It’s time that we had a reasonable discussion about the way we perceive information, about our reality perspective. There are a lot of people, myself included, that are missing the forest for the trees.
I don’t claim to be an academic and I admit I’m not current with regard to new trends in philosophy, sociology, or psychology. Hence, my apologies to the intellectual community should I be saying something that is patently obvious and known.
Each individual human being has a personal perspective of reality, due to a unique sequence of life happenings that occur within three dimensions and time. Many of our common experiences lead to a shared perspective based on location, culture, community, and social groupings. What I don’t think that many people realize is that these viewpoints require immersion in a medium, that in order to have feelings, ideas, opinions, and other manifestations of perspective one must be surrounded by the society in which one exists. The thoughts that we have are based on the programming we have received, which is dependent on our society, the personal experiences of the people that had a hand in raising us, the occurrences within our community, and so on.
What happens when you remove yourself from that immersion? What happens when you make the conscious attempt to observe the world from a less individual viewpoint by shutting down personal biases, tendencies, desires, relationships, and other factors that define your subjective reality in order to reach as objective a vantage point as humanly possible? What happens when you try to go beyond considerations of meaning or personal appeal in order to observe societal functioning as a natural event or a basic scientific process, like weather or gravity?
I think it is impossible for the human mind to be totally devoid of personal perspective, the “me” is always the starting point for observation, but if that mind can function for a limited time outside its own bubble of reality in order to perceive things from a more universal perspective, a sort of meta-perspective can be achieved, in which all considerations of meaning and personal or communal benefit are eliminated in order to be replaced by an interpretation of data that is as close to reasonably objective as possible.
The self IS a perspective. If we remove language, emotion, and reason from the individual, we are left with only a viewpoint. We are part of the universe looking at the universe from inside the universe.
Relativism, nihilism, values
From the meta-perspective, values become meaningless. All the ideas and ideologies that we cling to and generally take for granted become completely devoid of parameters, forcing us into a downward spiral of absolutes that all wind up in the same thought vacuum. Take, for example, a simple value proposition that most social humans share, like “killing people is wrong”.
If we begin to analyze that simple statement and seek to define its scope with regard to its value within a personal or social framework, it remains valid. Our experiences have shown us that our empathy makes it problematic for us to take life from our peers. We are willing to sacrifice our personal benefits, should there be any, in order to participate in the social framework that maintains the act itself is incorrect according to our individual or shared value systems. Yet, all these rationales exist within a certain parameter structure, they all depend on our participation in a shared experience as the act itself requires at least two individual entities to be on common ground within reality and with shared values. Regardless of whether there are nuances of perception, there is a shared reality where language is used to describe what we perceive through senses.
Yet, a meta-perspective forces us to re-evaluate our predefined notions by subjecting simple statements to further scrutiny. Are there any times murder is right? If so, why? What do concepts like “right” and “wrong” actually mean and where do they come from? Are they universal concepts like magnetism that exist within a physical framework or are they solely human constructs? Should we choose to ignore our own personal biases and programming in order to commit acts that are generally unpopular for personal benefit? If others do and we do not, are we limiting ourselves needlessly from achieving our personal goals according to social mores? Why is that necessary? What are the possible results within our social framework? Is there any universal meaning attached to our actions when elevated to a general cosmic scale, assuming there is no higher power or authority than our social structure? So on and so forth.
The universal vacuum
When we remove a universal authority from the equation, assailing any notion we have of reality eventually evolves into a total lack of meaning, ethical cohesion, or sense because all of these ideas are human constructs that have absolutely nothing to do with the mineral and chemical silence that apparently pervades the observable cosmos. Life creates an island of meaning. It creates a multitude of perspectives all jockeying for dominance, sometimes using force, sometimes guile. It creates relationships, a whole miasma of desire, importance, meaning, and vantage.
