The unifying idea of this site is my belief that too much of public discourse ignores the participants’ assumptions about what appears obvious to them, why it appears obvious, whether it should appear obvious to them or anyone and what one can or should do to confirm or disconfirm this belief.
One person’s obvious is another person’s dubious. A serious and too-frequently insurmountable obstacle to communication and understanding of our beliefs, even in self-dialogue, as well as personal and institutional learning and growth is our failure to identify those assumed beliefs or (non-scientific, ill-considered) theories about how the world works and how people think and feel that we assume to be true and obvious to anyone with his or her head screwed on straight.
A short list of beliefs we assume as dogma about people and the world is:
- The power of governments to coerce behavior is required to govern effectively;
- The capacity to resist government coercion with superior force is required to maintain individual freedoms;
- Punishment or the threat of punishment is sufficient to deter undesired behavior;
- Monetary reward or the promise of monetary reward is sufficient to produce desired behavior;
- Children are short, inexperienced adults;
- Adults are tall children with experience;
- Retribution is always a necessary component of justice and sometimes revenge is sufficient;
- The private sector always produces outcome that are superior to outcomes produced by the public sector for any given task, project, or intention;
- Unregulated, “free” markets always produce the best results (in all domains).
- People are rational decision-makers who are indifferent to each possible outcome (from choices to act in one way or another).
This list is not exhaustive; there are many others to examine in all of my interest areas.
Another obstacle to understanding, communication, learning and growth is the influence our aspirations exert on what we see as going on in the world and with ourselves. To what do you aspire for yourself and those people who matter to you? Is it wealth, power, status, peace, contentment, recognition, worship, applause, safety, pleasure? What one wants out of his or her life frames, at least, or drives, at most, everything we perceive, do and feel. For example:
- As a naive hedonist, you would choose to hitchhike around Europe, today, rather than save for a luxury trip to Europe in, say 20 years, or on a given income, you would choose to lease an Acura rather than a Honda; you would lie to your partner about infidelity, since the pleasure of sex, today, is more important than relationship fidelity or the promise of pleasure, tomorrow.
- To achieve higher status you’ll try to publish a lot of papers and books to increase the probability that you’ll be rewarded with tenure and a full professorship, perhaps sacrificing the quality of your work in order to increase the quantity of your work; or, you might take a job with a title that indicates greater status in your organization (or some other organization) and promises more income. You might buy a house in one neighborhood rather than another, even if the other house would cost less for the same features. Or, you might demean another person so as to reduce their status relative to yours in order to increase the appearance of your status.
- To obtain power, might lie, cheat or steal; you might use information about their aspirations to coerce others to help you get more power. You might coerce behavior by using physical power. You would choose courses of action, beliefs to express (and even to hold) to gain more power.
Of course, this list is hardly exhaustive.
In my life, thus far, I’ve learned and grown a lot. I believe that I’m a “better” person, in some objective sense, than I was a the ages of 25, 35, 45 or 55. However, I’ve missed even more opportunities to learn, grow and become “better” than I’ve seized. I’ve missed them, largely, because I didn’t see them as opportunities; I saw them as threats or I failed to see them at all. I missed them because of assumptions I held about what’s in the world how it works and aspirations I had–goals I felt that I had to achieve or desires that I wanted satisfied.
I’m not unfettered by goals, aspirations or assumptions (of course); they tether me to reality and enable me to make decisions. Without them, I’d become untethered from any reality whatsoever. I have learned and grown by examining my assumptions and questioning my aspirations and desires, by searching for data and evidence and paying attention to its messages. I’ve changed some of my basic views about the world and how it works more than once. It’s a gradual process, yet, it’s not an “evolution–I think of evolution as an intergenerational process requiring generation-to-generation transmission of changes. Obama’s public views on appropriate human sexual roles did not evolve; they changed. (we could argue this point ad nauseum; I’m just clarifying my usage of “evolution”)
I promise to try to strike a balance between frivolous, gratuitous humor and pompous, serious pontification. I will exercise my privilege to post crappy, first drafts and edit them later. Comments are always welcome.
I am a retired business executive and former secondary school teacher. My primary areas of interest are philosophy, mathematics, learning (science, pursuit, policy and practice) and current affairs. I earned a B. A. degree in “Studies in Logic”, an interdisciplinary major in philosophy and mathematics from The University of California, Riverside and a M. B. A. degree (finance concentration) from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.