Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Truth

Truth is a highly subjective thing and far more interesting than fact. It might be a fact that a person was 5'7" but whether that person is short, tall or average depends on their gender, their age and the culture in which they are raised.

Two separate people might be arguing over the correctness or wrongness of a particular situation or action and using the same facts to argue their point that their opponent is. However, both have different perspectives resulting in two different truths. The response to this is generally to consider the opponent's perspective to be flawed in some way either through ignorance, self-interest or malice while one's own perspective is viewed as the most appropriate and closest to The Truth (the words "one", "only", "real", "actual" or so on may be added or simply implied). Part of this is because my perception that both frameworks of viewing the same situation as each being true from their proponent's perspective is simply another truth that other people may or may not accept.


However, the truths we each accept cause real, observable differences in the way that we behave or perceive things around us. For example, it has been said that humans are the only animals that go to war, but this is highly dependent on how one defines war. The first definition at dictionary.com calls it "a conflict carried on by force of arms." This definition can easily be applied to conflicts between ants, chimpanzees, meerkats and several other species. Merriam-Webster's first definition calls it "a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations". This would seem to be limited only to humans, but then we have to consider the definition of state and nation. If two separate meerkat colonies or ant colonies are considered separate states, then the vicious fighting between such entities could still be called a war. Some people would point to the organized and deliberate manners in which humans fight each other and make use of every possible trick or advantage to win, but again, one can point to meerkats, which use diversionary forces, flanking maneuvers, sapping and assassination of young in their wars with each other. Others might state that only humans go to war for mere profit, which runs into the truth that profit is a translation of increased money which itself is representative of work done and work that can be done, through which one can acquire resources such as food, making a fight over profit essentially a fight over resources which is essentially every fight between animals ever.

This applies to pretty much anything. For example, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in evolution. I believe in the Big Bang theory. I believe in the theory of relatively. I believe that the Bible is at the very least of questionable validity even if it has a lot of actual wisdom in its pages. I believe nuclear power is the best power source we have available right now. I really don't believe God cares about homosexuality or what sort of animals we eat. I also don't think God cares too much about denomination (I forget the actual wording but Aslan's commentary at the end of the Narnia Chronicles where he speaks to the soldier that served the Satan analog in name but had been a good person all his life that "all Good is done through me regardless of what name is given". That's pretty much my ideal, God is good, and God sees what is good in us regardless of what name we call him). I have a sort of belief that seems to run along with the idea of the perennial philosophy wherein there is in one central Truth (note the caps) and that all of human knowledge has pieces of it with which we occasionally grow closer and occasionally pull further away. I believe that organized religions may be divinely inspired at the beginning, but are ultimately an artifice of our own human nature (which doesn't instantly make them bad, just makes it possible to perceive them as flawed rather than infallible).

I also believe that no matter how much God listens to me, that I am not going to get some divine boon out of nowhere. Though, occasionally, I have come across delightful coincidences that seem to be nothing less than divine guidance, I recognize that in all likelihood it was merely coincidence. My functional day to day does not really depend upon my belief in God, because I also believe that behaving in a good manner simply because God says so is not actually being good, merely obedient. Which, for me, falls short of the mark. I also accept the fact that I do not actually know whether God is real or not. I cannot call the existence of God a fact. And I don't mind that. If I'm wrong about God existing, it doesn't change the way I live. And if someone else tells me they don't believe in God, I might get a little argumentative (especially if they treat belief as a sign of stupidity) but that's partially because I'm a pedantic nitpicker who grew up enjoying random debates over various abstract issues. Regardless of anything, someone else's belief that God isn't real doesn't affect me.

Now, with all of this, there are some people that would tell me that I'm not a "real" believer because I accept some of the scientific discoveries as fact, or because I don't consider homosexuality a sin, or because I write books about Greek gods and demons, or because I accept that my truth that God is real might not be actual fact. On the other hand, there are people that would call me an idiot for believing in God to any degree. I've even seen places where people were advocating that individuals who believe in any religion shouldn't be allowed to hold office, for instance, basically displaying the same sort of intolerance and hate they claim is inspired only by religions. There are people who would consider me to be just a sort of poser going along with whatever the person I'm talking to happens to be saying (well....given my penchant for getting into debates on the drop of the hat, it might be better to say that they think I'm a poser who takes positions opposite people just to be a troll or, more politely stated, devil's advocate.). There are also some people who might think that I espouse the belief that God is a creation of the human collective or the subconscious need for order or some other such thing when I really do believe in an outside supreme being that created all of heaven and earth and set the laws in motion that we use the scientific method to discover. Others will call me an aethist in denial or an agnostic, rather than Catholic. Technically speaking, some Catholics might consider me a heretic especially since the concept that female priests and contraceptives are a no-no boggles my mind. (Though I will admit that I do not like the idea of abortion.)

Just as neither side can accept each other's truth, neither can accept my truth that all these positions are true to the individuals holding those perspectives. There are many people who, if they bother to read an overly wordy something written by a no name random soul on the internet, will pick and choose only random bits and pieces that are relevant to them either supporting their perspective or denying it and react solely to those elements of the rant and disregarding the overall point of it. I'm one of those people, I strongly suspect that most people are, really.

