Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Half Baked Philosophy Pie

The First Slice

This might be the start of an irregular series of introspective posts. On the other hand it may be part 1 in a series of 1. We’ll see how this one goes for a start. I’m not well read when it comes to philosophical issues so I’d advise anyone reading to prepare for extreme naivety. I’ve been thinking over my political compass test results among other things. In the test I came out as somewhere between Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama and although I’d like to claim that these comparisons are justified, I have to admit that they are not. This post is an attempt to examine why this is the case.

As a starting point, I’ve been considering the conflict between my intellectually reasoned opinions and my normal modes of behaviour. In some wonderful utopian future there would be no conflict and humanity would be at peace with itself. Today, in June 2005, conflict certainly exists. I often criticise politicians for their inability to live up to their own rhetoric, but how often do I apply the same conditions to my own behaviour? Perhaps the answer is not often enough.

Bearing in mind my intellectual position as a libertarian leftie (of which more later) it might be useful if I try to explain a little about myself and how I interact with other people. I don’t do it well. Well, that’s not strictly true, I can do it well, but I don’t do it well very often. It generally depends on my frame of mind. My problem is that I tend to find interacting with individual people irritating, intimidating, and confusing. I seem to be impatient by default and naturally suspicious of the intentions of others. I can be judgemental, quickly categorising people in order to provide a framework for the interaction. I often become intensely irritated with my own behaviour in social situations and this then exacerbates my impatience and discomfort. I find that people can be just so difficult to predict, so inconsiderate, so irrational even. In essence, I can lose a perfectly happy and optimistic state of mind just by going to the corner shop to buy a litre of milk. Five minutes in a queue at the till and I’ve decided the entire world is doomed (and probably not worth saving) due to the inherent stupidity and selfishness of the human race. I should add that I do include myself in all these criticisms. As a result of the above I spend a great deal of time alone. I’m not good at keeping in touch with my friends, not because I don’t like my friends, but because I don’t find it easy to talk to people.

I could try to explain why I think my default positions are this way but it’d be lengthy and speculative and probably not very interesting. The point is that this is the way I behave when I’m not consciously thinking about the way I behave. Wherever you stand on the nurture versus nature debate, I believe most people would accept that by the time we reach adulthood we have developed a set of predispositions in our behaviours. (The nurture versus nature debate itself can keep for another time.)

I should imagine that the difference between my behaviour and my political opinions is fairly apparent. In abstract, I think the world would be a better place if we all took the time to be a bit nicer to each other, but if you were to walk past me in the street I wouldn’t even look in your direction. In abstract, I believe that many of the problems in 21st Century society are caused by the disconnections which exist in society, but I’m one of the most disconnected people you’re ever likely to meet. In abstract, I believe that the rehabilitation of criminals is better for society than punishment, but if I caught you trying to break into my house I’d not be overly concerned with your circumstances or rehabilitation programme. There are many more examples but I’m sure you get the point.

There are those who might say that this highlights a problem with my intellectual position. Perhaps my position is pie in the sky woolly headed thinking based on an unrealistic view of humanity. In some respects I can see that this argument has a lot of weight. The libertarian left view of the world requires empathy and cooperation at a local, national, and international level. Maybe this is just asking too much of people. Perhaps the truth is that selfishness and intolerance have to be accepted and adopted into our world view.

It’s a strong argument, especially given my own day to day reactions. So, should I rethink my intellectual position to accommodate these realities or should I attempt to overcome my predispositions in order to accommodate my intellectual position? It is here that I feel we have reached the root of this little investigation. Are we, as human adults, pre-programmed robots following a proscribed set of behaviours, unable to consciously alter our actions? It isn’t an easy question and I won’t even begin to attempt to pretend to know the answer. On the one hand, the fact that I’m writing this makes me a conscious being, but on the other, my everyday reactions to events appear to be beyond conscious control.

My feeling is that we should not accept that our behaviour is predetermined. For me, this would be an acceptance of defeat, an acceptance that humanity cannot change for the better. Whether it is true is almost irrelevant, the important thing is that we continue to try. It may be true that my intellectual positions are based on idealism but that shouldn’t stop me from trying to live according to them. The conflict might continue until the day I take my last breath, but if I’ve won just one battle over my predisposed behaviours, then at least I’ll die knowing it was possible. And perhaps, just perhaps, the world will be the tiniest fraction better than it was before the conflict started.

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