Ab absurdo, ad libertatem
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Skepticism, Subjectivity, and Truth

May 02, 2008

We must not be concerned with any competitive aspect of being right, whether this means having others accept our ideas, or being seen as a person who is able to disprove the ideas of others. Such a quest is infantile and intellectually debasing for all of those involved. What we must be passionately concerned with is discovering the truth. This is not to say that we will be the person to expose the truth, but rather that the truth will somehow be arrived at and made accessible for the benefit of everyone. "When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit."

None of this means that we should mince words. Active and impartial thought is of the utmost importance, and in all cases we must attempt to construct our case in such a manner as to incite a state of excited -- but always logical -- deliberation. Accordingly, we should not make an appeal to maintain social traditions or decorum if they interfere with the conservation or progression of liberty.

We must question all things at all times. We must respect all humans alike, regardless of vocation, location, or income. Many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with such an approach, not least because they perceive themselves as deserving of some specific social ranking, and expect others to respect their relative economic worth, or their efforts in the pursuit thereof. In evaluating the self, we must reflect on the life we have led and the path we are taking, and ask if our journey has been useful. I suggest that the most -- perhaps the only -- useful paths are those developed atop a foundation of egalitarianism, with the specific goal of universal empowerment.

We must accept the possibility that our efforts may at times have been misdirected, and thus may in some ways have been less than useful. It is a rare and humble person who is able to recognize that their actions and conceptions are contingent upon their own subjective perceptions and world view. Is human reasoning so pure and circumspect that it can not be questioned? Are we so perfect that we should abstain from questioning the motivations and consequences of our actions?

Placing effort towards a goal does not purify it; the mere act of doing something for twenty years does not make it useful or meaningful. "Just because someone has been doing the same thing day in and day out doesn't mean that their way is the best way."

Examining our own beliefs skeptically is of paramount importance. There are many things which humanity need not experience, but exposure to other ideas is not one of them. We must never dismiss the argument of another person if only because their argument makes us uncomfortable. The world would be much impoverished if we were to simply ignore ideas that we do not instantly agree with. I detest Idi Amin, but this does not mean that the stories surrounding the events of his life should be avoided, for if we choose to neglect any circumstance then we run the risk of repeating the same folly ad infinitum. Ideas and understanding must be advanced by our own willingness to discard vain and unprofitable conceptions, and by exposing our ideas to the test of debate. "When men act on the principle of intelligence they go out to find the facts and to make their wisdom. When they ignore it, they go inside themselves and find only what is there. They elaborate their prejudice, instead of increasing their knowledge." "We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy."

An unbiased search for truth requires skeptical analysis of our own ideas, and brings forth the understanding that nature is objective, but perspectives are subject to experience. Apprehension and acceptance of our own subjectivity gives rise to the question of the specific conditioning of the mind "as distinguished from general or universal experience." If nature is objective but perspectives are not general and universal, then what are their origin? Concomitantly, what is the nature of free will and free action? This question is philosophically challenging, and is not so simple as placing responsibility on the individual. Our perspectives and actions are limited by our abilities, and we are able only to work within the confines of the tools that we are permitted to develop. As with any environment, examination of our contemporary capitalist democracy must be performed in order to determine what mentality it engenders.

"There are strong forces in society that push us in the direction of our marketable competencies, rather than our interests and our strengths."

"We are interfered with and accustomed to control and dictation from the cradle to the grave in thought, speech and act, in work and play, in morals and manners, in habits and costumes. If in anything we seem free, it is only because our despot is indifferent and has not yet chosen to dictate. Always there was that much freedom to the most servile peoples."

"[T]he totalitarian system of thought control is far less effective than the democratic one, since the overt official doctrine parroted by the intellectuals at the service of the State is readily identifiable as pure propoganda, and this helps to free the mind. In contrast to the totalitarian system, the democratic system seeks to determine and limit the entire spectrum of thought by leaving the fundamental assumptions unexpressed. They are presupposed, but not asserted. The situation is, therefore, considerably more complex under capitalist democracy."

"[C]apitalism is based on a constant process of alienated consumption, as workers try to find the happiness associated within productive, creative, self-managed activity in a place it does not exist -- on the shop shelves. This can partly explain the rise of both mindless consumerism and of religions, as individuals try to find meaning for their lives and happiness, a meaning and happiness frustrated in wage labour and hierarchy."

"[T]he recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred the other part of the community from being individual by putting them on the wrong road and encumbering them."

Question my statements and positions. Question all statements and positions. Do not however stop once you have arrived at your own conclusions, continue by examining your own statements and positions. "The way to develop our own intelligence is by changing every question into a statement. If you change your question into a statement, the background out of which the question arose opens up, and the possibilities are found by the questioner himself." If you are unable to perceive connections, do not presume it is because they do not exist.

Part of the series: Zwingli