Daily prompt: The fallacy of absolutes

Daily Prompt
Connect the Dots
Open your nearest book to page 82. Take the third full sentence on the page, and work it into a post somehow


So instead…

It seems to me that one of the hardest things to accept in this life is that other people don’t think the way you think.

Yeah yeah, I hear you scoff, what rot. Of course I know people think differently.

But really, do you accept that at its most fundamental level? Think about it.

Whether we like to admit it or not, to ourselves let alone anyone else, we all make judgements. And at the root of those judgements is our core value system: our sense of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, kind and unkind, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical… All as we believe them to be, whether we act on them or not. All as the family/society/culture we grew up in has taught us to believe them to be. And all absolute. And what is so hard to encompass is that there are other value systems out there that their adherents consider equally absolute.

When someone does something we consider ‘wrong’, we are assuming we share the same value system, and they have chosen to flaunt it. We may give them the benefit of the doubt – they didn’t know any better – but we are still implying that ‘better’ means conforming to our value system (which we know is ‘right’) and they, poor things, haven’t been taught it properly. But perhaps they have a value system of their own that they consider to be equally absolute, and who’s to say which of us is right?

To my mind, the most obvious example of this is the Iraq war. Why didn’t ‘shock and awe’ happen? Why didn’t the Iraqis embrace democracy with tears of gratitude? Because we, in our blind arrogance, didn’t begin to understand that we were trying to impose an alien value system they didn’t want. And why should they? Who are we to decide that our culture is ‘better’ than theirs? That our values are ‘better’ than theirs? I’m sure we can all come up with a dozen ‘valid‘ reasons, but here’s the kicker – they are only valid in our belief system, and we have no more right to try to impose that belief system on Iraq than current terrorists have to impose their belief system on us. Assuming otherwise is hypocrisy.

The closer you get to home, though, the harder it is to get your head around the idea. How can two members of one family interpret supposed absolutes so differently? Easy to blame it on their mother – why not? Generations of thinking will support that one! But…

When one of my grandsons was about three, he gazed at the back yard for awhile, and said thoughtfully, ‘You know, when I draw the clothes hoist, I want to draw what’s under the ground, not what’s on top.’ He’s now nine, and it’s abundantly clear that he and his brother will never see the world from the same perspective. They’re both, for example, champions of justice, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever agree on what justice is in any given situation, not because of what they’ve been taught along the way, but because their perspectives on it will always be quite different. Neither will necessarily be right or wrong. They’ll simply be weighing the evidence on different innate scales.

Which brings us to capital punishment. The only justification I can see for killing another human being is a him-or-me situation: self defence. Killing as punishment, or as a pre-emptive strike against possible recidivism, is still murder, in my book. But in other countries, and in certain states of the US, capital punishment is part of the justice system. I’m sure people with opposing views believe them as passionately as I believe they’re wrong, and who can possibly be the ultimate arbiter?

And please don’t say God! Because I’m pretty sure I’d have to say Whose god, yours or mine?


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13 Responses to Daily prompt: The fallacy of absolutes

  1. Extremely interesting post. It leaves me thinking which could be danger and require me to write something 🙂 I guess I don’t apply morality to anything political, because I don’t think morality applies. I recognize I simply don’t understand how many — most? — people think. I don’t understand WHY people enjoy hurting others. I accept that stuff happens, but I’m at a loss to understand motives. Maybe I don’t want to understand. Maybe I’m better off staying baffled.

    Garry and I used to argue about capital punishment. He has seen so much of the rough side of life, he really just wants to see those scumbags fry. It isn’t morality. It’s revenge. My mother, who was against everything most normal people are for (including God), favored capital punishment. But her idea was you take the guy from the courthouse to an alley and put a bullet through his head. Save everyone a lot of time and money. Then spend the money fixing other problems, like hunger and homelessness. Me? If we could just shoot them on the spot, I might favor it over lifetime incarceration for its sheer simplicity and tidy execution.

    But capital punishment goes against everything else I believe. I’m not sure I could kill someone if they were actually trying to kill ME, not sure I could overcome my inhibitions about killing to save my life. Garry is moving in my direction, although he continues to believe that some people deserve to die. It’s hard to dispute.

    • Martha Kennedy says:

      I’m with your mom. 🙂

    • ‘Political morality’ is a contradiction in terms. What else is there it say?
      I don’t understand ‘why’ people do stuff either. I think it’s more about acceptance. If a sibling continually does things you would never do, ultimately you have to accept that they don’t see their actions the way you see them, despite your common upbringing.
      I do like your mum’s attitude! Practical simplicity has an innate grace that’s hard to deny. But killing another human being is still just that, and which of us is god-like enough (for want of a better word) to hold the power over life and death? Doesn’t making that decision put us on a par with the prisoner who decided his victim wasn’t fit live?
      And besides, I think I’m far more vengeful than Garry. Death is an easy way out. If someone hurt one of mine, I’d want them suffer for it for a very long time – think ‘monkey in a cage’, and to hell with prison amenities. Nothing noble about me!