Now, I don't care what truth any one particular person espouses as long as it does not begin to get in the way of my life. The problem is that there are a lot of people out there that think that someone is harming their life expressly because they approach things from a different truth.

I once transcribed a film discussing a filmmaker's research into the concept of God. Background to the documentary he noted that he had, at some point, stopped believing in God. By the end of the documentary he'd come to the conclusion that he, himself, was God, in that "God is a mental construct" sort of way. However, in the middle of the movie he talked to a psychologist that discussed how people will have an epiphany or sudden religious experience that takes them to a different level of consciousness wherein they consider the things in connection with that epiphany are somehow more real than the stuff that occurs in everyday life. And with this rather mild sort of detachment, which the researcher continued to apply purely to religious thinking, we are more likely to come to conclusions that allow for us oppressing or committing violence upon people that don't agree with our perception of religious truth. After all, those people are less "real" than me because they don't share my vision.

Either the researcher never mentioned how this thinking can occur outside of religion or else the filmmaker coached the questions so that he could make the phenomena seem to be one purely related to religious fanatics. I strongly suspect that it was an unconscious combination of the two, with neither the filmmaker nor the researcher being consciously aware of their bias. However, this goes back to my idea of truth and how two people can believe in two different truths that are mutually exclusive and yet both are basing their truth on the same facts without realizing that they've included subjective connotations and drawn conclusions into their arguments.

For an example of a case where this sort of "more real than non-believers" attitude has come into existence with regard to non-religious philosophies, let's start hit just a few obvious ones.

Soviet style communism, wherein religious practice of any type was outlawed and punished severely, could not have taken such firm hold as it did without having a large number of true believers who were willing, not only to die for the cause, but to make the other guy die for the cause as well. Granted, religion was not the only thing they severely punished, but the point here is that non-religious perspectives are equally vulnerable to the same sort of

Then you have the American philosophy, wherein all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights and that among these are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are worthwhile goals, but quite often it has been corrupted to the idea that we should bring these concepts and goals to people whom we perceive as not following the same goals, whether they want it or not.

There is also the scientific method, which is a wonderful method for the testing of fact, but the practice of science has often been confused with the knowledge we discover through science. It is also forgotten that science is not primarily a tool to prove what won't happen, just what will happen. As such, many people on both sides of the religion and science divide point at it and claim that science says God can't exist and proceed with their particular brand of vitriol from there (note that I just used a heavily emotion laden word there, thus betraying some of my own biases), when really, science says nothing about God one way or another.

Which brings us to a group of fanatic Atheists I've seen around on facebook that prove that hateful bigotry does not merely belong to those who claim to be religious. This group is pushing an amendment that would effectively remove the Freedom of Religion, it actually advocates rewriting that first amendment so that it doesn't include Freedom of Religion and then goes on to include a number of punitive measures to be placed on people who follow one religion or another, including, as I mentioned earlier, the idea that anybody in public office who declares for any sort of religious practice should immediately be impeached and that former religious leaders should be permanently banned from politics or supporting politicians.

To me, the basic concept of Atheism is that there is no God. This is not a concept that, to me, requires you to punish people that do believe in God. I know several atheists with whom I am decent friends with that have never demeaned my personal beliefs. So, I'm really not sure why "I don't believe in God" should ever become "people who believe in God should be treated like second class citizens." Just like I don't understand why "I believe in God" should ever have become "people who don't believe in God should be treated like second class citizens". (and yes, I'm aware that a number of religious fanatics go all the way to execution. Atheists have done the same thing in various countries.)

These are all the more extreme and volatile sorts of competing truths, but that makes it easy to use them in examples, because they enjoy huge contrast. This happens on a smaller scale all the time. For example, when coming to Japan I was warned that punctuality meant arriving early rather than arriving on time. This was not a big surprise to me, my family has thrived on the idea that if you're on time then your were almost late all my life. But I am aware that there are a number of people out there who think that when the schedule says to start at 8:00am, that that's when they should be walking in the door as adverse me, where I see a start time at 8:00am and prefer to arrive between 7:30 and 7:45 (after being told that 7:00am was too early). To my mind, 7:50 is late enough to apologize over, to the other person, 8:01 is late, but probably not enough to be concerned about. The facts don't change, but our perception of the situation does. I say 7:50 is late, and that is true, because it is past the time I feel secure in arriving at. The other person says 7:50 is early because it's before the written schedule. However, in this case, the truth that matters is the one that pays the bills, and the Japanese company that would hire both of us tends to agree with the truth I was raised with.

As regards fiction and writing, this concept of our perceptions affecting the truth of things around us has been played with a number of times in a large number of ways. Ranging from Nasuverse were there are some things that can't be killed because they literally do not have a concept of death native to their existence, but there are also weapons which can force the concept of death on said beings, to the Matrix where existence turned out to be a hyper realistic computer program.

Because I enjoy the abstract discussion and philosophical meandering like I'm doing here, that sometimes (almost always) leaks at least a little bit into more stories and mixes in with my love basic and simple action, adventure and situational humor. I like mixing and matching the truths of my various characters and seeing how they interact and how they conflict. Especially once the facts of the matter change.

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