Friday, August 26, 2005

The fundamental choice

Its apparent to me that everyone wants to believe they are right in some sense, whether they want to justify themselves to others (social perspective) or themselves (egoist perspective). We either have a social standard of value or a selfish one. Acceptance of social values or understanding of them. When we understand they become personal, integrated into our value system, and thus personal or selfish. People often hold the misconception that self-righteous people are selfish, but in fact this need not be the case. They can be motivated by delusion - a desire to convince themself that they are right, or a sense of personal integrity that should be congratulated. Reality will be the final arbiter.

The 2nd point is that we don`t confront moral issues as adults but as children. Morality confronts us as a practical set of values rather than an consistent and integrated set of explicit values. Most of us doubt even develop the latter as adults because there is no recognition of the role or importance of philosophy in society. Even a great many philosophers would conclude that philosophy offers people no practical insight.

Knowledge is a hierarchy - so the values we hold today are influenced by the values we held yesterday. On this point there are several premises to state:
  1. Clearly its easier to betray, correct or adjust peripheral knowledge than core knowledge,
  2. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in our understanding of facts as opposed to values which might contradict our understanding of the world, as opposed to our understanding of ourselves or human nature.
  3. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in our understanding if we make the changes
  4. Its still easier to alter or accept changes if you are younger because you are accustomed to learning and being taught
  5. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in thinking if you are accustomed to being right, and have the confidence and preparedness that there is the possibility of you being right. ie. You have good self-esteem
  6. Its still easier to alter or accept changes if you have an objective sense of reality, that is, you believe that reality exists independent of your consciousness, that the world is intelligible and you have the ability to know it.

Next we have to ask ourselves, of all these factors, which ones could possibly cause us to get off track. Some of us develop expectations (ie. standards of value) of greatness when we are young, some have them thrust upon them. Of those accepting them from a third party, they can accept them blindly, and rise to the challenge, they can resent them and reject them, or they can disagree with them. It takes some time for children to grasp the nature of the conflict - as its an intellectual issue - but some children will learn very young to reject certain values because they are blatantly contradictory to them. Nevertheless rejecting values (ie. Perhaps a belief in God) is not a positive set of values, merely a negation of what isn`t. Developing a positive set of values is a task few of us are equipped to deal with because we didn`t read philosophy. Some might conclude that they have read `bad philosophy`, but really there is no such thing if any set of ideas prompts you to question yourself. I`ve got alot of insights from reading bad philosophy. The great benefit of reading a great philosophy like Ayn Rand`s Objectivism (and its not perfect) is that it gave me an explicit set of values to analyse other philosophies. It gave me confidence to change, the efficacy to create, the courage to question, and pride. If I had read other philosophies first, I would have concluded like most other philosophers, that philosophy has nothing practical to contribute to society.

Unfortunately we don`t just develop or read philosophy when we turn 18yo, but rather we develop one implicitly as we age. We develop a philosophy through our childhood experiences, sometimes adjusting our ideas as we are exposed to new experiences. We are exposed to a variety of ideas through interaction with our parents, teachers, peers, the media, popular culture and various public authorities. These ideas can either reconcile or contradict what we know, and we have a choice about whether we accept or reject them as part of our `worldly` understanding. This process of course presupposes some trust in `the system` - the process of logic by which we develop own knowledge.

Unfortunately all of us are sabotaged to some extent by `poor thinking` and `poor experience`. Is a value judgement applicable here??? There is no such thing as a poor idea or experience. There are experiences and ideas which we are not prepared for - some which are life threatening, others which are favourable or benigh. As children, we learn from various teachers by exposure to ideas that we consider, and through positive example (meaning?).

Until we develop an explicit self-awareness, and become an engine of our own thinking, our standards of value are essentially social. A great many people retain this social view of existence into adulthood. A child is capable of retaining a unfetted preparedness to learn, to be honest and to have integrity, but they are not inclined to recognise its importance or value until they experience that in society.

Unfortunate our society is segregated by values, and as a derivative by wealth. That`s not to say that those that values accumulate wealth, but that income SHOULD reflect achievement in a broad sense??? Achievers inspire achievers, whilst people with poor values are surrounded by poor values. eg. Poor children are taught by uninspiring teachers. Thats not to suggest that good teachers should be forced to teach poor students, but rather that society should be structured such that reason is the standard of value, so that good values permeate down into every section of society. In feudal societies, wisdom was restricted to the monasteries. Today, values are more freely distributed, but that includes bad ideas. The good news is that we are more positively influenced by values consonant with our lives than we are hurt by negative values. The tragedy however is that:
  1. Children are being raised in poor families with no standards of comparison of what constitutes good values. Without exposure to the value of books, they might never realise the value of them to their `practical existence`.
  2. Bad parents are the product of poor parents - and by default a great many children are destined to become poor parents, if not criminal or otherwise unproductive dependents on society.

