Epistemology Matters

I dislike blogging excessively about politics, but it’s certainly a showcase for major differences in ideology and world view.  I grow weary with the rhetoric on all sides that reduces every issue to two sides: us and them, right and wrong.  Rather than work towards solutions, we work to show how the other guys are wrong, and therefore (whether we have a solution or not) we need to get/stay in power.  The primary concern is control, not solving problems.  It’s winning elections, not unifying ourselves around dealing with very real and important issues.  Both sides do this.  Both sides are wrong.  I just can’t figure out why people don’t insist on another option and force both parties to quit focusing on control.

It struck me the other morning that how you view the world and man’s place in it has very real implications for how you approach living your life and dealing with other people – particularly those who disagree with you or hold contrary positions and viewpoints.  No, this isn’t the first time I’ve been struck by the importance of epistemology, but it was a good reminder (to me, at least) that those who wish to divorce matters of faith from matters of practice are dangerously misguided.  
As a Biblical Christian, I see man as a creation.  As part of being a creature, I see our capabilities (intellectually and otherwise) as finite.  Furthermore, I understand us to be broken and fundamentally damaged creations.  Even at our best, we aren’t capable of what we were created to be and to do.  Part of this results in ideas that are fundamentally flawed, though potentially very attractive because they placate or interact very well with the flawed aspects of our creature-hood.
If someone holds a wildly divergent view from my own, I can see that person (and myself) in this light.  I can first of all acknowledge that there is a very real chance I could be mistaken about my viewpoint.  I can assume that I am subject to flaw and error, and that I need to be open to that in a real way which means I need to hear what the opposing viewpoint is and seek to understand it as best I can rather than dismiss it immediately.  Secondly, if after understanding the opposing view as best as I feel I can, I can see the other person as mistaken.  It might be honestly – they might not be able to clearly understand my position because I can’t express it clearly enough.  They might hear and understand me and still be committed to what I see as a fundamentally flawed direction.  At which point, I can remember that they (like myself) are broken.  Flawed.  We are all bound to be blinded in error at some point or another, on one topic or another.  None of us sees clearly.  If I’m firmly convinced that I’m right on something and someone else is wrong, I can pray that God enlighten us both, and help us to see truth.  
For someone who does not hold that there is a God who created us and that we’re fundamentally flawed, options in disagreement seem quite different.  If they’re wise, they might assume that as an organic creature we are subject to error on any number of levels, and that this might apply to themselves.  But they might also be convinced that – in this particular situation – they are not in error.  The facts or data or preponderance of common sense makes that unlikely or irrational to assume.  At which point, after they have exhausted every effort to communicate what they see to be truth to the opposition, and the opposition continues to oppose them, what options do they have?
It seems they have two – they can view the opposition as either stupid or bad.  The opposition either is incapable and/or unwilling to embrace the data/facts/evidence that makes someone firm in their resolution, or the opposition is capable but unwilling – they are simply bad people intent on bad ends for reasons that are largely irrelevant.  I hear this rhetoric more and more – people who disagree are “stupid”.  I hear this most frequently from the liberal camp, but I’m not convinced that it’s strictly or broadly a more liberal rhetorical device.  Logically (in the way I’ve sorted this out logically, at least), it should come from the camp with the latter epistemology, one that sees opposition as error or lack of ability or deliberate wrongheadedness.
But the implications are very important.  People who are stupid need to be cared for.  They can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, and so others need to act on their behalf and for their benefit – even if the behalf and benefit is in direct contradiction to what the stupid person wants.  Bad people – people who should understand truth but refuse to – they need to be eliminated from power and control.  They need to be prevented from hurting themselves and others.   
And while these things are true in the broader sense – there are some people we act on behalf of and others that we don’t allow to gain certain types of power and control – just how broadly this is applied depends heavily on your epistemology.  Certainly within the camp of the militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins, this sort of talk is being used to propose that parents be prohibited from passing on a faith (usually Christian but it could apply equally to Buddhism) to their children.  I hear the same type of labeling used by some who favor building a mosque at Ground Zero.  The tactic isn’t to engage a difference of opinion, but to delegitimize anyone who disagrees with your opinion.  It seeks to avoid the necessity of argument by painting the opposition as incapable or unworthy of arguing with.
And when that language begins to permeate more frequently, watch out for some very dangerous, dangerous initiatives.

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