The Problems At The Base Of It All

One of the most obvious aspects of our world is the fundamental problem that we have when two people do not agree on the same authorities.  Ultimately, for two people to be agreed they must have a wide degree of agreement, but this only comes from both of them respecting the same authorities.  Where authorities are not shared, people may talk past each other or at each other, but seldom reach the other person where agreement can be reached.  And it is not hard to understand why.  After all, if I have a conversation with someone and they wish to prove a point by pointing to CNN or the Washington Post or something of that ilk, I will simply point out that such sources are systematically biased in a way that I do not consider valid and will reject what the person says out of hand.  The same may be true in response if I cite the Bible.  It is only where there are shared authorities that both or all parties in a discussion can appeal to that will be respected where one can even begin to have a conversation about the nature of something, and that is not even getting into the problem of interpretations of those shared authorities, but just the authorities so that people can engage in a productive and fruitful conversation to begin with.

How is it that we come to know what sort of authorities other people accept and how is it that other people come to know the same thing about us?  For the most part, it is not particularly complicated to see how this takes place.  If we are engaged with people online, it is easy to see the sort of posts that someone shares and likes and comments on approvingly, and in looking at these we can come to a sound understanding of their worldview and what sort of sources they approve of and recognize as authoritative.  The same is true of us.  In person, if someone does not cite a specific source, they can site a viewpoint that we can recognize as belonging to one or another particular group of sources.  And what we say will likely correspond to the sorts of authorities that we respect and recognize.  Where those two are in agreement we may still disagree for one reason or another.  Perhaps we will phrase something too cautiously and guardedly, or too extremely, for the person with whom we have substantial agreement, or perhaps something about our tone or body language or mannerisms may offend them.  But to the extent that we have different authorities that we recognize and little or no overlap in those authorities which we do recognize, we will have little that can be profitably said or heard in an interaction with someone else beyond the barest pleasantries.

If it is relatively easy for us to recognize the authorities that others respect and for others to recognize the authorities that we respect, and for the distance between the two to be gauged, why is it that we have such troubles interacting with others where we know there is substantial disagreement on authorities?  A great deal of the problem comes because we all tend to overestimate the obviousness of the truth of our position to someone who does not share our particular vantage point, perspective, and worldview.  That which is obvious to us is obvious to us only because it is a self-evident truth based on the axioms and principles by which we live.  Those who do not share these principles do not find it to be either true or self-evident.  This does not mean, of course, that the truth is relative, but rather that our own subjective interpretation of anything will be at variance with the subjective opinions of those who think and feel and reason and believe differently than we do, and from the vantage point of either party we will frequently be unable to communicate with, much less convince, the other party regarding the truth of a position at variance between the two.

All of this matters in our world because there is a rapidly increasing number of potential authorities that people could recognize, not least of which includes each of us respecting ourselves as the authority figures in our lives.  Where two parties in a given dispute both fancy themselves to be intelligent and rational people who can decide things for themselves get into a debate where both of them have come to very different conclusions (not least because they have accepted different approaches to problems or different accounts of a disputed matter), and neither of them respects the other person as an authority in the matter, the likelihood of interactions between the two drops to near zero.  If we in general are prone to react when people attack authorities that we value outside of ourselves, and that is certainly the case for most of us, we are nearly certain to respond negatively when we ourselves are viewed with disrespect and contempt by someone else who is seeking to prove what to us is obvious folly and error.  And yet we find ourselves frequently engaged in some sort of conversation with people who accept different authorities than we do on ground that is determined by those conflicting authorities without the mutual respect that can make an interaction mutually tolerable even in the face of disagreement.  How is such a state to be corrected?

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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