Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Centrality of Human Existence

By Steve Rensberry

    Sometimes I wake up and think to myself, I'm going to work on a plan to save the world today. Mock me as a bleeding heart liberal, if it makes you feel good.

    Hundreds of years, thousands of years have gone by during the course of human civilization and where are we? Cave dweller #1 is still hitting cave dweller #2 over the head because he, or she, has something he wants or doesn't like. We just have a lot more people and tribes, and more sophisticated caves and tools.

    Don't you think it's time to let go of all those traditional sacred cows and antiquated ideas, ideas like white supremacy and religion, because they clearly aren't working. I vote for embarking on a Second Great Enlightenment, rather than returning to the Dark Ages of Failed Traditions, Superstitions and Death. Humans need to put humans first, recognize the centrality of human existence, or no one else will. Human problems need to be addressed in the hear and now.

    The picture is a public domain pic of the reading of Voltaire's tragedy of the Orphan of China in the salon of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin in 1755, by Lemonnier, c. 1812. Voltaire (actual name: François-Marie Arouet), was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity . . . and of slavery, as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. Wikipedia: The Great Enlightenment

Voltaire reads Orphan of China (pub domain pic)


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mind and Body

The Brainwashed Mind    

    Question: What if those who are brainwashed do not know they are brainwashed, cannot be convinced via reason, logic, or hard evidence that they are brainwashed, and in fact derive so much pleasure and release from anxiety by being emersed in the brainwashed state that they intentionally condition themselves to stay that way -- intentionally avoiding people and activities that might "open their eyes" or cause them to doubt what they are told, attending weekly meetings to reinforce their brainwashed state, and meditating/focusing on one singularly, absolute, unchanging set of concepts that make them feel happy, blissful and at peace in their comfortable brainwashed state?

    Answer: We'd have a situation very much like we have today, with self-conditioning, relative self-isolation, and dogma valued as virtues, because to do otherwise -- say the false teachers of today -- would damn your very soul.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Culture & Politics

Epistemology, U.S. Politics,

and the Social Construction of Reality


By STEVE RENSBERRY
Commentary

 
BergerLuckmann / Wikimedia Commons
    EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - 7/28/2020 -
In the late 1980s, I was a fired up, eager-to-learn sociology major at Greenville University, eager enough to never miss a class with either of my two main sociology instructors, professors Rick Stephens and James DeLong. I respected both as knowledgeable experts in their field, though each later went on to teach elsewhere while I decided to make a switch and transfer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study journalism.
   Sociology is a field of study I admire for a lot of reasons, but one concept I found particularly intriguing was called “the social construction of reality.” If you've ever had even an entry-level sociology class, you may recall the phrase because it's a major sociological theory, introduced in 1966 through a book written by Thomas Luckmann and Peter L. Berger, entitled: The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. (Penguin Books, New York, 1966)
   Thinking about this theory the other day, it suddenly dawned on me just how much of a living example today's tumultuous situation is. Are we witnessing “the social construction of reality” in action, in all its messy, dirty and chaotic glory? Maybe so.
   It's not a simple concept, but in short, “the social construction of reality” refers to the idea that:
  •    People are shaped by their life experiences, backgrounds and interactions with others, including their perceptions of reality.
  •    An inter-personal and social process of repetition and “habitualization” leads to the creation and institutionalization of various social structures, reciprocal roles, and moral codes. See: Introduction to Sociology
  •   What people understand as “reality” is really the product of a complicated interpersonal social-interaction and negotiation process that societies go through in determining what is socially acceptable. See: Identity and Reality
   According to the Thomas Theorem, “successive definitions of the situation” play a key part in establishing such norms of social acceptability. Other sociologists have described the process, on the individual level, as a type of self-fulfilling prophecy -- such as when a false idea or rumor, if actually believed to be real by the person who holds it, can end up having real-world consequences. In other words, the individual's reality, though false, was essentially “constructed by an idea."
   Well what I see happening is just that -- one big mammoth struggle to “define the situation,” to define who we are as a country, as a culture, and as human beings, to establish meaning and values and our shared “social reality,” and ultimately to see whose definition will stick.
   Add to that the influence of an epistemological divide that has existed in Western Civilization since its inception, and the current state of U.S. politics and the cultural divide becomes more understandable yet.
   What type of evidence is sufficient on which to pin a belief, especially one that would rise to the level of foundational?
   Does subjective, emotional evidence suffice? What about empirically-based evidence? Or evidence that you can only touch, see and verify with the senses? What about revelation-based or supernatural evidence? Does evidence only qualify as valid if based on group identity? These are straight up epistemological questions about the validity of knowledge and how to attain it -- and how you answer them is every bit related to our current state of affairs, I'd say.
   Do you believe that truth, values, and knowledge are easily discernible through intuitive means, emotive reasoning, common sense or are simply innate to human nature? Or do you believe they are only really trustworthy when they correspond with hard facts, experience, science, and logic? You can see where I'm going with this.
   I should also say that I'm not the first to point out the “epistemic crisis” we're experiencing.
   “The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know -- what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening,” writes David Roberts in a Nov. 2, 2017 Vox piece entitled, America is facing an epistemic crisis.
   Roberts blames “the US conservative movement” for much of the crisis, through its attacks and rejection of the mainstream media and other institutions, such as science and academia, which “society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.”
   I would agree that what we're seeing today has been exacerbated by partisan attacks on key social institutions -- institutions of the kind you might even expect to play a roll in the theorized “social construction of reality,” but Roberts should know that progressive interests have attacked the credibility of various institutions that conservatives respect as well, religious organizations being one of them, and from the view of conservatives have been doing it for a long time. I'm not taking sides, but I know how they feel.
   Roberts does make a good point though, by pointing out some fundamental differences.
   “The pretense for the conservative revolution was that mainstream institutions had failed in their role as neutral arbiters — that they had been taken over by the left, become agents of the left in referee’s clothing, as it were,” Roberts writes. “But the right did not want better neutral arbiters. The institutions it built scarcely made any pretense of transcending faction; they are of and for the right.”
   I don't disagree with him.
   My opinion: Today's glaring ideological polarization seems to me to be just more of the same old “way-of-thinking” drama that has been playing out on the world's stage for centuries, interspersed with relative periods of peace before the next crisis in truth, trust and knowledge flares up, as it has now, like a bad virus. Complete prevention may be impossible, but not letting it get out of control by selecting leaders with level heads and the ability to speak truthfully and with love for all of humanity, rather than put up walls, would seem to me a good idea. I believe that this goes for all leaders, whether in government, ecclesiastical institutions, academia, private organizations, or in the world of business.
   One more suggestion: pay attention to your teachers and professors, because you never know when some of the wisdom they impart -- while appearing irrelevant at the time -- just might be of value years down the road! I'm sure glad I did.