  2. Martha Kennedy says:

    It’s even hard to accept that not only do other people not think the way you think, but some of them don’t think at all!!! Worse even is they think they DO think!!! I dunno about Iraq. We shouldn’t have gone there. It was criminal and deceitful and greedy and justified by lies and even plagiarism, but I also cannot accept the relativist perspective that all things are equally “good” or virtuous because we all think differently. I believe some things really are evil (every culture has historically come up with the same list of crimes — murder, theft, incest among them).

    • I agree completely that some things are evil – ‘absolutely’ evil, in fact. And some people are evil – usually those entirely motivated by self-interest. And if my post suggested otherwise, then I failed. It’s the grey areas that interest me.
      On Iraq – To me, that’s a clear case of people fooling themselves (or maybe just trying to fool the rest of us) that they were thinking, when they weren’t at all. It always seemed to me that Washington’s wisest move after 9/11 would have been to take a deep breath and a long, hard – and honest – look at itself, and ask itself ‘why’. Had it, perhaps, acted in a way that another sector of the global community found offensive enough to justify such violent retaliation? Not because I think 9/11 can ever be justified, but because there’s always a reason behind any attack, however out-of-the-blue it might seem, and it’s always in your interests to know what that reason is. But instead, they and the ‘coalition of the willing’ (and in most countries involved, the leaders were the only willing ones. The people weren’t willing at all) stormed into two countries over which they had no jurisdiction, and for reasons smacking of pure self-interest, tried to impose a way of life with no respect at all for the cultures of the countries invaded. They didn’t try to understand before, during or after the whole debacle. Evil? or just stupid? Don’t know, but we’ll go on reaping the repercussions for an awfully long time.
      You mightn’t like, or agree with, another person’s way of thinking, but it saves an awful lot of angst if you work out where they’re coming from – even if it’s from their backsides.

      • Martha Kennedy says:

        Here’s my little rant in response…. 🙂

        I believe Iraq was pretty complicated but the goal was to get ride of Saddam Hussein so a whole case was fabricated about him. I guess they might have hoped to put in a puppet government? Or? NO idea — Saddam was a shit, but all that happened was the destabilization of the region. I think 9/11 was a sham. Not that it didn’t really happen but I will always wonder who the real actors are/were.

        I believe in understanding the thinking of other people. I think it’s very important and needs to be emphasized and taught, but along with that I’ve learned that just because I care about how someone else thinks, and take the time to find out, does not mean the favor will be reciprocated.

        One thing that’s always impressed me about the numerous Moslem people I’ve known is that they DO know a LOT more about Christianity than the average garden variety Christian knows about Islam. Most Christians have no idea that the religions come from the same root or that Christ is a Moslem prophet. As many of the kindest, most tolerant and generous people I’ve known have been Moslems, I have a very hard time with the stuff that goes on. Even my Iraqi Christian and my Iraqi Moslem students got along beautifully. There was no enmity at all. They shared a culture and they understood each other. We DON’T see that in our news, we don’t see what’s going on in the world that’s NOT violent and fucked up. I think the world would make a lot more sense to everyone if some attention were put on those things that are equally real and actually more common.

        Years ago I had a party and invited some of my students (international students) and my friends. One of my students was the Secretary of the Interior for Qatar. He also happened to be a Christian and a Mason. He came to my house wearing Arab robes. He was charming and popular and kind and intelligent and just a lovely man. One of my friends and her husband came in the back door with a big bowl of salad. She was Jewish. I said, “Come on in and meet everyone.” She saw my student and said, out loud, “I will NOT sit down with an Arab. It’s an insult to my father,” and she left. Her father was a Jew and a Mason. Others, I imagine, would have seen my student’s Masonic ring and not sat down with him. People would rather oversimplify their world than have authentic experiences.

        And, as the US has an all volunteer army at this point, our “willing” are essentially bribed through false promises and false advertising and the illusion that “it only happens to other people.” The American soldier is not usually a well-educated or sophisticated creature. He/she is often in the Army with the hopes of getting an education AFTER getting out. It’s easy to brain wash them, too, because they’re young and dependent. I see them a lot like I see crusading knights in the 12th century. Ignorant hot-blooded kids sold a bill of goods for which they risk their lives in the hope of some future payoff. It’s so fucked up I find it unbearable and the numbers of returned soldiers with PTSD coming into my classes, almost unteachable, lacking raw material from the beginning, in some cases, damaged in other cases, my god. It’s unconscionable. That’s another reason I ran away to Colorado.

      • I LOVE this rant, and agree wholeheartedly! Particularly the view that the world would benefit by emphasising the positive. (Embedding journalists in war zones was a crime against humanity, imo.)
        Was Iraq about Saddam Hussein, oil, or GWB’s pique that his Daddy had been hoodwinked? We’ll never know. And while Saddam was not just a shit but an evil shit… why did we never take action against Idi Amin?
        One for Tahiti, I think. Or is it London?

  3. Martha Kennedy says:

    There’s actually a fallacy in philosophy called the Relativist Fallacy and it’s where Relativism reveals itself as Absolutism. It’s really pretty interesting if you want to look into it. Whole branches of philosophy sprung out of the desire to contend with the snake eating its tail.

  4. bkpyett says:

    Enjoyed reading your post Helen. It is interesting listening to children and seeing their differences, even in one family. Encouraging them to think is one of the perks of being a grand mother.

  5. bkpyett says:

    My own four siblings have grown apart, we’re all so different. Sad too, as we were once close!

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