Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Consensus And Truth

Sometimes I jot down notes about ideas that are churning in my mind, for later consideration. But, sometimes it seems to demand immediate attention; perhaps because it is directly relevant to recent personal or social situations. In this case it is both.

At this point in my life, the changes that have overtaken pop dialogue on what really are just a handful or fundamental ideas, have so saturated discussion that false implications that are deduced from them arise relentlessly. And, if your point of departure differs from the popular sentiment on those few fundamental axioms, you will find yourself on the other side in the details, incessantly.

I use the qualifying “pop” (I even use the “pop” contraction of “popular,” which literally means “of the people”), because I refer not necessarily to the public, but to the organs of mass deliberation in American and most Western culture: television, movies, popular journals, even public education textbooks and education environments. In fact, most Americans have sentiments that differ somewhat with many of these pop-culture premises. Most notably, typically even where the possible existence of God is granted, the relevance of God and implications of God are nearly always assumed to be irrelevant, indeed inappropriate, to deliberations of public principle and policy.

The accompanying fundamental assumptions about human nature and social and psychological matters are related to or derivative of this one. While in their personal sentiments most Americans believe differently, nevertheless the drumbeat of such thinking in “pop” consumption has the effect of dragging public sentiment in its wake, even if as pulled with locked feet through the sand.

The immediate question is the relevance of consensus (or perceived consensus) to the indication of truth in an assertion. You should already have perceived that to me such consensus means little. Especially when ultimately transcendent and fixed principles are involved, “consensus” is a feeble indicator of truth and a miserable substitution for argument. Yet, the appeal is instinctively made in case after case, my own publicly educated child has more than once explained to me that “no one thinks like you do.” I’m well aware of that. And, even if being in agreement with the “pop” consensus was an urgent concern of mine, reason dictates that it is no necessary indication of truth.

Certainly, a consensus perception in your own community is an indication that something should be given due consideration. But, it’s a suggestion of something to consider and weigh. It emphatically does not herald NOT necessarily herald truth. Thinking about it, it seemed more that consensus should be more like a road sign that says, “Deer Crossing.” “Dear Crossing” does not mean, “Slam On Your Brakes Because There Will Surely Be Deer!” No. But, slow down and take a look.

And in our case, we have more than our own confrontation with truth or deer, as the case may be, to be concerned about. We must carry on and productively engage the people who embrace this perspective, irrespective of whether we agree.

More often than not today, I do not agree. And, that does not surprise me. Again, if the basic premises are mistaken, sound logic will lead to mistaken conclusions. For me, if you were going to evaluate ideas solely on the feeble basis of consensus, and given the record and perspective of so many tone-setters, I would be more likely to assume the consensus wrong. I may spend the rest of my life working on engaging those with whom I disagree.

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