Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Dangers Of Relativism And Subjective Reality

Subjective reality is not reality at all. It is something else entirely. It may be personal preference; or naked self-interest; or received religious doctrine; or paranoid delusion. Whatever it is, it is by definition subjective. It is personal to the individual. It is obvious that the American people, many, if not most of them, have elected to go with “subjective reality,” and leave objective truth behind. This phenomenon has reached the level of an existential threat. Let me spell that out in layman’s terms: the future existence of the United States is placed in danger by people’s substitution of a dream world for actual, objective reality. No nation in history has thrived by resorting only to subjective reality to run their governments and their economies. Subjectivity is doom on the express tracks.

What am I talking about? Here are a few simple examples:

1.   People don’t like abortion, so they try to eliminate it by creating laws and programs that will insure an increase in the numbers of abortions, such as abstinence only programs; making contraception expensive and difficult for some women to obtain; failing to provide our youth with proper sex education classes; and stigmatizing sex itself.
2.   Our government rejects the science of climate change that is substantially due to the burning of fossil fuels, preferring to keep in place the money stream that benefits only themselves and a small number of their friends. This while more enlightened, reality-based governments in other developed countries are having great success changing over to many now well understood sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and hydroelectric.
3.   Americans have lived with numerous external threats since World War II. Some have been real, and some totally imaginary, but our responses have consistently made matters worse and increased the level of danger to ourselves. Afraid of Russian nuclear weapons? Build many tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and several undefeatable delivery mechanisms, all, or most, aimed at the Soviet Union, insuring that the Soviets will build a similar array of nukes, all aimed at us. Afraid of communism? There’s no need to differentiate between communist regimes. Treat the North Vietnamese the same as the Soviets and the Chinese, in spite of the fact that they fought beside us against the Japanese and appreciated all of the help that we gave them, that they preferred us by far to either the Soviets or the Chinese, and that they would have been glad to become our steadfast ally, communism notwithstanding. Not to mention the weird adventurism of our policies in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula, and our unfathomable practice of filling up the entire world with military bases, ships, and planes.
4.   The government, to suit its own purposes, has whipped the population into a frenzy of the fear of crime and drugs. They counterintuitively respond by criminalizing everything and creating the largest incarceration statistics in the history of the world. Most of this prison population are incarcerated for trivial reasons, like personal drug use. They have done this in the name of justice, but it is actually the paranoid opposite of justice. They have done this largely on the basis of race, according to related set of fear based, irrational reasons, thus compounding the error.

I suppose I could come up with more, but this is already starting to look like a marathon. There’ll be more specifics later on. I should begin to get to the point.

The History of Relativism

Relativism: the doctrine holding that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to cultural, societal, or historical context only, and are not absolute concepts. In other words, one person’s reality is as important, as “real,” as anyone else’s.

There was a time when most Americans agreed on most of the things that form the foundations of human life, even if that did include a great deal of nonsense obtained from revealed literature. Even so, plants were plants, life on other planets was best left to science fiction writers, the earth was not carried through the cosmos on the back of a turtle, and scientists were usually right about the things that they were sure of. Scientists were able to persuade most people that the earth and the cosmos had existed for vast millennia, developing into the climate and continents that we see now slowly over the course of hundreds of millions of years. After all, the atomic bomb did explode on schedule. It was even possible for Godly people to sustain their faith while simultaneously understanding that the world had not been snapped together in six days like a cheap puzzle. It’s hard to imagine now, with modern Americans flying off on weird tangents constantly, and believing any stupid conspiracy theory or bit of propaganda that comes along.

This seems to have undergone a rapid change beginning in the 1960s.

Some of us remember the 1960s. Popular culture produced books like “The Secret Life of Plants,” by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. In what was quite a novel idea at the time, they suggested that “studies showed” that plants had some kind of interior lives, intelligence, as it were, that plants engaged in problem solving, and communicated with each other. Another popular book was, “Chariots of the Gods,” by Erich von Daeniken, which revolved around the importance of aliens in human history, you know, building the pyramids, and so forth. I remember thinking that books like these were all foolishness, but many people were more in the mood to be persuaded. What I did not realize until much later was that a certain portion of academia was becoming open to ideas similar to these examples, based upon the concept of relativism.

