Epistemology II

“…are you suggesting that we bear some responsibility for this girl’s state?”

[Originally published on MySpace on April 7, 2010]

“A thirteen year old adolescent tries to commit suicide despite the fact that she lives in a nice house with plenty to eat and do, with two parents and a sibling who all love her, she’s smart and funny with a well-rounded set of developable talents and inclinations—yet she’s completely miserable.

What’s the problem here?  What happened?  What other questions might we ask besides these first two?”

When I posed this scenario on March 13, I got a lot of really interesting, thoughtful responses—ones that made me think, which is what I really like.  I also met quite a few new friends, which I also really like.  Thank you to all who responded for your generosity and willingness to have a say; to spend a little time thinking about something that was (at least superficially) hypothetical.

All of you nailed down some excellent points in your responses to the last blog.  The general consensus included possibilities like the onset of adolescence and what that implies for one who up to that point has been a child, that child’s relative invisibility to the larger social context (i.e., no one has yet noticed that she’s not quite a child any longer and that she needs validation on that point), that child’s difficulty in reconciling what she perceives as contradictions between what she has been taught to “know” and the evidence of her own eyes, a sense of feeling trapped (another sensing of contradiction on her part—who she is in her own eyes and who she’s supposed to be in the eyes of others are at odds in her own mind and she can as yet not see any avenue for reconciling this, so instead she looks for escape in attempting suicide).

Some of you pointed out that maybe she’s looking at the world with the scales having fallen from her eyes and is appalled at what she sees, which point blithely and matter of factly assumes there are some major problems with the world and she simply has yet to adjust to the horror of it all.  (I call this the No Such Thing As Santa Syndrome, which implies that not only is there a victim—the child herself—but that even folks inclined to be sympathetic become part of the problem, because the assumption is that this is a given rite of passage for everyone, and thus is the underlying problem trivialized and even rendered invisible.)

One person speculated that the girl might see that there are people in need and might thus be wondering “why don’t her parents help [those individuals]?”  In other words, the girl perceives what she believes is a lie (another example of contradiction), but in her position as a child her freedom to protest or take other action is truncated to the point that she feels betrayed and impotent at the same time.

A thought that occurred to me to wonder has to do with consumerism.  What impact might a “consumerist mentality” have on families, particularly the younger members?

Finally, one of the last people who responded to the blog said, “So.  If how we think and what we do has an effect, and is “embedded in a cultural context” (ours, presumably) then are you suggesting that we bear some responsibility for this girl’s state?”

Yes, this is what I’m suggesting.  This is pretty much the answer to the trick question, granted it is itself yet another question.

Please bear in mind that I don’t equate “responsibility” with “guilt” or “blame.”  Both of these have become so much a part of the arsenal of the unscrupulous that they’ve all but lost their usefulness in promoting healthy behavior in individuals and within communities.

Nonetheless, the reason this teenage girl is in the position she’s in is because not only do we live in an historically constructed culture which intrinsically provides for just such a circumstance, but we all in the here-and-now tend to help perpetuate this culture, because each of us to one degree or another unquestioningly buys into various of the underlying agendas that are the foundational cornerstones of this same culture, and in so doing we collectively create a web of action, reaction, and interaction between each individual in the community with each other individual in the community.

I believe, in fact, that this is safe to say about any unfortunate circumstance, real or imagined, that presents itself to our perception this day and age.

Of course, I have absolutely no right to suggest as much, never mind that anyone do anything about it, not having any claim to The Right Answer beyond what anyone else has.  And in a blog, there’s a limit to how much detail you can include in your explanation of Life, the Universe and Everything before you start losing (or never gaining to begin with) readership.

Still, anybody wanna take a stab at developing a livable degree of personal responsibility for the community we live in, just on the off chance you might save somebody’s life (maybe even your own) at some distant remove in time or place?  Or even right next door, as the case may be?

If you do, my recommendation is start with small bites, although feel free to ignore this and do as you see fit.

Here’s a small bite, to get you started:

“Life is full of contradictions.”  I use the word ‘contradictions’ a lot, so I figured it’d be a good place to start.  I have NO idea who the first person was who said this, but I didn’t make it up, and in fact it is a cliché in our society.  The cool thing about a cliché (at least for sociologists) is that since it IS a cliché, you can pretty much tag it as a cultural “given,” rather than having to twist your brain around all the “reading between the lines” kinda stuff that you often have to do to determine whether a system of logic is consistent with its own precepts, or even simply to determine what those precepts are.  It is, in other words, representative of foundational cornerstones in our culture.

Bearing in mind that I have defined the quote above as a cliché, that is to say, that there is a body of common wisdom that most people agree on regarding what this statement means, what does this statement imply in terms of actionable behavior?  Or even in terms of what to think, granted thinking can arguably be considered a form of action?

