Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Person

What is a person?

Some define themselves by labels, and that's helpful. A male or a female or a transexual. A psychologist, a physicist, a medical doctor, a trashman, a chemist, a helpdesk analyst, a philosopher, or any number of other professions/careers. A Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, Jew, Scientologist, Hindu, or any number of other religions. Some identify by the popular Myers-Briggs personality test scale or any number of other psychological diagnoses. Bipolar, Schizophrenic, Depressed, Borderline, Sociopath, etc are also labels that people can be identified by.

With the amount of information flying through the air all around us at all times, labels can be very helpful. We can also miss who a person is when using them.

Because sometimes when someone tells you they're a Christian, you may think they're angry about the Atheist monument and oppose abortion and are a pro-war Republican, and then when talking to them you realize you're not right at all. Because Christian doesn't mean any of those things, it is simply someone who tries to follow the teachings of Christ, as they understand them. To assume more without implicit or explicit information is unwarranted and can lead to misunderstanding. This is fine if you don't care who the person is and want to talk about a movement, but at some point you have stopped talking about the reality that is the person right in front of you. You have stretched the definition so far that it no longer has a meaning.

Likewise, if you take a word to only mean its' definition when it first appeared, you will once again not be talking about reality. A philosopher thousands of years ago is nothing like a philosopher today. Aristotle, if he lived today, would have probably fallen under some type of scientific field, because of how fragmented and specialized of a culture we have and how much more we know about the universe (though we see but a pinprick of a tunnel of light for a fraction of a second compared to the vastness of cosmic time). In that sense, we must understand, contextually, what something means in the context of culture, and to avoid pitfall #1, we have to understand that every person and/or mob coming forward with a slightly differing definition cannot have their way, unless we want to give up on discussing anything at all because words have lost their meaning.

Most importantly, in discussing all of this, it's very easy to make an obvious mistake. When someone says something like "I'm a muslim" or "I'm an INTP" or "I'm a conservative" or "I'm an atheist," we can jump to a thousand conclusions about what they think and who they are, and we can grind our ax and feel good about ourselves for knowing more than that person or feeling more than that person or struggling more and coming to the truth in a better way, but we still have no idea what we are talking about unless we actually ask someone the right questions. This is the essence of the Straw Man fallacy. We set up a "scarecrow" that looks like the person we think we're talking to, we make it say what we think it should say, then we cut it down with our own knock down arguments, comfortable in our smug superiority. Because we're read a bunch of books, we know factoid after factoid, we've had a single conversation with that person or they've made a single statement that makes us think we know them and what they're about, and so we then assert our dominance, our superiority, and get back to being comfortable and happy, in blissful idiocy.

If you want to know why cynicism and disconnection and apathy are so prevalent, this is it right here. We've forgotten how to listen, and have become peddlers of information and definitions. Sophism at its' finest. We've lost our empathy for others, which is very easy to do when you interact with thousands of people over the internet or deal with global crises through the news. At our core, we simply don't care that thousands are starving in some other part of the world, because they're not right in front of us. Sure, we can choose to care and choose to help for whatever reason, and that's great, but our heart is not in it when we first choose to do so, and it would be a lie to say that it is.

Our minds have outrun our hearts, and our information has preempted decency. The question is who is us, and who is them? What will it take to get us to snap out of it? Who knows, but I do know this is why people use strong language and seem to be very aggressive or word things strongly and are excessively specific and verbose in explaining their contentions. There is simply no way to make a point otherwise anymore, because anything one says is subject to fifty thousand know-it-alls with definitional quibbles or reasons why that person doesn't know what they're talking about, most of which are irrelevant to the point someone is trying to make. Humanity is not a conversation, it is a group of people all trying to scream over each other, and hopefully our race will grow out of it before our screaming turns into blowing each other up. Again.

What is a person? The fact that there is no definitive answer to this question yet should tell us something, I think.