They were teaching that all ideas were valid, and that no one’s truth was any truer than anyone else’s. Who are we to say that the earth is not carried through the cosmos by a turtle, if some people believe that it is so? To treat other cultures that way is patronizing! Why, it’s cultural imperialism! These academics, on the fringes of academia at the time, were opening the door to subjective reality. Any stupid shit that could be believed by some critical mass of individuals could be seen as being just as valid as any scientifically observable counter idea. So now we have a startling percentage of Americans who believe in angels; who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. They argue about the nature of angels, and the specific date on which God embarked upon the enterprise of creation. They take themselves very seriously, as befits people in the throughs of paranoia. They are not treated like other demonstrably mentally ill people. Rather, they are encouraged by friends, neighbors, religious leaders, and politicians. Vast swaths of the American population still believe that President Obama is a “Kenyan Muslim,” or even the Anti-Christ! Some of us know better, but it puts us at some risk to oppose these delusions. Who are we to tell them that what they know to be true is manifestly false? Who indeed.

Personalized Facts

It’s obvious that Americans today feel entitled to their own interpretation of facts. Since the election of Herr Professor Doktor Fuzzy Drumpf, whom people say is the greatest president in the history of America, if not the world, this entitlement is a right more recognized than the right to due process or probable cause. When the Fabulous Prezzy D. John says, “I won the popular vote by three million votes, if you don’t count the illegal ballots cast by (fill in the blank . . . don’t forget to include immigrants), he is giving Americans the right to manufacture their own facts to suit themselves. What shooting down at that school in Florida? Those were crisis actors! No one got shot! No one died! George Soros paid those 800,000 kids marching in Washington D.C. $500 apiece! And he paid their expenses, too! And that skinny punk who’s all over the TV, he wasn’t even at the school that day! We can prove it! (Which usually means, “I saw it on Fox News/Breitbart/The Daily Caller.”)

Things have gotten pretty out of hand by now.  Think of the range of paranoid opinion concerning the 9-11 attack, or the JFK assassination.

It is true that we all “see” a world that is different from the world that other people “see.” We do this through our own senses, in a manner that is unique to us. We all “remember” a world that consists of our own, personal perceptions and experiences. On some level, it’s all very subjective. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That is the tension between the self and the other, the subjective and the objective. These things are part of life, and they are the basis of most art.

Having said that, objective reality does exist. Of course it fucking exists! Reasonable people can argue the aesthetics of a particular Frank Gehry building, but they must agree that the building does, in fact, exist. This becomes more problematic when applied to buildings that no longer exist, let’s say the Crystal Palace that was built for the exposition of the same name in London in 1851. It no longer exists, not even in human memory, and there were no photographs to be taken at the time. We have, however, voluminous contemporary sources from magazines and newspapers with drawings and descriptions to use as evidence that it did once exist. Is that enough? What if I say that it was a hoax? What if I produce some counter-evidence? Can we agree that that would be a silly idea? Of course, it existed.

How about the Colossus of Rhodes? Now we have a problem. There are many contemporary descriptions, but they present inconsistent details about the statue. Some of these were written down at later dates from second or third hand accounts. We know where it is alleged to have stood at one time, but the configuration of the land and the sand bars making up the harbor has shifted over the centuries. There are many drawings, based “on evidence,” but they do not agree on the size or the aspect of the statue. It is still famous as one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World, but we are taking a lot on faith. Objectively real? I am prepared to accept it as such, but maybe that’s just me.

Personalized Belief in Events

This works slightly differently with regard to events. The example of the moon landing is interesting to me. Somehow, a huge number of Americans have gotten it into their heads that the moon landing in 1969 was a hoax. It was staged by Hollywood to distract people from the Vietnam War or something. They present a great deal of evidence to prove that it was all dummied up on some sound stage by cinema technicians. Shadows go in the wrong directions; flags seem to “wave” in the absence of wind. The paranoid mind makes it all sound very sinister.