Feel free to argue with me below in the comments, but here’s MY opinion:  what this statement tells us at best is not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed at the number of problems we perceive around us.  Fair enough, eh?  Another interpretation that rides on the heels of this is the idea that we should pick our battles, since it’s likely we each of us may not be able to fight them all.  Works for me.  But this statement also suggests the very dangerous idea that there’s nothing much to be done about this state of affairs.

What do you think?  Does this interpretation of mine ring true in your minds?

What does this cliché imply about the nature and degree of our responsibility toward ourselves, each other, and the larger community?  Who stands to lose if we adhere to this interpretation in the choices we make on a daily basis?  Who stands to gain?

As I said, you can respond to these questions below if you like—I’d LOVE to hear your opinion.  But what I’d also like you to do is look around and find a pet cliché or two or your own, take a sharp look at ‘em, and bring them here to tell the rest of us about what you think.

Does this seem a bit distant from the original exercise?  Not terribly heroic, eh?  Kay, well, anybody know any clichés about heroes?  *grin*

Again, no flaming please.  Feel free to email if you prefer, and also feel free to argue with me about anything it occurs to you to argue about.

Thea

8:10 AM  9 Comments  4 Kudos

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9 Responses to Epistemology II

  1. Thea says:

    jcmmanuel:

    Responsibility is something that cannot be derived from nature – at least not a responsibility of this kind, like feeling responsible for how the Child feels. This is something very typical human – we don’t find it otherwise in nature, materialism, physicalism – whatever. This is rather ‘social’, and from there it has it’s connection to and connotations with things like spirituality, morality, even religion – and it is a huge object of study for philosophers as well of course.

    Isn’t this related to the contradictions? To see and understand contradictions is … very human. Contradictions are the hallmark of reality -no, I should correct myself: human reality. We happen to see contradictions all the time. That is where we get the idea of changing / improving our world: because we see the contradictions between what’s good and what is not-yet-good (which in a number of cases looks like: really ugly, or evil). Taking distance from more precise definition of much of the terminology (what is evil, what is good, etc), we can already be tempted to action by just having an understanding of not-so-good versus better. We don’t really need ideal truths to understand the need to improve. You don’t need to see ‘heaven’ to want something ‘better’ than what we have. Seeing some ‘relative truth’ is already a great thing. Being a saint is certainly a great thing, but not being apathetic is already much better than being apathetic. Or, to put this in another way: responsibility doesn’t come overnight, it is a learning process.

    During the process, we will, or should, learn to feel responsible for the girl. But we can only educate her if we are educated ourselves. The conflicts must get some level of resolve, in our minds. Conflicts are some kind of ‘megaphone’ (C.S. Lewis comes to mind: suffering as God’s megaphone) – they tell us that there’s something not right with our world. But if we don’t hear the megaphone, it could be that we have come to accept the conflicts / the pain as ‘normal’. If that happens, we are dehumanizing ourselves – we don’t resist nature anymore, we become apathetic and… irresponsible (and egoistic). To be or become ‘human’ (or: to humanize) means to do something that makes a difference. To me this is certainly part of a true epistemology.

    I’m not sure if this was a good ‘response’ to your blog – but you may probably find some phrases in it that make sense.

    Posted by jcmmanuel on April 7, 2010 – Wednesday – 1:31 PM

    • Thea says:

      “Responsibility is something that cannot be derived from nature…” etc.

      Yes, this is what I was talking about when I said “The underlying thought/act is very likely nothing more or less than a moral choice, ALTHOUGH there are a number of influences, pressures, and pre-existing dynamics, as well as some basic “natural” criteria, in place that may influence one’s thoughts and actions” on your stat feed the other day. I’ve secretly thought for a long time that one very practical reason not to dispense with the notion of God, for instance, is because we’re generally not grown up enough to “do the right thing” without close supervision! (Pardon me while I run hysterically away from the crowd chasing me with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers.) Be that as it may, “moral choices” have real consequences sooner or later, and these consequences can boil down to The Big Question, which is Live or Die. Or as a good friend puts it, Ascension versus Oblivion.

      For me, the big moral choice boils down to the fact that I really don’t want to see our lovely field of purple flowers destroyed, or even just mistreated. I suspect that what we are made of actually IS love, so we tend toward it in general. But we’re also “evolved” just enough that we’re able to buck it—for a time. Pockets of us are able to behave like cancer, to use another analogy—which cancer happens for a reason typically having to do with some species of interaction with the environment in which it occurs. If the rest of the body, or the larger community surrounding the body, is unable to come up with a way to counter the cancer, it takes over and the body dies.

      Some would argue that we are headed for entropy as a matter of inevitability, so what’s the point? That may be true, for all I know. BUT! We ain’t dead yet, and I can’t think of anything better to do in the meantime than to see if maybe we can beat the odds.

      “…responsibility doesn’t come overnight, it is a learning process.”

      EXACTLY RIGHT! (insofar as it is possible to be exact, of course…*grin*)

      “But we can only educate her if we are educated ourselves. The conflicts must get some level of resolve, in our minds.”

      Right again! It is not so much that we must take direct responsibility at this moment in time for the girl’s predicament, although that is certainly important and if you’re in a position to do so, then have at it. Rather, the responsibility that needs to be invented has to do with learning how to examine our thoughts and actions for their consequences that may be rendered obscure or even invisible by the assumptions we make, and by the battles we fail to pick out of, as you say, apathy or desensitization—or as I would say, out of failing to think critically about our assumptions. THEN, we need to take corrective action (which by definition is going to make a difference).

      Takes practice, though. That’s why I thought to start by having folks take a look at their favorite cliché…

      It is an honor, truly, to have you here, J… 🙂

      Posted by Thea on April 7, 2010 – Wednesday – 2:37 PM

      • Thea says:

        jcmmanuel:

        You are the one who keeps impressing me. “I suspect that what we are made of actually IS love, so we tend toward it in general” – that is… beautiful, by all means this is an inspiring thought. And also this: “the responsibility that needs to be invented has to do with learning how to examine our thoughts and actions for their consequence”.That’s already 2 pearls – why aren’t these turned into status comments? (Tip!)

        Posted by jcmmanuel on April 10, 2010 – Saturday – 10:01 AM

  2. Thea says:

    piratas de dios ~ NEW Layout ~ Songs:

    contradiction (against what is said)
    it helps me to go back to the root meaning of a word when trying to define it…
    imagine billions of points of truth all co-existing together each holding on to its own individual truth.
    truth from one perspective might not look like the truth from another’s perspective…
    this leads to confusion… as well as contradictions
    there are those who exploit this confusion in order to dominate and humiliate others
    domination is a form of slavery, which directly contradicts the truth of free will
    of course i would rather die in the truth than to live as a slave…
    but suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem

    if like minded people can purge the urge to bully and dominate society by the few, as opposed to worshiping these people like they were masters of the universe, then mutual respect will encourage trust and appreciation for the diverse forms of truth

    we are not frozen pieces on a chessboard manipulated by the chess masters
    we have a body and a mind and a will to act

    so there’s a lot we can do to change this state of affairs ~

    my two cents…

    ==Larry

    Posted by piratas de dios ~ NEW Layout ~ Songs on April 7, 2010 – Wednesday – 1:32 PM

    • Thea says:

      Beautiful, Larry. I especially honor the point you made about “worshiping these people like they were masters of the universe.” That is definitely a “given” (an assumption) that many people fail to question.

      “so there’s a lot we can do to change this state of affairs”

      Okay! Such as…? *grin*

      Posted by Thea on April 7, 2010 – Wednesday – 2:46 PM

      • Thea says:

        piratas de dios ~ NEW Layout ~ Songs:

        sorry i’ve been so busy and this is a little late…

        Such as…?

        we begin with free will and action…
        we have the freedom to take any action, but action — in this existence — is not done in a void
        our actions have an impact on others
        since our actions impact others, we must take this into account while exercising our freedoms…
        so freedom is tempered by this sense of responsibility
        [for example, we have the free will to drive on any side of the road we want to, but it is irrresponsible to drive on the wrong side of the road because to do so would endanger the lives and free wills of other drivers]
        free will does not exist in a vacuum as long as you’re dealing with others ~

        to take responsible actions that promote mutual respect and collaboration is already changing the state of affairs
        self mastery overcomes the need for masters of the universe
        and free will, diverted from controlling others, to a more benign system of mutual respect and collaboration, will re-engender trust in the society… and when the people trust one another again a lot can happen fast ~

        the central sociological question being pondered and acted upon today is whether or not we “are our brother’s keepers”

        a social contract which gives me the freedom to fail and gives them the right to throw me under the bus if i do fail, is not a social contract i would like to sign…
        so, if they want to create a society where the rules of the road are we get to throw people who fail under the bus… then i’ll decide to take another road where if your car breaks down, people will stop and help you…
        it’s really as simple as that, and it’s happening already (quite a ferocious worldwide debate) we just have to see it and take appropriate action…

        ethics is the engineering of philosophy into activity ~

        ==Larry

        Posted by
        piratas de dios ~ NEW Layout ~ Songs on April 9, 2010 – Friday – 12:51 PM

        • Thea says:

          M. TERESA CLAYTON:

          We are becoming antiseptic and numb with out social skills. We are not allowed to hug a child that is not our own (and many don’t even hug the ones that are theirs). We spend our days thumbing messages on phones rather than dialing the number and hearing a voice on the other end (a real conversation with inflections in the voice), we type away at this keyboard in an effort to share thoughts and opinions that are as limited as our verbage and our typing skills are. We rarely sit outside and shoot the shit with the neighbors over a beer as the kids play well into the evening. Who are we becoming?

