A point of view point

When studying a new field of knowledge, it can be surprising how unsurprising its findings can be. Certainly some of the findings might not be expected, even counter intuitive. Indeed, new methodologies or frameworks can often feel enlightening. But once a truth finding procedure is understood, the facts discovered with its heuristics will usually appear quite reasonable. They will generally conform to an intelligible account of the world, and they are sometimes so suitably obvious that the whole process of having studied auxiliary information can seem to have been a poor use of time. It is often the case that complexities uncovered by research are not shocking; do not change one’s world view; and appear to only complicate a picture to the point of tautology – to being non-predictive and, therefore, unproductive. But this is not the point. What the process is really doing, by forcing you to actually think the details as opposed to imagine that you could have thought of likely details if required, is adding complexity and furnishing texture to your picture of the world. Learning the detailed findings of multiple branches of knowledge is vitally important for anyone desiring not to be taken in by fantasy or delusion. Not only does it give evidence and weight, it also diminishes the habit of relying on mental shortcuts. When our economy demands specialization to the degree where most time is spent grappling with the complexities of a small set of problems, it is hard to know the causes, functions and effects of the majority of the world’s complex phenomena with equivalent granularity. The result is that, when we need to employ knowledge from a field different from our own, we use a generalized and abstracted account of it. We naively believe that this picture is correct, and even that it is the only picture, when in actuality we chose a picture that conformed to and justified the result we subjectively desire. To respond to our most socially and ethically important decisions, ones that requires synthesizing hugely complex fields of human endeavor, we turn most of the world into what we wish it to be – instrumentalizing reality and reducing it to a level of simplicity we would never allow within our own field in order to justify a political, economic, or metaphysical superstructure that is in our best interest to defend.

It is important to remember that the phenomenal world within any person’s frame of reference will be experienced as normal. While people from a different culture or a different time in history often seem foreign or strange when viewed from our point of view, the overwhelming flavor of their internal lives will mostly be pedestrian. It is true that different cultures link together the pieces and processes of the world in unique ways, often resulting in agency that appears irrational, naive, or exotic. Of course, when they view your behavior, the decisions seem just as odd. “How could anyone not understand what is so obviously in front of their face?” is the question that everyone asks about everyone else. But reflect on your own experience. You do not marvel at its ideology or its habits. You do not wonder how it is possible, or question why the obvious is so obvious. Despite moments of extremity, life is mostly normal, day-to-day coping. Everyone’s life. Others too are handling problems; enjoying small moments; and generally constructing meaning while doing their utmost to not be a fool or die miserably. They too are caught between perceived forces of modernity and history, belief and reality, us and them. Their content is different, and the way the make a system of that content is different, but they are always experiencing it in the same place – as now; as problematic; and, above all, as normal.

I love the differences of individuals and peoples. I love that people see things differently, think things differently, and do things differently. It gives a richness to life that cannot be remunerated. In short: I love culture. What I don’t like is when the idea of culture is abstracted from its proper use within a contextually embedded method of human understanding and hypothesized into a platonic ideal. Culture so conceived is only used as a tool of the powerful to defend the status quo or undermine specific populations. When culture becomes romanticized into an eternal and immutable ideal, it not longer celebrates or empowers real, living people and the actuality of their lives; lives the ceaselessly generate the beauty and creativity of our world. When culture is romanticized in order to keep people fixed in time or to disenfranchise their access to social and economic capital,   it is no longer worth celebrating because it is no longer about actual living forces. It is a mistake to think that culture is ever fixed or permanent. Rather, it is a dynamic process of combining and conflicting ideas and actions, informed by a background of traditions, that constitute a necessary dialectic which gives shape to the possibilities of human life. Cultures are always in flux; their borders are always shifting; and they can arise next door as easily as on the other side of the world. 

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