This all flies in the face of a vast trove of physical and circumstantial evidence. The proof supporting the moon landing, moon landings, multiple, is vast and compelling. The intention was stated well before the ramping up of the war in South East Asia, so any connection would have arisen later. There were many years of impressive achievements before the landings themselves. A great number of impressive rocket launches, lots of guys spending lots of time in earth orbit, later in moon orbit. There were technological achievements a ‘plenty, electronics for the computers, chemistry for the propellants, engineering for the rocket engines, mathematics for the navigation. The entire vast enterprise played out in the media before a rapt public. We were all, I can tell you, extremely impressed by it all, beginning with John Glenn’s first orbital flight and right on up to the moon landings. Those launches and recoveries were all live, filmed on analog cameras using film, and they were all on TV.

This particular paranoid delusion is fascinating to me. Why should we not have gone to the moon? We had obviously created all of the necessary tools and had them at the ready. What agenda is served at this point by encouraging the belief that the moon landing did not happen? Three presidents and hundreds of thousands of people were involved. How would you organize a hoax like that? It boggles the mind.

Agendas, ah, there’s the rub. Whose agenda is served by any particular paranoid belief?

The Holocaust is another case in point. From our particular point in history there are multiple agendas that are served by the assertion that the Holocaust never occurred.

The Holocaust is a unique case. It’s very vastness almost tends to create doubt in some minds. It took place over the course of many years, with many thousands of participants, over great distances and at thousands of sites, but there are evidentiary problems. It was not well photographed, and dead men tell no tales.

Our modern world is full to overflow with apologists for the Nazis; Nazi revisionists; Neo-Nazis; and Nazi fans in general. Add to that the Hitler fans, most notably the cult of Hitler as “a man of peace,” who just wanted to protect Europe and America from those evil Soviets, and who did not bear any malice to the Jews or anyone else. If anyone killed the Jews, it must have been the Soviets! They were the real anti-Semites!

The “peaceful Hitler” thing is all over the Internet. Why, they say, if Herr Hitler and those brave German soldiers, particularly those talented SS boys, didn’t knock the wind out of the Soviet hordes, we’d all be speaking Russian now and living in some kind of Orwellian nightmare. (That last part came true, anyway, just not the Russian part.)

The Holocaust becomes an inconvenient detail in this Peaceful Hitler scenario, so it is rejected as a hoax. The problems faced by those making this assertion are legion, and they are compelling and daunting.

Just the mathematical problem is overwhelming: after the war, there were six million Jews MISSING. It’s impossible to suggest that they were all collateral damage to the combat that was taking place around them. Worst of all for those backing the hoax story is the fact that the Nazis were relentless record keepers. They recorded the details of the Holocaust in real time, with Germanic precision. The records are amazing in their detail, and shocking in their banality. For the Nazis, it was just another bureaucratic exercise, like running a railroad. How many Jews were put on a certain train this morning? Why was that train delayed at this certain stop? Where did the train change locomotives? How many Jews arrived (still alive) at which camp this morning? And usually the records also included things like: what were their names? How much gold was recovered? How many kilograms of hair were packaged? What mattress factory was it sent to? How much did we charge them for the hair? Did they pay their bill? How many kilograms of fat for the soap factories? (“Aus Feinem Fett Gemacht.”) HOW MANY WERE KILLED TODAY? HOW WERE THEY KILLED? (Amazingly, “drowned in a pool” was a common way of murdering Jews.) It was all written down, and you can read the records today. 

So yeah, it’s hard to argue that the Holocaust never happened. It should also be impossible to believe that it never happened. And yet there are many people who argue that the whole thing never happened, and a much greater number of people who believe them. The truth of it should be obvious to everyone, but that is obviously too much to ask in today’s world of subjective reality.


It would be just so great if we could agree to work on identifying a version of reality that we could all agree on. Or at least come to some agreement about the very existence of objective reality. Great if we could agree that the consensus of the scientific community represented real facts that we could recognize and act on. Great if we could agree that “thoughts and prayers” are not a suitable response to real-world problems like mass murders and natural disasters. Great if we could even begin to agree that discovering the difference between fantasy and reality was important.

Forgive me if I am not optimistic. We are trapped in a web of interconnecting problems that are as novel as they are dangerous. New problems arise so rapidly that it is impossible to keep up. It’s like playing fifty games of Whack-a-Mole simultaneously with one pair of arms. Where do you even start addressing such a complex, everchanging set of challenges? I certainly don’t know, but I hope that I have at least shed some light on the problem.

No comments: