On Asymmetries Of Understanding

Earlier this evening, I saw a twitter post from an online acquaintance that stated that this person could not understand those who did not support euthanasia. I happen to be one of those people, and it struck me that the author was not saying what she thought she was saying, or at least she was admitting something that cut against her presumption that she spoke as a person of understanding. After all, it is easy for me to understand why someone would be in favor of euthanasia, assuming that one was working from a worldview that viewed the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain and suffering as the principle business of life and that had no conception of the worth of longsuffering and the moral gains that result from being able to patiently endure the torment and pain that comes from life in a fallen world full of difficulty. It struck me that there was an asymmetry that allowed me to understand where the person was coming from but which did not allow the other person to understand where I come from.

This is symptomatic of larger asymmetries, which are well worth exploring and pondering. In general, we may say that there is a great asymmetry of understanding between good and evil that allows good to understand evil while preventing evil from understanding good. This is the case with the euthanasia argument and a great many other arguments. Those who struggle against evil and who have to some extent overcome it and repented of it can easily understand what sort of selfish and wicked and short-sighted mindsets lead people to support all kinds of wickedness in our world and allow us to understand those who are wicked in the past. It is, for example, easy to see how it is that selfishness and envy lead people to justify their own desire to take what belongs to others rather than to earn it from the sweat of their own brow both in history and in the present world. That said, those who are wicked cannot understand the motivations of those who are good. Motivations of generosity, graciousness, and a genuine sense of equity and justice are impossible to fathom for those whose conceptions of justice and equity are only self-serving and hypocritical in nature.

Nor is this the only asymmetry we find. There are profound asymmetries related to the understanding of age and youth. Here again we find that some people have insights that are denied to others by virtue of experience. The old can understand the young in ways that the young cannot understand the old. For the older person to understand the young, it is necessary only to remember or to be reminded of how life was like when we were in fact younger. And where the old are dealing with young people whose living conditions are different from those the older observer grew up with, it is only necessary to observe and understand those conditions and such effect they might have on those of limited experience and insight. The young, on the other hand, have no conception what it is like to be old. The young can only extrapolate from where they stand, where the old looks back and sees the insight and wisdom that is gained as well as the quickness of recall as well as the mobility and health that are often lost with age. It is for this reason that societies and cultures which privileged wisdom have always respected elders, while societies devoted to folly in rushing headlong into ruin have privileged the naïve and callow youth and pandered to their lack of understanding.

There are still other asymmetries of understanding that we can examine, but I would like to limit myself to only one example here. Where certain people are privileged to have their views pandered to by others, there is an asymmetry of understanding between those in power and those subject to that power. Those who hold power expect others to understand and cater to them, and those who are subject to that power find it necessary to understand those who are in power over them while simultaneously seeking to avoid being understood so as to preserve some freedom of thought that is not understood by unsympathetic authorities. This is especially true to the extent that those authorities become increasingly tyrannical and abusive. It is very much in the interest of those who are subject to arbitrary and abusive authorities to understand as much as possible about those in authority, their moods, their triggers, their sensitivities, so as to better manage such people as best as possible, and those who are abusive authorities are by virtue of their abusiveness not going to receive an honest understanding of those they bully and lord it over. Restraint, subterfuge, and disguise have at all times and all places been the ways that the weak preserve themselves from the domination of the strong.

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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