122 Did I contradict myself? [18 Jun 2021]
Does any reader feel confused by article 121? I took us along the trail of reconciliation, of empathetic sharing, of patience and longsuffering. I praised judiciously dispensing healing balm. Then in the last paragraph I characterized that behavior as "opinionated." What could have been so bad about doing good?
The article did admit that people who behave ignorantly do so thinking their information is correct. It also called the generic bully an empty barrel. Today we come back to the symmetry principle: if all humans are equal, how do I know my "understanding" viewpoint is correct? The article simply assumed the gentler viewpoint was the better position.
In a war, people are only fighting about who will write the history. Survivors have a penchant for crediting themselves with virtue-of calling themselves the non-bullies. Those who decimated Native American populations displayed no contrition. From their viewpoint, they were the progress of mankind.
The principle applies to our current bully. What appears to the other party as ignorant prejudice appears to the bully as progress. Between us, we are equally expecting to be recognized as anchored in the right. To determine best values, we need to look outside ourselves. I cannot simply declare the other party to be the empty barrel.
Article 92 points out that motion is relative to a frame of reference. In a moving train we don't feel smooth motion because we are moving together with the train. Accelerations are changes in our motion, but once there is uniform motion it feels like a state of rest. With two trains in motion relative to each other, we do not know whether the wheels of both trains are turning. Only by looking at the landscape, an external reference, do we accurately describe the movements. Even if one train is stationary relative to the ground, passengers on either train see the other as moving.
That makes our bully issue clear and simple, right? Wrong! Think about how two human parties "look outside." Maybe the most common "fixed objects" (here the trees in the landscape) are deities. Each party says, "God told me this." Of course, the parties differ in their definition of God. We are right back in our relative motion conundrum: between us we cannot sort out the relative gods. Each one is moving in lockstep with one of the trains (set of followers), and neither one is established as the fixed landscape.
Today's lesson is foreshadowed by the abrupt ending paragraph of article 121. I am not contradicting anything in the article. I am pointing out that what I called wisdom on one side is not an authoritative ruling in the view of the other. If I force my largesse on the other party, then I am the bully. Even after running to our separate god images, we are left looking for the external reference that will provide global perspective on our positions. In short, being "right" is not proving superiority, because each equal party claims rightness.
We human beings are inherently incapable of establishing absolute rightness. We do not look to deity to wipe out one side or the other of our disagreements. The question before us is tolerating and surviving our differences as we explore improving our lives together.
There is hope! Time is the great healer. It is also a test of validity. We look to history to sort out consequences. Sadly, some ideas like slavery lived on for multiple generations. However, sensitive intellect is capable of evaluating outcomes. We hold out hope that a single generation will accumulate enough objective evidence to abolish slavery permanently.
A popular opinion poll is not an objective test of time. In a limited time and place there may be a majority promoting evil. Tyranny of the majority is hopefully overcome by endurance of valid principles. This is the hope that the arc of history bends toward justice.
When two parties are at loggerheads and neither has the "fixed object" external proof of validity, coming to resolution involves endurance. Rightness is never decided by war or by unilateral assertion. Allowing time makes room for greater numbers of people to weigh in on solving our disagreements. A pyrrhic election victory might provide limited instant gratification, but the hope of mankind is that eventually enough voices will embrace objective truth to carry the day.
Today's call to action is "be nice to each other as long as it takes to come together." Patient, consistent proselyting for one moral position can be valuable and may be necessary. It loses its luster when it underlies intolerance. There are biblical passages that seem to imply that right is established by eliminating the people who are wrong. That eliminate-the-opposition solution (like limiting voting rights) is blatantly cheating. Survival does not establish rightness.
Parents learn tolerance while teaching children. One father compelled his daughter to put all her earnings into a college fund because he saw the value of college. Frustrated, she quit her job. Another parent watches the child take zir allowance to the dime store within hours of receiving it. With that freedom, the child hopefully learns over time that saving funds for a bigger goal is more rewarding. Over time, the latter child has internalized the lesson, that is, learned how to spend wisely.
The United States Supreme Court started out early with the principle that on some issues reasonable people may differ. The Court did not force states to pass identical laws. This tolerance of diversity allowed testing differing practices. One location might enact rent controls while another might juggle housing subsidies. There might even be hybrid systems. Sometimes the result was that landlords neglected and abandoned properties for which they could not charge increasing rent. This legal diversity applied the test of time to varying principles in the hope that the experiments would identify the most effective policies.
When we try to impose our solutions, we risk losing the benefits of diversity. While people pursue conflicting theories, the world looks messy. However, in the overall mix, human intelligence is constantly bettering the human condition. If we allow for errors in ourselves as in others, we provide room for finding our answers empirically. Perhaps that is the simplest definition of the test of time.
In my vocabulary, those who make demands, chant simplistic slogans, and agitate impatiently have not yet learned the method I am proposing. I will take my call to action one step farther. My method includes being gracious. When the other side breaks off from our ways, we tolerate reasonable experiments. We remain open to find out whether the change turns out to be an improvement. If over time it does not, we do not say, "I told you so." We say, "Here, let me help you find improvements."
Do you enjoy living in a country where the above is considered normal practice? If so, will you let me join you there? The country in which I reside is having some trouble right now learning the method.
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