Reality, perception, and human thought

What holds a society together?  A common set of values, which include group self-interest, and which derive from a shared understanding of what works, what is fair, and what is “right”.  And that’s where we have a problem today.  Does freedom of religion include freedom FROM religion?  Can one person make moral judgements about another?  Consider abortion, but also “crime” in all its forms.  Is drug abuse a Crime, or a Bad Decision?  Is stealing wrong? Does one’s right to own firearms mean that the rest of us have to live with the gun violence which has resulted?   Society has rules and laws which supposedly reflect that social consensus.  But it’s been breaking down.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Libertarian, famously said: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Which initially makes sense UNTIL you think about the fact that humans are social animals who depend upon social teamwork for survival and prosperity.  David Brooks has an excellent column which will make you rethink this issue.  Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine):

In [Kennedy’s] sentence, which became famous as the “mystery of life” passage, there is no sense that individuals are embedded in a social order. There is no acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t choose but inherit — family, race, social roles, historical legacies of oppression, our bodies, the habits that are handed down to us by our common culture.

There’s no we. We are all monads who walk around with our own individual opinions about existence, meaning and the universe. Each person is a self-created choosing individual, pursuing individual desires. There is no sense that we are part of a common flow connecting the past, present and future; instead, each of us creates our own worldview anew.

The first problem with this definition of freedom is that it pushes society toward a tepid relativism. There are no truths, only “concepts.” You define your concept of the meaning of the universe, and I define mine, and who are any of us to judge, let alone impinge upon, that of another? Furthermore, it’s a short road from getting to define your own truth to getting to define your own facts.

And that is where we are today, with entire news networks defining their own facts, and warring tribes debating Reality.

There’s more to that article, which I encourage thinking citizens to read.  You are thinking, right?