Delinquent children do not develop because of bad parenting - rather they arise because in the realm of values, one of the following happened:

  1. They did not confront a fundamental choice that reshaped their values. They were not confronted because the event/experience was not stark enough. Contrasting experiences, the way we are treated, the way we treat others are confronting experiences.
  2. They never developed a sense of efficacy in their judgement, so consideration of values is frightening to them. ie. Low self esteem and no respect for abstract thinking, rather a fear of the unknown
  3. They never developed a personal sense of being valued, appreciated or virtuous. Is this important? Social.

I remember very little about my childhood, and its not surprising when I consider my process of thinking. Having become an analyst and studied subjects such as philosophy, its apparent to me that I extract the essence of information and discard the immaterial. Ideas either reinforce my thinking, or prompt me to change it. Inconclusive evidence is retained miraculously until it can be integrated. Childhood experiences are concrete-bound and not too different from adult experiences. I`m sure school was a special experience when I went the first time, but as an adult its very familiar. No value in reconsidering it, nor on reflecting on it. At least in the context of my current values. If I was to become a school teacher that could change. The experiences are not forgotten, but they are in deep storage. I hope.

More interesting to me is that I can reflect on the more abstract things that people said to me. I can remember the exact tree I passed on the freeway when my friend said to me `Andrew - I value your friendship. I really appreciate what you say because it makes sense to me`. Laughing, he saids to me, `I`ll probably do what the guys say, but what you say means more to me`. I think I recognised implicitly the importance of his words, perhaps understanding his affirmation of the idea that I was `impractical` but `morally virtuous`. Later I made a conscious effort to try to get along with people, but soon gave up when I determined that it didn`t fit with my values. That people valued the lies more than the facts.

Still earlier in my childhood, I learned an important lesson. Going from a public junior school where I was popular to a private high school where I was unpopular and chastised, I learned from the stark contrast that social values (or public opinion) was fickle. But I was not thinking deeply about values at this stage of my life. Rather I buried myself in the library and studied the sciences. It was by accident that I was introduced to philosophy. My work colleague selected his recommended book wisely `Capitalism - The Unknown Ideal` by Ayn Rand. I loved non-fiction, and the clarity of the ideas expressed in this book were like none I`d none I`d ever read - and thats true until this day. Perhaps others would interpret it cynically as an over-simplification, but I recognised her ideas as the essence, which could be applied to any specific context. My notes from this book were thicker than the original book as I dissected the ideas and attempted to consider their ramifications. Before reading that book I regarded philosophy as floating nonsense - divorced from the real world, and sadly that is exactly what a great deal of philosophy is like, including the philosophy taught at universities. the experience lead to her fictional classics.

The reason I ponder my childhood experiences is because we are taught about good and evil. But we are prepared for good or evil. That`s not to suggest that advocate determinism, but rather that the cause of evil or the development of bad values (ie. values not consonant with the nature of human beings) is not abstract philosophy, but child development. Its the environment in which we are raised that shapes our self-esteem. When people are clutching at straws, very human hierarchy of values prevent them from dealing with matters of self-expression and personal identity. When people are insecure, they are not prone to see the value of others opinion, but rather to evade it (out of fear) or to be defensively self-righteous (to undermine opposition). In this sense people confront important psychological choices before they confront moral questions. Despite the notion that we are a product of our environment, it is hopefully reality or the consequences of our actions that bring us back to honesty. Sadly, it is parents that often spare children (even other adults) exposure to the facts of reality. For instance:

  1. Rather than telling insecure people that they shouldn`t be concerned with what other people think, that they should live by their own standards and values; a great many people would reinforce their values, ie. `Thats nonsense, you`re a lovely person`. Their intent is to spare them responsibility, but they make reality that more scarely, by following up their reassuring words with no telephone number or further content. Worst still are those that would create friendships and have no meaning associated with them.
  2. Parents might stipulate the importance of being honest, but their sense of reality is highlighted when they evade a child`s knowledge of their contradictions. Rather than admit or concede an error, which might otherwise reinforce the importance of honesty and the keeping it real, they reinforce the idea that reality can be faked if only they don`t acknowledge it.
  3. ...........I`ll think of other examples??

In conclusion, we need to invest in our children....but keep it real.

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