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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

views on views

I was talking with Charlie a few days ago and, forgetting the greater value in listening than speaking, I went off for a while about the distinction between the view we operate from and the view we advocate. When we talk with other people about our worldview or answer "what's your view on X?" we've generally moved into advocate mode before beginning to speak.

So what exactly do I mean "the view we operate from"? What I mean, I suppose, is something like the view from consciousness. I don't intend to digress here into some sort of phenomenology or a full blown description of consciousness but there are some characteristics that are important to the larger discussion (and you'll have to pardon me if your consciousness doesn't resemble my own). When we're not under duress or anything in our day to day existence our "view" is primarily characterized by the loudest subset of two groups of voices: recent events and what we repeat to ourselves. I also tend to take a behavioristic approach to what "the view we operate from" is. So where this perspective from consciousness starts to feel too subjective I switch frames to see what sort of behaviors myself and others exhibit and derive "the view we operate from" from that.

From there the question arises "where do worldviews or the views we advocate fit into the view we operate from?". Well, they're some of the voices we repeat to ourselves. I would argue our cultural/linguistic story, the historical time and place we're set in is generally the loudest voice of those we repeat to ourselves and the other views are perceived within the context of that louder voice. When we advocate Christianity or scientific materialism (to ourselves) I take it we're often trying to get an accurate view of the world to help us better predict and prepare for the future. I prefer to advocate a form of perspectivism in the service of both accuracy and sanity. I often repeat to myself these words of Jesus:

[D]o not be anxious for what you shall eat and drink, and wherewith you shall be clothed. Life is more wonderful than food and clothing, and God gave it you.

Look at God's creatures, the birds. They do not sow, reap, or harvest, but God feeds them. In God's sight, man is not worse than the bird. If God gave man life, He will be able to feed him too. But you yourselves know that, however much you strive, you can do nothing for yourselves. You cannot lengthen your life by an hour. And why should you care about clothing? The flowers of the field do not work and do not spin, but are dressed as Solomon in all his glory never was. Well, then, if God has so adorned the grass, which to-day grows and to-morrow is mown, will he not clothe you?

Do not trouble and worry yourselves; do not say that you must think of what you will eat and how you will be clothed. This every one needs, and God knows this need of yours. And so, do not care about the future. Live in the present day. Take care to be in the will of the Father. Wish for that which alone is important, and the rest will all come of itself. Strive only to be in the will of the Father. And so, do not trouble about the future. When the future comes, then it will be time to do so. There is enough evil in the present.

Tolstoy The Gospel in Brief p.83-84

I don't necessarily believe in the accuracy of the statements but I understand the sentiment and can thereby adopt the corresponding attitude if the voice of one of life's situations requires it. When I'm concerned with predictive accuracy or trying to make something work I use a scientific approach. Once again not because it's more accurate ultimately but because it lends itself to the type of need I'm trying to meet.

Of course this isn't enough for most people, they want Truth (because this is how they've been conditioned?).

One more bone to pick. C.S. Lewis states at the end of Is Theology Poetry "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." For the reasons I've specified above I think this is utter nonsense. One's personal view of the world is never solely informed by one worldview. It's informed to various degrees by a multiplicity of views. It is incorrect to imply that a person can undergo a worldview in a totalitarian way; nor would we wish such a thing. When we come near to this we usually call it brainwashing. We don't generally undergo a worldview but we do undergo processes that have an impact on the view we operate from. Our personal view of the world is generally formed by various processes -- acculturation, socialization (upbringing/parenting), experiences of all sorts.

Unfortunately I think Lewis' sort of naïve nonsensical characterization of worldviews has found its way into the thinking of many a non-Christian as well.

Wow, that was convoluted. It is however the type of crap that I think about when you say "I'm a scientific materialist" or "I'm a Christian". No, you're not. If you're like me then you're a ball of snakes who advocates.


Charlie H said...

Nicely put. I'm especially drawn to your observation that our minds are typically occupied by either recent history or things we repeat to ourselves.

Mike said...

I should have called this "the view we inhabit" better than the view we operate from. And I don't actually repeat that huge chunk of quote to myself, it's really just this odd paraphrase "Think not for the morrow, what you shall eat, what you shall drink, what you shall wear; for each day has enough troubles of its own."