          We are deaf. We are blind. We are sensory deprived. Eventually, those things we do not use will go the way of the little toe and become useless appendages that will, in time, evolution will replace it with something else… I hope it’s not a lithium computer chip! AAAHHH the Matrix is real!!!!!! AAAAHHHH

          Posted by M. TERESA CLAYTON on June 22, 2010 – Tuesday – 8:32 AM

  3. Thea says:

    ROBERTOelDRAGÓN&IDYs!:

    THEA! DEAR, DEAR THEA! I MUST DO THIS, IN PARTS, I FEAR? YOU’RE QUESTION HAS AN INFINITY, OF, POTENTIAL DIRECTIONS, AND WHILE, I ADMIRE IT, THE RESIDUAL BENEFITS, TO BE DERIVED, FROM MY LOOOOOOOOOONG AND RATHER, FOR ME, HERE; EVER (MYSPACE), ARDUOUS ATTEMPT, @ A “DECENT REPLY”, WILL -NOT- COMPENSATE, FOR THE OUTLAY (THE READER). BUT, FOR YOU, I DO THIS w AS MUCH ALACRITY, ( -NOT- “EFFICIENCY” OR THE LIKE, THO!), AS I THINK; I SHALL, EVER, HAVE, w SUCH A “PRODUCTION”.
    AND, AS SURE, AS ANY, UNIVERSAL, TRUTH, DESPITE, MY ATTEMPTS, TO AVOID, MUCH OF MY, USUAL, AND, NOW, 2nd-NATURE, TANGENTIAL WANDERING, I SHALL!? SO? 1. BEAR w ME? MOST (SOME? A WEE BIT?) -WILL- “FALL n2 PLACE”, w TIME. AND, 2. FORGIVE MY SLOWNESS? NOTHING TO DO, w MY BACK OR ANYTHING, BUT MY “FEAR”, OF THE, SO REDOUBTABLE, “CHALLENGE”; I AM A BIT INDISPOSED, TO TAKE ON?
    OK. HAVING SAID THAT, TO BEGIN, PLEASE VIEW THE VID, BELOW? OR, @ LEAST, @, ABOUT, THE 6:20 MARK, THERE IS, WHAT, FOR ME, TILL I WATCHED MY KIDZ’ BIRTH, THE BEST ARGUMENT, FOR THE EXISTENCE, OF “SOMETHING”; RESPONSIBLE, FOR THE HUMAN BEING’S EXISTENCE. (THIS FILM WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED, AND RELEASED BY WILLIAM BLATTY (RIGHT AFTER, THE EXORCIST). AND, IT WAS -TRAGICALLY- OVERLOOKED, AS, SADLY, IS, OFTEN, THE CASE? BUT, I AM NOT PEDDLING THE FILM, NOW. (I SOLD MY PERCENTAGE. HAAA) THE ARGUMENT, MENTIONED ABOVE, IS WHY; IT’S HERE. (YOUTUBE HAS 10, I THINK, SEGMENTS, OF THE ENTIRE FILM, AND, IF BORED, AS YOU WAIT, FOR THE SIZABLE CHUNKS, OF TIME; BETWEEN MY POSTINGS; YOU COULD DO WORSE, THAN VIEWING? BUT, THE “ONE PERSON’S JUNK… RULE” EASILY, MAY COME n2 PLAY, AND THAT’S, JUST, PEACHY?)

    BBS?
    OH! THE ATOMIC PINBALL EFFECT, YOUR ESSENTIAL QUESTION(S) CREATE? TWAINS, SHORT STORY/NOVELLA(?), THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER. IF, YOU HAVE TIME, TO READ IT, FOR MY MONEY (< 2 CENTS!), IT, FAR, FAR MORE, PRECISELY, EXEMPLIFIES, THE ALL-DIRECTIONAL, "RIPPLE EFFECT"; I AM, EFFETELY, TRYING TO 'SPLAIN, IN SUCH AN EVOCATIVE AND PROFOUND BLOG!? NOW, I'LL BBS? HAAA
    ILY! TOMMY

    Posted by ROBERTOelDRAGÓN&IDYs! on May 9, 2010 – Sunday – 6:17 PM

    • Thea says:

      Ya know, you scared the ever livin’ *^%$#^@%& OUTTA ME!!! Need to arrange matters so it’s easier for you to avoid doing so in the future, eh? DAMNED delighted to see this comment, Tommy!!

      Posted by Thea on May 3, 2010 – Monday – 1:17 PM

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