Prior Unreasoning

There’s a famous aphorism “Do what I say, not what I do” which is often trotted out either to show one person or everyone is a hypocrite when it comes to morals. And, whichever interpretation you favour, it’s hard to deny that it’s often much easier to suggest a moral choice from the comfort of an armchair than it is to make a moral choice in the moment. The harder question is whether or not someone should be judged harshly for these deviations from higher morals.

The answer to which might begin with whether they are truly choices. As this talk by Robert Saplosky shows, the choice might have been rigged decades earlier:

The Miracle of the Mundane

On Saturday, I played another rather excellent session of 7th Seas LARP. During the course of that, my character ended up in an interesting conversation with a priest over whether miracles were inexplicable and obvious events, or tiny changes deliberately hidden behind rationale explanation to not compromise our free will. The priest remained adamant that they were son et lumière, glorious in their imperviousness to logic, and things moved on.

However, this morning, I went to look up something in my dictionary of quotations and it opened on this quote:

I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.

– Khaled Hosseini

Which made me wonder: is the miracle in neither the obvious defiance of natural law nor the hidden influence that we can interpret either way, but in the moment when we are living rather than waiting.

Or perhaps I’ve read too much Colin Wilson.

The Call of Cabbage

Even the most cursory internet search for HP Lovecraft is likely to uncover a fresh-to-the-searcher article or discussion of his racism: he was objectively racist; he was a product of his time; he was more racist than his time; he was a racist but his works aren’t; and so forth. I suspect the broad questions of cultural relativism might never be answers satisfactorily, but what if he objectively wasn’t racist? What if he was actually anything but prejudiced?

Why Would You Care What I Say?

The continued existence of lawyers, speech-writers, poets, and sundry other professions confirms that how you say something can be as powerful as what you say. However, this talk provides evidence and a way to apply the technique without spending years in study and practice; and does so in an (appropriately enough) accessible and engaging fashion.

Of course, speaking in the language of the person you wish to reach agreement with is as old a technique as the bilingual secretary or guide. And, as with foreign languages, it’s an obvious thing to do in the abstract, but a very much harder thing to do when you suddenly encounter a new tribe. So, how does one speak political truth in the language of the other?

Perhaps a start lies in an opposite of the reason one wishes to stir others to action? If a measure would help the poor, then consider ways it would be good for the wealthy. If a policy would help the disadvantaged abroad, then consider ways it would benefit this country.

Or begin with the worst reason to do something one can think of. How does your truth strengthen the case of a group you dislike? Maybe you have an ally in an unexpected place. How does your idea weaken the case for something you want? Perhaps it’s better to spend money on the workers of this country than not spend it at all. Why does someone’s reason matter? It might not steal the benefit from the needy if a step is taken to bolster a nation’s reputation rather than out of selfless service.

Some of the ideas produced might seem actively unethical rather than merely poor, but – if we seek to language to influence the Other – considering reasons that definitely wouldn’t influence someone who thinks like we do is a good place to start.

Terms of Endearment

Romantic books and films show the path from first meeting to forever as a series of struggles and reversals; show love as a disruptive rather than supportive force. Which makes sense, as fiction without challenge usually lacks interest. However, this unconscious acceptance that love is pain might go deeper than that; deep enough that we need to change our language.

People Are Complex, So Their Issues Are Too

An interesting argument that seeking gender equality, racial equality, &c. can ironically – if the underlying aim of human equality is lost – obscure the issues facing those in more than one disadvantaged group.

The same inefficiency of labels applies to privileged groups: a social structure that privileges men doesn’t mean all men are fine; just that they are much more likely to be, and will probably have an easier time becoming fine if they aren’t.

Of course, as racism, sexism, and such are at their core reducing a complex human to a single-trait Other, it isn’t really surprising that striving to see everyone as a complex gestalt of all their qualities is a strong counter.