can agree with it. Thinking about one's own root beliefs as well as understanding where the 'other' is coming from is exactly what is needed I think. It is indeed difficult to do.

    From my perspective if one truly does this then they would become agnostic (not atheist). A truly agnostic position (in my view) bridges the gap in the divide and gives you humility.

    How would an agnostic then approach a question like evolution?
    My own view is that it is likely true given my current best understanding. I do not however know how uncertain my current understanding is. This implies that it could potentially be completely wrong or vice versa.

    I think this is where intellectually honesty comes in (if that appeals to you in the first place). What is my current best understanding? Why should I trust my current best understanding as opposed to something else e.g. a religious or scientific doctrine ?

    From my perspective there is no reason to be afraid of how what you chose to adhere to may bring about potentially harmful consequences i.e. hell in case of religion or ignorance in case of scientism. All we can do is what we can, to the best of our nature, honesty, ability etc. and insecurities/ fears get us no further than where we already are or could be. Fears and insecurities however do have a noticeable negative impact on our present mental state.

    Apologies for my rambling.