rule (ru:l) NOUN 1. one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity
2. [mass noun] control of or dominion over an area or people
3. (the rule) the normal or customary state of things
(OED online, accessed 18/6/13)
I’m writing this post for two reasons, one to shed light upon a point that spawned a mini-debate between me and a fellow blogger regarding the concept of contradiction (thanks Dog for the brilliant inspiration, you have my total respect). Two, to examine the concept of what it is to “think for yourself” versus placing blind faith in institutional thinking, which is a subject that keeps being raised recently, and rightly so, both in my own posts and those of others.
The premise that sparked the mini-debate was that contradictions don’t exist, and that the existence of a contradiction can only mean that one out of a minimum of two premises can be correct. However if contradictions don’t exist then this is moot, as no-one can be wrong. Everybody’s right, right? Fair enough, it’s a commendable notion. If everybody is right then that would suggest that nobody can possibly have a contradictory view following this premise, except we all know that this is clearly not true.
What was also being claimed was that this premise was in some way an across-the-board rule or truism, and this is where I had a little trouble maintaining agreement. It was clear to me that the two statements were in conflict.
To suggest that there was a prevailing objective truth, yet claim that personal subjective experience was the only valid truism was a little oxymoronic in my opinion. For one thing, as we are all unique individual human beings, not clones of one another, then our personal subjective experiences will thus differ. Perhaps not hugely in some cases, but they will differ nevertheless, which in my mind suggests that each person’s view will contradict to varying degrees. Therefore, contradiction does indeed exist. To negate it is tantamount to saying that we’re all identical, which I don’t believe was the original intention of the debate in question. But as you may know by now semantics are like fish-bones to me, and it bothers me if one gets lodged in my throat.
I was then reminded of a story that I haven’t heard since I was a very young child, that of the blind men and the elephant, a story that has its origins in the Indian subcontinent. As the story goes, a group of blind men gather about an elephant and are asked to describe one of its body parts, like a tusk, the trunk, a leg, then asked to compare notes only to discover that each man’s interpretation differs greatly, with none of them being able to agree that they had all perceived the same creature. Another man joins the group, fully sighted, claiming that what he and all the blind men have perceived is in fact an elephant. Now, as I remember it, my overriding impression of that story was that the blind men were being ridiculed because of course there was an elephant there, and that they in their limited sight-impaired perceptions were wrong because somehow being fully sighted trumped being partially sighted. Children have a very honest way of looking at things.
To me this story was the perfect metaphor for the very contradictory claim that was being attested to with its example, whether that was the intention or not. The clue was in my interpretation of the story and what the elephant represented for me.
Of course my own understanding of the nature of perception has changed quite dramatically over the course of my life, and I have come to realise that each person perceiving their own personal elephant is essentially correct in their evaluation, from their subjective point of view. I think it is a sign of our conditioning that we might then conjecture a “yes but….”, and that’s because we are all so very used to following someone else’s rules. We have been taught to believe the fully sighted man who tells us that there is an elephant before us. That elephant is thus a metaphor for public opinion, customs, laws, education, science, religion, in fact any general consensus or set of rules agreed to within a social setting, or proposed as some kind of across-the-board socially objective-truism.
So to claim that it is a hard and fast rule that contradictions do not exist, applicable to all is only really possible if you subscribe to the Post-modernist concept of an objective-truism, that is, a concept that exists outside of subjective experience. Such a claim dangles its feet in the murky contradictory pool of a form of subjective-objectivism,as I interpret it: the act of placing trust or blind faith in another’s opinion, without compromising your own beliefs….hmmm [scratches head]?!
Contradictions can’t possibly exist without someone actually being wrong? Can they? Confusing isn’t it? It leaves you feeling as though you must be missing something. So immersed in the schizophrenic dichotomy of our human social existence are we, that it seems inconceivable that something could contradict itself so much, because our mental state indoctrinated by the norms of social mores, gives us cause to believe either in one thing or another, not two opposing things simultaneously. Well, welcome to the smell of coffee wafting up your very human nostrils my friends!
You see, I believe we all have our own internal moral compasses quite separate from the moral code that we may claim to place our faith in when it comes to the world at large. It’s what gives us each our stamp of individuality. However, many of us have been conditioned, taught to ignore or devalue, or keep secret our own personal views for fear of reprisals, and generally not ‘fitting in’, with any deviation from the ‘norm’ being akin to social heresy punishable by a number of exclusive practises, ostracism being one. I’m hastening a guess that nobody wants to feel like a social pariah, unless in and of itself it serves a purpose.
I propose therefore that contradictions do in fact exist because I know from life experience that it is very difficult for two or more people to truly agree with one another due to their personal subjective view-points regarding any given matter, and that any agreement is tentative at best, even if it is workable. We compromise, yet compromise does not necessarily negate the personal view of each individual bound to an agreement, even if it contradicts or goes against the general consensus.
So, returning to our second issue of “thinking for yourself”, we begin to see that it isn’t as straight forward as some, including me, would like to believe it is, because of the need to establish common ground and maintain social integrity, irrespective of our own personal views. As a potential truism “thinking for yourself” thus would seem to negate any so-called objective rule, or at the very least may cause you to question the societal rules that you have up until that point placed your trust in, the smell of coffee may be strong with you yet Obi Wan.
Contradictions therefore only become an issue when you are trying to maintain and follow one particular strand of reasoning. Which as we have seen automatically excludes any dissenting opinions. However, of its nature, a rule cannot help but create contradictions because it can only exist by association to those individuals who choose to place their faith in it. Thus it is very difficult not to talk in terms of objective-truisms, generalisations, clichés, it’s what we are used to, right? It’s how we have learned to communicate, and as such it is a peculiarity of verbal language that is difficult to evade. It is a technique used in theoretical construction and debate, the very stuff of social interaction. Of course I have the option to only speak in the first person, but it quickly becomes all too apparent that reaching an agreement with anyone else becomes difficult, because you cannot compare and contrast you experiences, at least not at a verbal level.
It is difficult to enter any debate without a desire to establish some kind of common ground, and in order to do that we have to refer to objective-truisms, make generalisations so that comparisons can be made, and a consensus be reached, in theory. Even if the result doesn’t quite match what you yourself believe. Compromises, contradictions, are necessary in the scheme of any social agenda, whether it consists of only two people or a planet-full.
With each of us being so unique in a world full of other unique personalities, we cannot help but make comparisons. In thinking for myself then, relying on my own internal moral compass I am merely recognising my place within a world of contradiction and comparison within which I participate at this level of physically awake human conscious awareness. So in going against the generally ‘accepted norm’, openly and publicly, it is inevitable that I may expose myself to ridicule, even if I know that it is more beneficial for me to follow my own truisms. It’s undeniably a tricky old situation to be in, and not for the weak spirited. Which in itself is a ridiculous notion, that any of us should feel that we are obliged to be so subservient. I mean, I think most of us would balk at such a ridiculous notion. Right?
Subjective-objectivism? What a crock!