Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Unfortunate Shortcomings of Humanity, Including Me

I've been taking some audio courses lately. I've taken two philosophy classes, a linguistics class, and a class on the history of ancient Rome. Currently, I'm taking a class on modern political thought. I feel so much happier when I'm learning new things, particularly in areas that have always been interesting to me but which I haven't really pursued.

It has been interesting to see how the classes, all taught at different times by different professors, have actually overlapped. The linguistics class overlapped with Rome, which overlaps with political thought, which overlaps with philosophy, etc. So much of the human condition is mirrored in other aspects of itself.

The story of language and how it has spread and evolved reminds me so much of evolutionary biology. Everything is constantly changing, evolving with no goal in sight. People misunderstand evolution enormously. There is a tendency to talk about a "next step" in evolution, as if it is going somewhere specific. It's really just like language. Changes happen for reasons too intricate to determine, and ones that seem to work catch on, sometimes for reasons only tangentially to how useful a change actually is. There is no inherent benefit to speaking Latin, but it spread because it was a trait of the Romans, who were powerful and conquered a lot of land. And then, eventually, Rome fell, and its language mixed with local dialects and such to become the Romance languages, and those further evolved and influenced other languages, including English. Those, in turn, mixed with the languages of African slaves to pepper the world with various creole languages. There is this constant interchange between the languages in a pattern that is incalculably intricate yet simple and fluid. So much of reality seems to fit that same description.

Unfortunately, our human minds aren't really capable of really understanding things as they are. We have this need to categorize and filter that, while useful for our survival, particularly in earlier times, can be a real hindrance to a quest for knowledge of any kind. We become blind to our blindnesses, believing we know things when we only suspect them, and we build beliefs on top of beliefs in such ways that the removal of one would cause the rest to crumble. We are biased and easily duped.

I was watching the Republican debate the other day. Primaries have begun, and they were going at each other, trying to win the favor of the people. What struck me strongly was that there were these five or six guys up there on the stage, spouting canned lies and misleading statistics, and the vast majority of people seemed to take what they said at face value. Blatant lies that would get a person fired from a job or hit with a divorce in some other settings are just eaten up. Even when lies are revealed to be lies, people just kind of shrug and continue. It should be a bigger deal when someone claims, "I never said that," but there is video of him saying it. It should be a bigger deal when someone claims they created jobs when they clearly didn't. It's lying in the job interview, and they're caught red handed. But no one cares.

We seem to have a tribal kind of approach to elections. It's like a sport in so many ways. I am automatically biased against Republican candidates because I can't help but think of them as the Bad Guys. I'd like to say it's for real well-considered ideological reasons, but often it isn't. It's just knowing that they are Republicans. It's mostly like how I'm a Mets fan and will automatically root against a team if they are playing against the Mets. There is no rational reason for it - they're just part of my tribe.

It's not exactly the same, as there are certainly some ideological differences between the Republicans and myself. But I automatically put them in a certain box as soon as I know they are Republicans. I know I do it, and I don't think I can actually stop myself from doing that. I can only acknowledge that bias and do my best to consider it as a factor in my own judgements.

I can't say I'm blown away by the Democratic candidates, either. I like Bernie Sanders, but the man is unelectable. And Hillary Clinton? Well, I guess she'd be better than the guys I saw the other night, but she's far from an ideal candidate. She has too much of her husband's slippery slickness, but she isn't as good as him at pretending to be sincere. I just don't trust her very much at all. I look across the ocean at countries like Norway and wonder why people here are so reluctant to take some ideas from them. There's no shortage of innovation, and the people are much happier and better educated. Oh well.

No comments:

Post a Comment