Sunday, March 06, 2016

making a statement

I was raised to be charming, not sincere. (said by Cinderella's Prince in Into the Woods)
Last month I covered an overzealous compromise. In it, people would agree to a large communal "middle" category of beliefs, built on stiff and unassuming methods of investigation and deduction. In return, they would be entitled to follow, without any outside judgment whatsoever, completely unfiltered beliefs at or beyond the "edges". The compromise's drawback, which I tried to portray before, is that it poses more questions about the overall scheme's coherency. Do they unconditionally urge that all edge beliefs are equally probable? If not, they're applying some set of benchmarks in practice. Then which benchmarks are they using on the edges as well as the middle...and would their own edge beliefs meet or exceed these benchmarks? Where, i.e. by what rules, are they sketching the chasm between the middle and the edges? When believers' edge beliefs are strikingly dissimilar from the middle, how are they convincingly justifying the times that happens?

These questions might be answerable to various degrees of satisfaction and/or vagueness. But the discouraging yet unsurprising possibility is that a believer might not respond. And their unresponsiveness might not be sinister in the least; they could be being sincere about the half-examined sincerity of their edge beliefs. Depending on the kind and depth of their engagement, they might state that statements of their beliefs aren't paramount. Yes, they're, uh, linked with beliefs, but they're not communicating or defending solid pronouncements.

Their professed indecisiveness requires more probing. It might be harmless or it might not. If their squishy beliefs are so shallow that they can and do mostly live (and think) without accounting for the beliefs, then so be it. By contrast, if the beliefs that they can't/won't formulate are presiding over them, then more focus is warranted. This is an occasion that benefits from binding a statement's meaning to identifiable repercussions. Like a gravitational deflection revealing the presence of a central mass, the principle goes in both directions: identifiable repercussions on a believer are making a statement on their beliefs.

Actions speak louder than words. I'm guessing an economist would say that exchanging an amount of money for item A but not B is making a statement about the relative preciousness of A over B to the purchaser. Show the allocation of minutes in an average week, and you'll make a statement about what ends up being priorities. Nor is this always a cold-blooded calculation. Arousing events make a statement about the attachments of the aroused. The books and music and TV they're willing to experience for hours upon hours make a statement about them.

The pitfall is that symbolic objects embody the interpreter's thoughts through their eyes. They're the context for the statements their actions make. Their doing something wholly (or partially) for the sake of Q doesn't prevent their sibling doing the same thing wholly (or partially) for the sake of R. Once more the solution is wider checking of identifiable repercussions, some of which are subtle or even internal. Doing something that's making a statement about the doer's public compassion points toward expecting a potential inconsistency with private doings. Doing something that's making a statement about the doer's driving purpose points toward expecting a thousand echoes of it in miscellaneous, seemingly unrelated doings.

In the final analysis, a "Pragmatism-ish" definition of meaning isn't permanently deterred by a shrugging reluctance to overtly commit to ideas. To be coy but active is to make statements about the motivating beliefs. To be unable to systematically summarize but nonetheless able to reply to a series of informative questions is to have a perspective, however murky it may be beforehand. The disquieting discovery might be that the believer doesn't really believe in much. Or, they might believe in more than they themselves suspected. Perhaps they regularly attend a service in which they parrot severe statements as part of a group...but their parroting act means nothing to them other than, "Good people join in the recitation; I am a good person too." The semantics of the statements are ignored. Meanwhile another may honestly say that they haven't pledged the exclusive accuracy of a belief or delved into its intricacies...but they proceed to loudly despise a specific behavior because, "I've been told that's just not permitted by my beliefs."

Whether beliefs have substandard corroboration or not, effective discussion cannot start until the believers have boldly unearthed what they believe and why: the statements they make despite not embracing the simplistic words.

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