There are numerous dimensional axes to reality; it’s probably best not to grind just one of them at a time

Well, it’s Tuesday morning, and again, I’m beginning this post on my smartphone while still sitting in my room at the house.  I know that’s not very exciting news, but it’s one of the more noteworthy things in my day-to-day existence.  To quote my own song, albeit ironically, “Don’t you wish that you were me?”

I wish I had more interesting things to discuss here.  Goodness knows there are always many “interesting” things going on in the world, depending on your point of view.  But that’s the nub of the rub: interestingness* is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Many of the things that seem to intrigue other people seem dull to me.  And some controversial subjects about which I do have interest and at least some opinions are being addressed by others, to the degree that I really don’t have a whole lot to add.

I suppose the subject of mental health is near and dear** to me.  I do become irritated when the public argumentation about things like “mass shootings” using “assault” weapons becomes divided into poles of:  focus on restricting access to assault weapons versus focus on mental health issues, as though only one of the two matters could be addressed at any time by any government or political party.  But surely, these are semi-orthogonal questions, and both are worthy of discussion.

Now, I’ll grant you that, when it comes to deaths among civilians related to firearms in the US, more than half‒and sometimes as many two thirds‒are suicides, so here, mental health is truly a major concern.  I have personal experience with this danger; I used to target shoot recreationally, and owned a few pistols, but when I was deeply depressed, my therapist asked, rather pointedly, that I turn my guns over to her for safe-keeping, which I did.  Once I was doing better, she returned them, but later, after I had back-slid, I did come one sixth of the way to killing myself with one of them.

But all this isn’t really relevant to the so-called mass shootings, which actually make up a tiny (but slightly growing) fraction of even gun-related homicides.  Weirdly enough, it’s not a simple, one-dimensional question.  There are many things happening all at once, and some of them are independent variables, and some are dependent, and some are partially dependent, and the causal relationship from one to the other(s) can often be difficult to ascertain at a superficial glance.

Complex issues are rarely best understood via an “us versus them”, tribal approach, which rapidly tends to descend into ad hominem attacks and other manipulative, rhetorical, self-deceptive and counterproductive tactics.  Reality doesn’t actually take sides in general, and more importantly, it does not make exceptions even for people who are honestly and innocently mistaken.  The safest approach to dealing with it is to try to understand it as objectively and thoroughly as possible, without political bias or other tribal nonsense.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that fashion was a form of ugliness so repulsive that it had to be changed every six months.  Politics is in some ways slightly more durable…but only slightly.  The overarching trends can be important‒to humans and their victims and beneficiaries, anyway‒but the momentary fads and fashions and personality cults are so much candy floss, and they have essentially no relevance to the greater universe***.  Humans are tiny, pathetically self-important newcomers on the surface of one planet among hundreds of billions‒perhaps trillions‒in this galaxy alone.  Everyone needs to get over him- or herself‒or whatever pronoun-self an individual prefers.

I have thoughts and “opinions” about various subjects, about some of which I have reasonable knowledge and expertise, but one thing I notice very much is that almost every subject of controversy is more complicated than humans seem to tend to want to think.  That’s partly just down to primatology; humans approach many questions not from a position of dedicated, disciplined, rigorous, and self-critical seekers of truth, but as rival flanges of baboons, or rival groups within a flange of baboons.  They often behave not as if they actually seek to understand the nature of reality to the best of their abilities, but as monkeys throwing feces at other monkeys to gain or maintain a position in a dominance hierarchy****.

It would be nice if people could actually try to address the very real problems of adult mental health, which is still underappreciated and in an even poorer state than healthcare in general, instead of using it as a distraction from the orthogonal question of why there are an increasing number of “mass shootings” and whether restricting access to “assault weapons” would do more good than harm, and by what measures.

An honest discussion***** of serious topics should recognize that finding the truth is not a zero-sum contest but, ideally, a mutual exchange to mutual benefit.  No one has all the facts in hand at any given time, and probably no one ever will have all the facts, but to try always to gain more facts, more knowledge, seems to be a useful guideline.

But if you see someone who disagrees with you, even about an issue that you consider important, as merely an enemy, then you make yourself into an enemy, too‒not just of the person who disagrees with you, but of anyone who seeks objective knowledge and understanding of the world.

*This feels like it’s not really a proper word, but the alternatives that come to my mind seem worse.

**Perhaps something like “anti-dear” would be more accurate; a quantity with the same absolute value as “dear”, but on the other side of zero.

***Except as they might influence whether the creatures of the Earth ever truly initiate, as David Deutsch called it, The Beginning of Infinity.

****It’s in encounters with such tendencies that I find myself sympathetic with Lord Foul’s disgusted statement, “…yet in their pride they dare to name themselves earthfriends, servants of peace.  They are too blind to perceive their own arrogance…”

*****Note that I do not say “debate”.  I generally consider debate a poor means by which to seek truth, since the process tends to become merely a contest, a display of skill, where rhetoric and charisma become more important than actual facts, reasons, and explanations, and thus the spectacle devolves into mere chest-thumping by hubris-addicted apes.  Regrettably, the very courts of law take this approach, and thus we have the mortifying spectacle of a prominent murder trial pivoting on the mildly clever couplet, “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit”.  If anyone saw and heard that and was not filled with abysmal despair regarding the criminal justice system, I don’t know what you’re missing, or what I’m missing.

Please leave a comment, I'd love to know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s