A Discussion of O-A (O:WIBN)

From my first non-travel log post here.

“We have been discussing in our Media, Peace and Conflict Studies class whether objectivity is possible, whether it is practical, and whether it is good.  I think it can, under the right circumstances, be all three.  In any event, this has been an imperative for me to actually formulate and write down the principles that I believe in.  This is not a prescription for anyone else, just what works for me.”

Well, this issue has come up again with salience, and I thought I’d stimulate the mind during this narguile session by elaborating on the principles I wrote down here last September.

On the Six Principles of Objective Altruism

I think that objectivity and altruism are necessarily interdependent for the following reason.  For both of these frames of being, the first step is to look, think, feel and endeavour outwardly.  The foundation of objectivity is to eliminate the subjectivity of the self.  In antithesis to the Ayn Rand conception of objectivism, anything resembling real objectivity requires that we favour ourselves no more than anyone else (and no less).  Even if the Nobel prize-winning peace maker or the Secretary General of the United Nations or the woman or man on the brink of discovering the cure for cancer perceives evidence that suggests their life has more value than that of a serial rapist or someone about to take their last breath, it’s important to remember that we have no idea of really knowing what is valuable, and therefore no one can have more objective value than anyone else.

Altruism requires the same, to endeavour toward the needs of others at least as much as one would toward their own.  However, if this is done out of desire or inclination, such as the missionary who clothes and tends to lepers in Calcutta because it satisfies religious imperatives, or the doctor in Zimbabwe treating tuberculosis because it fulfills and brings meaning to their life, then I don’t think it can be called real altruism.

I would argue then, that real objectivity absolutely requires altruism, and that real altruism absolutely requires objectivity.  Now as for the principles themselves.

1. There is no right, there is no wrong. There are no truths, only half truths.  ”True Aim” is understanding “half truths” as they are; “Untrue Aim” is believing them to be truths.  All conflict stems from Untrue Aim, all peace stems from True Aim.

(Inspired largely by Alfred North Whitehead).  This is the big one. Ideas should never be manipulated into facts, and we should never believe anything absolutely, or at all without reason and knowledge, even if and especially when we find ourselves desiring to.

There might seem to be a glaring contradiction here.  If there is no certainty, if nothing can be perceived as really true, then how can this principle itself be true or hold any weight?  This is a “caveat” called Pyrrhonism, and it was problematic in the 4th century as well.  The issue I take with this skepticism of skepticism, is what it leaves us with- specifically nothing.  If I hold a red apple in my hand and announce that the apple is red, a skeptic might say “well, how do you know that it’s red?  Does having red skin make it red?  Is that what constitutes redness?  Can the light refracting off the fruit’s surface really be said to define it?”  And I would value these questions.

The Pyrrhonist standing next to him, however, would question the skeptic further, asking “how do you know that the questions you’re asking have any value?  What do words mean?  Can you really determine what Jared really sees, thinks or believes by asking him how he knows the apple is red?”  And I would lower my head and exhale in exhaustion.  And then the Pyrrhonist standing next to the other Pyrrhonist would say, “but my fellow Pyrrhonist, how do you know that the questions you’re asking the skeptic have any meaning or value?  What does ‘red’ even mean?”  and the third Pyrrhonest would ask “how can that question have any meaning?  Even what I’m saying now is completely meaningless, because if nothing can be known with certainty, then we can’t even know that nothing can be known with certainty.”  Do you have a headache yet?  I do.

So rather than resign all thought to oblivion, I choose to accept the one truth that nothing can be completely true or right- there are always unknowable victims and unknowable perpetrators, often in the very opposite places that we might imagine them to be.  If someone breaks into your car and steals your stereo, do you indulge your emotions and blame them?  Do you consider yourself a victim deserving of sympathy, and the thief a perpetrator to be reviled?  Consider the sociological evidence that crime is overwhelmingly a result of societal mores that hold material gain to be the only real indicator of success, while at the same time denying the opportunity for material gain by legal means to significant portions of the population?  Are you not at least partly responsible for your stereo being stolen by accepting, living in and contributing to the societal structure that necessarily made it happen?  Some people relax with Zen Buddhism, but this objective realization brought me peace and tranquility the first time this situation happened to me as a teenager.

The most important application of this, I think, is to war and peace.  Is it possible to wage violent conflict against another group or nation or state, without believing the half-truths you perceive to be whole-truths?  Is it even possible to consider them an enemy?  Could Palestinians launch RPGs into Israeli civilian territory, or could Israelis deny food and water but give generously white phosphorous to Palestinian refugees, or could Al-Bashir employ the Janjiwid in Darfur, or could the Sri Lankan government put Tamils in concentration camps, or could any other atrocity in history have been endeavoured without otherwise good men and women taking the half-truths of their positions and perceptions, and transforming them into whole-truths to be rallied under and bloodthirsted for?

To hold the concerns, fears, angers and rationales of another, of one’s enemies, to equal weight, importance and value as one’s own, is to make peace.  Is to be peace.  To help conflicting parties to find the common ground to reach this point, I think, is to be a peacemaker.  And all this really requires when you get right down to the heart of it, is simply to understand half-truths as being what they are.  That’s all there is to the key component of objectivity.

I’ll be updating this one principle at a time… If you’ve any interest, check back periodically.

Published in: on 3 March 2010 at 11:59 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Very nice blog and reflection… I wish I could hear you reflect more in class… keep it up!

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