An Attempt at Cutting Through the Bullshit

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by Marc Piane

“A thought is in a constant state of becoming; it adopts the experience of life and assumes its shape.”  -Albert Camus

When I was first approached about writing a pre-election piece my knee jerk reaction was an emphatic “no way.” This political season seems like it has gone on forever with all kinds of wacky twists and turns and negativity zipping this way and that.  At this point the only way that the whole shit show doesn’t depress me is to see it as theatre. A show. When I started to think about it though I got overly philosophical (surprise, surprise) and this essay pooped out. I probably ramble, skip appropriate punctuation, and maybe even contradict myself which is perfect for the blog format.

I think real hard about stuff. Metaphysical stuff. I love exploring how we think about, experience, and interact with existence as well as how we interact with the “reality tunnels”, as Robert Anton Wilson calls them, of the other beings we intersect with in life. I feel like if I am not pushing my mind to the point of needing an aspirin, I’m not growing. In that though I try to not be self-righteous. If we think of philosophy as the exploration of questions that cannot be proven empirically, then my way of thinking is no more right than anyone else’s. I like abstract thinking. Some people might characterize it as thinking too hard. Rather than make a value judgement like “too much” or “not enough”, I just think because I enjoy it. I am allergic to -isms of any kind because I feel like identifying with one, both limits my own thinking and prejudices anyone I might be discussing with. That said, I am a firm believer in experience’s formative influence on our understanding of reality. I am going to try my best over the course of this essay to stay away from any endorsement or indictment of a certain dogma and any overt self-righteousness. I might not succeed, but here goes.

Lately I’ve been exploring ethics from a philosophical angle and specifically meta-ethics. I am severely under qualified to lecture on this topic so please forgive my oversimplified understanding but meta-ethics basically is the exploration not of “if” something is right or wrong but “why” we think it is. In my reading I came across an idea I found fascinating called the Veil of Ignorance. This concept was first introduced by a philosopher and author named John Rawls. He applied it in many social justice situations.  Basically the idea is to break down a situation or topic to the most basic level and remove all the details that might prejudice your understanding including your societal relationship to the issue. This can really be used to examine any dogma but one thought experiment in this field looks at something like free speech. You are presented with two free speech situations, one where you agree and one where you disagree or are even offended. Should both be equally permissible? If you take out the details of what is actually being said and your relationship to them, you can more clearly evaluate on a conceptual level. There are all kinds of these experiments but basically they all attempt to challenge the mind with uncomfortable contradictions that force you to think very critically about your own belief system.

Challenging yourself is uncomfortable. Without going into the physiological side of it, which again I only have a surface understand of, thinking hurts. Constant self-evaluation is a very important part of critical thinking though. Just like any kind of exercise the pain created by that cognitive dissonance goes from a bad pain to a good pain and I think can be very enlightening if we explore why something hurts. A “I want to stop exercising” to “I can’t stop exercising” kind of pain. Sounds masochistic but I think that kind of self-evaluation is at the core of the ethic of reciprocity and the ability to live in a community. If you want to be treated the way you treat others, I believe a constant and fluid re-evaluation process needs to take place.

I did say at the beginning of this essay that I will try to stick to the idea that my way of thinking is no better than anyone else’s. I know I’m going out on the precipice here and hopefully not going off the edge. In this current political season, I think we could all benefit from thinking a bit more conceptually and critically. I see it as cutting through the bullshit. Maybe I’ll trademark that phrase. When we look at the world as dualistic, right and wrong or us and them, we leave ourselves no flexibility in our thinking or ability to reevaluate. In dualistic thinking the only two results of reevaluating can be either flipping camps or getting more entrenched. No nuance. That’s why dogmas and -isms are so popular. No thinking involved. Your -ism can be put up as justification and evidence of anything. Someone else is telling you what and how to think.

That’s why I believe in Marc-ism. I just encourage you to believe in your own personal changing and evolving -ism. Ask me about mine and I’ll ask you about yours. It might be different tomorrow. I believe that discourse is crucial and what we are lacking.

There.  I didn’t tell you what to do. I asked nicely.

Now I need an aspirin.