For further reading:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Search for Truth

Hope In A World of Superstition

And Empty Promises


By Steve Rensberry
Commentary
 
   I embrace the unknown, the uncertain, the non-absolute, the mysterious, and the need for one's fundamental beliefs to be rational, logical, and reflective of the totality of human experience. Tentative conclusions, skepticism, and a worldview derived from empirical reality and science, as opposed to emotion, spiritualism and magical thinking, are what the universe demands.
   Making leaps involving absolute “trust,” and believing wholeheartedly in things before all the evidence is in, is simple credulity, or foolishness if you will.
    Think about it: committing oneself to an all-encompassing belief system that promises to reveal afterwords what reason and logic dictate should come before any “commitment to believe” -- especially when such commitment involves concepts on the level of an absolute -- is circular reasoning at its best, assuming to be true in the premise that which it seeks to realize in the conclusion.
   Morality and ethics are grounded in basic human needs and the necessity of survival. If we don't treat each other kindly, the way we ourselves want to be treated, we don't survive. It takes no leap of blind faith or trust, no assumption of “insider knowledge revealed only to those 'who believe,'” no existential moment of assumed contact with the divine, and no castigation of other human beings as worthless and evil simply for refusing to believe as you do.
   One's inherent desire to live an enjoyable life free of pain begs us to limit our own actions lest we all suffer the same fate. It leads us to create laws and social rules that mitigate our competing interests, to protect ourselves -- directly, indirectly, or inadvertently -- from abusing one another. Being moral means living life in the here and now. It means treating other human beings as precious and invaluable. It means opening our eyes to the finite nature of our finite existence, being kind, and seeing all of life, the earth, our neighbors, the animal kingdom, everything, not as intermediate stepping stones to some “higher” reality, but as something beautiful and worthy in their own right.
   Being moral means being honest with oneself and admitting that we human beings are neither omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent, and claiming to know someone “on a personal level” who is adds no more weight to the argument than does any other subjective, unfounded assertion.
  There is hope for humanity because there are others like myself who believe in truth, knowledge and the goodness of others, who refuse to believe their eyes are lying when death comes knocking, and who will never give up in doing what is right. There is hope because there are people still left in the world who genuinely care for other people, not because they are told to care by some assumed entity or sacred book, not because they fear eternal punishment, not because the people they care for think the same way they do, but because life matters -- in and of itself.

The Magic of Humanism

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