A reader has shared an article with me, and before I get into why I found this article fascinating and my response to it, let me say – thank you! Getting people to share interesting things with me is 90% of my motivation for maintaining this blog, so when it happens I’m thrilled. Please, always send interesting and thought-provoking things my way!
Here is the article – not too long, and definitely worth a read.
I happen to share the author’s relatively dim view of Postmodernism. I believe in ultimate truth (however impossible it might be for me personally to even approach it) as well as the importance and value of socially-constructed beliefs, even as I shout from the rooftops the value of individualism and free thought.
As an aside: I don’t believe you can fundamentally “win” an argument, and I think if you approach arguments like they’re win/lose propositions you’ve already lost the greater impact of the search for knowledge. I don’t like to argue – I like to discuss. I’m not out to change anyone’s mind by force. I’m out to learn, and if you want to learn too, come along! We can do it together, it’ll be fun.
Now, back to that article. Something that stuck out for me was this bit: “I wanted to know what underlying values and beliefs were motivating his critique so I asked him to describe his worldview. He responded, ‘I have no worldview.'” Allow me to respond to that the way you should respond to anyone who says they have no worldview:
Claims of neutrality are preposterous. It always strikes me as funny when people complain about news media being biased. Because… of course it is? Literally everyone is biased, everyone has an agenda, everyone has a worldview. It would be impossible to operate otherwise.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as truth or that everyone is a scheming manipulator. People can be honest and good even with agendas and biases. But all thought and action must have a starting point. You must have something that motivates you to choose one course of action over another. If you’re diligent in your search for self-improvement and you have a good moral code, then over time your biases and agendas may adjust. You might be careful to keep yourself from going so deep into any given position that you can’t even see the other side, let alone a path to get there. You should be able to pass Ideological Turing Tests. But you will never be without an agenda, and neither will anyone else.
So what should you do with this information? Can no one be trusted? Don’t be absurd. Some people’s agendas will line up neatly with your own, and life is all about finding as many of those win/win scenarios as you can. A car salesman has an agenda to sell me a car. But if I want to buy a car, that works out. He also has an agenda to maintain a good reputation and repeat business, and I have an agenda to seek out reputable sellers of automobiles. Our agendas don’t compete. Now, a more unscrupulous salesman who has no plans to remain in the business might have the agenda of unloading a sub-par car no matter what, and then we do have conflicting agendas, but determining which is which is part of life.
I have many agendas. I want to be successful in my career and provide for my family, so I may prioritize my career over other things. But I also have an agenda to be a moral person, so I won’t rob a convenience store even if I thought I could get away with it and it would be lucrative. I have a strong bias towards personal freedom, and so I’m likely to be swayed more easily by arguments in favor of less government control than more. I have a worldview that says that people are better when they’re more free, more empowered, and more loved – and that worldview will color my decisions and individual points of view.
I make no claims otherwise. I don’t claim absolute certainty that any of my worldviews are objectively correct, but I do claim to sincerely believe them based on the information I have available to me, and I claim a sincere attempt to gather new information every day, even if such information would lead me away from my current beliefs.
“If I listen to your lies, would you say
I’m a man without conviction
I’m a man who doesn’t know
How to sell a contradiction?”
– Culture Club, Karma Chameleon
By the way, a phenomenal comic about the whole “we can’t know anything so your argument fails” style of debate can be found here, if you’d like an extra laugh today.