Thursday, April 20, 2017

Libertarianism and Truth

There are a number of reflections from the most recent presidential campaign that I still feel the need to write about.  Bear with me.  I also should warn you that this post is essentially, without explicitly doing so, explaining why I am a Libertarian when we define ourselves by political parties (which I try not to do).

Here's the deal, friends: there's a difference between objective and subjective truth.  Objective truth could be called Truth, if we know what the capital t means.  If we don't know what the capital t means, let me explain.  Objective truth is truth as defined by reality, by what you and I and anyone else can all see and touch and concede to be true.  Objective truth, then, cannot be argued or denied.  It is truth determined by objects in reality.  Subjective truth is truth defined by each person, each person being the subject.  Subjective truths, then, by nature, are intangible.  When we talk about a subjective truth we are talking emotional or spiritual truths.  What the nature of love, anger, family, friendship, etc., are must be determined by individuals, by each one of us, by subjects.  God and religion, as Soren Kierkegaard put it, are objective truths (either God exists or He doesn't, but if God exists He exists objectively) that must be determined subjectively (if God exists we can't see Him, so we personally must determine that He exists).

Let's explore starting with objective truth.  For instance, if you and I were both standing on a sidewalk at a road intersection next to a stop sign, we could both see it or at least touch it and know that it's there.  Unless one of us were legitimately off our rockers, we couldn't argue about the objective truth that a stop sign stood there.  It's clearly there, that stop sign.  The reality of the stop sign is unquestionable because, indeed, it really exists, and is therefore an objective truth.  No argument, deception, or philosophical roundabouts could expunge the stop sign as objective truth.

Now, we might come to different conclusions about what the stop sign means.  Chris Rock has a funny joke about slavery in America that includes a bit about a stop sign.  For your viewing pleasure (if you don't mind cursing left and right): Slavery in America.  The joke really begins at the three minute mark.  What Rock's joke gets at is that we might not all know what a stop sign means.  We can all agree that it's there, that it exists, it has objective truth, but perhaps we either can't read or think, "Does this sign mean for me to stop, or just everyone else?  Probably just everyone else" and drive right through.  Or if there were a crosswalk at the intersection and cars were coming our way, I might say that we shouldn't walk until all the cars have indeed stopped at the sign while you might say that it's okay to start walking before they've stopped since they need to stop anyway.  We might come to different conclusions but none of that can disregard or negate the objective truth of the sign.

The nature of objective truth matters.  During the election, I had a Facebook conversation with someone that I do not know about our country's military budget.  The lady (whom I shall call Adeline for random reasons) declared that we needed to elect Trump because our military had gone ignored for too many years and was now one of the worst equipped and most underfunded militaries in the world.  I told Adeline she was wrong, but if she had other reasons to vote for Trump then she should go ahead.  Adeline then responded by saying she can't be wrong because she knew lots of people in the military who said so.  I then found and linked Adeline to one of the many sources that show, indeed, that the U.S.A. spends far more on defense/military than any other country, at least three times more, in fact.  If the military is not well-equipped then that can't be the government's fault, it would be the Pentagon's fault.  What Adeline then responded with truly shocked me.  She said, as far as my memory can recall, "I don't need your sources, I have my own."  Without Adeline's proving the veracity of her sources, I can only conclude that her 'sources' were individuals spouting off words, all proving to be untrue.  Objectively untrue.  You see, the objective truth of the matter is that we do spend far more than any other country on our military.  Use Google and you'll find any number of sources to prove that objective truth.  Anyone who says anything to the contrary is simply wrong. 

We have to understand what objective truth looks like.  Once we understand it, we'll see that a distressing amount of what President Trump's campaign team, the man himself, and his White House Staff claim are untruths, disagreeing with basic, objective truth.  We cannot label a falsity 'alternative truth' and change the nature of reality.  Reality and objective truth is what it is and cannot be modified.  There are some things that are true, objectively, and cannot be spun into being maybe true.

One of the difficulties we have with objective truth, I think, is that what is objective true is sometimes based on definitions.  The unemployment rate is a perfect example.  There are, what, six different unemployment rates?  They are all needed because they all have different definitions of what constitutes unemployment.  Based on your chosen definition of unemployment you might want to use a different rate. 

Because objective truth is sometimes dependent on our definitions, as with the unemployment rate, people can get confused and think that truth, in general, is not at all objective and is instead subjective.  That's not true, however.  To confirm that objective truth does not turn into subjective truth simply because of a dependency on definitions, think of words.  Words are, basically, merely sounds; but sounds for which we have agreed-upon definitions.  You cannot say, "I hate you," to your wife and then later, when she is divorcing you, say, "Well, you know what I meant is that I love you."  'Hate' and 'love,' though merely sounds and are subjectively determined for meaning, do have objective definitions by which we navigate life.  Whatever we subjectively decide 'love' and 'hate' to mean, we all know that by objective standards we tell people that we want to keep close that we love them and people we want to keep far away that we hate them--though let's try not to hate anyone, eh?  'Cat' is just a sound that could mean anything.  Yes, think about it.  Before there were definitions, that sound 'cat' could have been applied to any object in reality.  But it has now been applied to the small, domesticated feline objects that go, "meow."  So now, 'cat' has an objective definition and so has objective truth.  In English, you cannot say 'cat' and mean 'tree.'  In another language the sound 'cat' may have a different definition but, all the same, it has objective truth because it has a definition.  The sound 'oh' in English means, "what a surprise; hmm; woops," but in Spanish it means, "or."  Different definitions, but once we choose a definition, there is objective truth there.

