This Is My Truth, Show Me Yours

One of the most problematic aspects of discourse in the contemporary period is the resolute refusal of many people to accept the reality of an absolute reality which by necessity has an absolute truth associated with it.  Ultimately, like so many of the intractable problems of this and every age, the problem of subjective as opposed to objective views of truth and reality are more an emotional matter than an intellectual matter, although we like to justify our feelings and make them appear to be reasonable and dress them up in fancy arguments about relativism in occasionally dense and impenetrable prose.  How then do we cut through the mess to get at the core of objective truth and how it matters particularly in ages where it is widely derided and disbelieved?  After all, objective truth is at its most important when it exerts its influence unknown to those around.  In such a world as ours the effect of objective truth and reality is like a tree on a barren plain in Kansas that should be glaringly obvious for miles around but is often ignored until we crash into it because the road has shifted to account for its presence even if we have willfully blinded itself to that presence until it wrecks our vehicle and leaves us stranded in the wilderness.

One of the primary difficulties we face when dealing with the question of objective reality is that we ourselves live in multiple worlds.  We live in an objective world where we come into contact with other people like ourselves and deal with the coercive reality that institutions and governments have on us, coercion that we tend not to particularly like even if we are ambitious enough to seek the power of these institutions to coerce others according to our own wishes and preferences.  Similarly, we live in a world where even things that do not have intellect or even a self can influence us, be it the dirt or rocks around us, or storms that may destroy our houses or fires that may burn our treasured belongings into ash and embers.  Yet we also have within us subjective worlds of hopes and fears and memories and imagination and beliefs, all of which are internal to us, not generally visible (except in their effects) to other people, by which we judge the external reality and through which we often misread and misinterpret that external reality.  Admittedly, this internal reality is often also misread and misinterpreted by others, and in a world where external reality appears particularly harsh and uncaring it is tempting for us to wish to privilege our subjective internal view of reality against an unfriendly external reality in the way that we may claim that our self-claimed gender of jim/jam would trump whatever external anatomy we possess by which others label us, even if that is not objectively true.

In many cases, regardless of our own philosophical positions, our view of truth is too small.  Even if we correctly affirm that there is an external reality that is objective and that does not depend on our own hopes and wishes and beliefs and that may be indifferent or even hostile to them or to ourselves, we still may not grasp the full implications of the reality that exists.  Our sense of reality may be too small in that whole categories of existence like that of the spirit are disregarded or denied, or that we live in ignorance and hostility to the reality of all existence being ultimately shaped to the will and purposes of our Father above.  Likewise, our view of reality may be too small in that we disregard the influence on objective reality that the smaller and internal subjective realities of our own worlds has.  Politics is, after all, the art of the possible, and it is intensely a practical field in that what is judged is results, and those results are dependent on amassing large enough coalitions and in properly dealing with the questions of motivations and incentives and in smoothing over the tensions and contradictions between different groups that must be mobilized in order to get anything done in this world, anything at all.  It is of no use, for example, defaming Abraham Lincoln because he depended on a racist populace in order to be elected, because whatever his own subjective views of the equality of white and black and the illegitimacy of the slave power, that slave power and the racism of his associates shaped and limited what was possible for him to accomplish.  Within those limitations, he did far more than many thought possible at the time, and likely far more than we could do if we showed contempt for the wrongheaded views of those around us, since having insulted them we could not then motivate them as part of a coalition to enact some small part of what was justly owed to a large segment of the American population in granting some imperfect level of freedom and equality under the law.

It must be emphasized that the subjective reality inside of us is an aspect of objective reality that must be considered by the wise statesman or the thoughtful authority.  Not only are there aspects of our own subjective reality that may clash with ultimate reality, in that we may have blind spots or may fail to recognize what is going on with others or ourselves, but also it is important for us to recognize that the feelings and opinions and beliefs and will of others will shape what is possible for us to do with them and to them.  If, for example, we have a relative or neighbor or coworker whose views and belief system is offensive and antithetical to our own, but where we still might need or want there to be at least a surface calm in our dealings with them for our own sake, it may be necessary for us to tread gingerly in some areas or to listen to rants which we find upsetting but may have to politely endure.  The same will likely be true for others in their dealings with us in certain respects.  Whether or not their views or beliefs are objectively true, they will have an influence on objective reality by forcing others to put up with them if one wishes to work with them in any capacity.  And this is not an uncommon occurrence.  We often find in reality that our wishes to shape reality according to our own perspective is drastically hindered if not entirely defeated by the refusal of others to go along with it.  And whether or not this refusal is just, it is an aspect of objective reality that must be successfully managed.  If we desire to accomplish anything in life, it will be necessary for us to work with others and that will require some finesse in dealing with their unreasonableness just as they will have to be able to manage our own.  To the extent where this is not possible, we will not be able to accomplish much of any objective value in this or any reality except our own frustrated imagination.

Perhaps this is ultimately what we are rebelling against in our privileging of our own internal and subjective reality.  Perhaps it is not merely that we are hostile to the coercive influence of family, community, or polity upon us, or hostile that others do not always recognize the names and identities we claim for ourselves as valid, but that we rebel against the need to work with others whose beliefs and whose understanding are not identical to our own.  However much we may be hostile to the coercion by which institutions and authorities have over us, it is not hard for us to fantasize about how we may capture such offices and institutions and direct them in a way that is more favorable to ourselves and more in line with our own views.  But when we are dealing with other people as equals and must wrestle with their simultaneous proximity and distance from ourselves, near in terms of physical space but far when it comes to emotional or intellectual space, our frustrations in dealing with disagreement, especially where we lack the finesse to manage such disagreements thoughtfully and gracefully, are not counterbalanced by dreams of institutional capture.  Sure, we may seek to win control over institutions, but we quickly learn that there are a great many people, some of whom are close to us, whom we cannot win over with our lack of diplomacy and tact and understanding.  We are then left with the choice of whether we will improve our practical skills in dealing with people so that we may accomplish something, and learn longsuffering and forebearance towards those whose every word or behavior seems to irritate and inflame us, or we can reject the importance of objective reality and seek the solace of our subjective inner worlds.  The results of these choices are easy to see around us.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to This Is My Truth, Show Me Yours

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    We can never ignore the objective reality because that is what we ultimately have to deal with. The issue is how we deal with it. Your post describes the various aspects in detail–and the internal and external struggles we have with each. We sometimes wish we could withdraw into our own hermit world and escape, but what good would that do? Reality remains what it is, and we are the ones who either benefit or lose out, based on our responses or reactions. One thing is to remove our thinking to beyond this in-your-face world and access the Spiritual realm–our true reality–and then plug back in, based on the different priority we’ve gained. This might provide a greater wisdom in how to marry the objective, unshakable situations with the subjective thinking and behaviors that occur in our inevitable interactions and conversations with those who share our space.

    • Yes, I think that recognizing the internal and external aspects of the reality that we have to deal with is important–not only do we have to pay attention to some aspects of either more depending on the moment, but if our view of reality includes both the internal and external world we are less inclined to pit one aspect of those realities against another as is often the case.

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