Back to the unemployment rate.  Each of those different unemployment rates is objectively true.  You cannot say that one or all definitions are false simply because there are multiple definitions.  You cannot make up your own truth about unemployment simply because there are multiple definitions.  There are different definitions, yes, but each is objectively true.  An untruth, therefore, can be ratted out and should then be condemned rather than accepted as part of the process.  If we start accepting untruths then we have nothing to stand on--'cat' will mean 'tree' and 'desk' will mean 'I' and 'to be' will mean 'outlast,' and sooner or later we'll have no friggin idea what the frick is going on.  Objective truth must be accepted as objective truth.

I'll repeat: Objective truth must be accepted as objective truth.  Untruth, objective untruth, must be condemned and thrown out rather than accepted.  If we live any other way, especially when we try to live in community, which is what politics ultimately is, then we are like the guy in the Bible who built his house on sand with no solid foundation.  We need a foundation.  If we feel like some objective truth doesn't tell the whole story, then that is a good argument for creating better definitions, not a case for succumbing to a universe of only subjective truth.

Speaking of subjective truth, there is plenty of room out there for what we, personally, believe to be true that no fact or objective truth can determine for us, the individual.  Daily life is full of decisions and choices based only in subjective truth.  What is the best way to make our spouse happy?  I'm still working on that.  Which coffee shop has better coffee?  I personally don't care.  I could go on but I hope you get the idea.  There are no factual, objective answers to those question, no matter what Cosmopolitan or coffee-connoiseurs may say.  Each one of us, you and I, can have different answers that we believe whole-heartedly to be true.  And, for us, our answer will be true, subjectively.

Again, understanding how truth works matters, particularly subjective truth.  What is the best way to attain peace in the world?  For me it's by being peaceful.  The concept of having a large military budget offends me.  For you, though, you may say that peace is attained through strength, in which case you'd want a higher military budget than I would, which is fine, subjectively... but you still can't argue that our military budget is deplorable, because that is objectively false, very false. 

More to my point, what constitutes the happiest and most whole wholesome family?  Or what is the best way to protect and preserve life?  Are the answers to ban homosexuality and abortion?  These are questions determined subjectively.  Each one of us will have a different answer for different reasons and each one of us will defend our truth passionately.  At the end of the day, though, there isn't any objective reality or truth to back up our subjective claims.  Making objective decisions that affect everyone on a matter of subjective truth becomes and is tricky.  You may say, "Well, homosexuality is evil," and believe everyone who says otherwise is wrong, but they're not wrong.  Anyone who says otherwise is merely different and has taken another subjective path from yours.  'Wrong' can only be applied to objective truth.

Look, many people hear that I am not against the legalization of marijuana, not against abortion, not against the legalization and acceptance of homosexual marriages/ordinations in law and in the church, and think that I am somehow a misguided pastor misguiding the flock.  But saying that I am 'not against' issues does not mean that I am 'for' them either.  All I am saying is that I understand certain issues--that generally happen to be the issues that rouse the most passion out of us, wanting to everyone to live our way--must be decided on an individual, subjective basis.  Would I approve of an abortion in my marriage?  Probably not, but honestly I don't know.  What I do know is that I cannot and will not tell a young, poor expectant mother whose husband recently died that she must have her baby.  Or anyone else.  Do I wish that more people would practice abstinence and not risk pregnancies that they would not be willing to carry through?  Sure, but a) that wouldn't solve the entire problem anyway, and b) we're not talking about my subjective truth when we're talking about other people's lives.  The same goes for homosexuality and--though you can debate this last one--marijuana, as well as a great deal of other issues.  While I may have firm opinions on issues, based in my religious belief, my belief has been determined subjectively and I cannot and will not force that on anyone.  Such a philosophy just happens to be the Libertarian way, but that's beside the point.

What is the point here is that, when it comes to our political involvement in our government, we must understand the difference between objective and subjective truth.  Confusing the two leads to harmful results.  Making objective decisions for subjective realities leads to oppression and persecution, and forms of elitism on the other side; making subjective decisions for objective realities leads to a government based on lies, deception, and egomania.  If our leaders got up and said, "That Wait for Traffic sign doesn't exist," (subjective decision for objective reality) would we want to follow them into the intersection?  Dear God I hope not.  Likewise, if our leaders, seeing how busy the intersection is, perhaps the busiest intersection in the world, got up and said, "No matter where anyone lives or works, or what they are doing, everyone must drive through this intersection at least once a day because clearly that's how the world works well," (objective decision for subjective reality) would we all want to put down what we are doing and drive through that intersection?  I hope not.  So first, we must understand the difference between objective and subjective truth.  When something is objectively true, we must accept it; when something can only be subjectively true, we must accept that, too. 

In order to make appropriate decisions, then, we should let those who are fact-finders in our society do the fact-finding so that we can make objective decisions for objective truth.  I mean our scientists and journalists.  Defunding or attacking either our journalists or scientists means that we are more likely to start making harmful subjective decisions in place of using objective truth.  And on the flip side, when subjective truth is the rule of the day, and we can't objectively know one way or another, then it is best to love one another rather than target and hate certain groups and let non-essentials be decided individually.  To paraphrase: facts are facts and we should hold one another, especially our leaders, accountable; some issues have no facts and so in the meantime let's love one another.

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