The level of commitment to the shared social illusion is, therefore, the yardstick of an individual’s willingness NOT to satisfy his/her personal needs. Some of us cling more strongly to our rules to the benefit of ourselves and our peers while others are less constrained and tend to satisfy personal needs more than work toward a common goal. When viewed from the meta-perspective, both are reasonable and comprehensible, they are simply life path choices devoid of any sort of value judgement attached to them. Hence, the hard-working individual that pays taxes, crosses the street when the light is green, and keeps the stereo volume down so as not to disturb neighbours creates a life path that is as valid as one selected by the more egocentric individual that commits tax fraud, jaywalks, or plays loud music into the wee hours. Both are born, live life experiences that prepare them and program them for adulthood, then exist until they die. From the meta-perspective, neither is right nor wrong because the definitions required to pass a value judgement simply don’t exist as foundations for discussion.
Humans seem reticent to accept this simple fact, however. Even those that champion such “empty universe” concepts like atheism or nihilism seem to rein in the logical progression of thought prior to creating a perspective completely devoid of considerations of right and wrong. Concepts like neo-humanism are the result, where we’re expected to accept that even though there is no ultimate celestial authority, we must still confine ourselves to act within ethical parameters even though it is clear that those guidelines have no basis in reality. This is the wishy-washy, Orwellian doublethink that seems to infect the rhetoric of most of those that espouse a non-authoritative universe. All hierarchies and assumptions about reality are to be questioned except for that sacred, last bastion of humanity. We must be allowed to eliminate gods from our lives, but we must still cling to that last tenuous thread that connects us to our ancestors, because in so doing we elevate ourselves to a place where we can still be “good” people. As horrifying as it may sound, I would like to see the result of a genuine atheist cutting that final umbilical, acting with abandon, no longer subscribing to programmed value propositions.
Innocence and curiosity
That individual becomes like a child responding to each unsatisfactory answer provided with “Why?” and finding out that the in the end, the value proposition exerted by the parent takes priority through logical force. Let’s go back to the example from before and subject it to that sort of treatment.
“Killing people is wrong.”
“The act deprives another individual from being able to enjoy his/her own existence.”
“So? I don’t care about that person, only me.”
“That’s very selfish, you need to get along with people. Live and let live.”
“If you don’t, it will be very difficult to live in a society.”
“People will want to protect their own interests and will act against you.”
“I don’t care, I can look after my own interests and make them do as I say.”
“That’s very difficult.”
“You can’t do everything by yourself, you would need people to act in concert with you.”
“Then I’ll either convince them or force them to follow my wishes.”
“That is wrong.”
The argument then continues, with one individual questioning every statement and assumption made by the other until the one that made the base assumption negates the liberty of the questioner by adopting an authoritative position (“because I said so”), the two agree to disagree (“let’s do something else apart from argue”), or the questioner seemingly agrees with the one who posits the statement in order to avoid further conflict (“whatever you say”).
There can be no satisfaction of the posited statement from the meta-perspective. It is indefensible when considered outside customary parameters. A simple statement like “killing people is wrong” is shown for what it is, a guideline for human individuals to get along within a societal structure that has no inherent meaning or use outside of those specific parameters, and is in fact challenged constantly by individuals that engage in the practice with little or no consequence, like soldiers or violent criminals.
Heroes and villains, a matter of perspective
It is apparent that the two aforementioned human groups are, ethically speaking and from the meta-perspective, exactly the same, with the former enjoying the benediction of social authorities and the latter operating outside the scope of established norms. The actions, social conditioning, and thought processes are similar. A private in the army and a thug working for an organized crime boss both follow the same basic line of work and justify crossing standard societal boundaries by following orders without question. In both cases, economic, territorial, and security interests trump society’s regard for human life, which is actually quite far down on the list in terms of things held to be inviolate.
Of course, there are a myriad of “except when” examples. It is wrong to invade another foreign power’s established borders “except when” the economic interests of the invading power are clearly in jeopardy. It is wrong to cast a family into the street to die “except when” disputes of personal property and economic compensation are in play. It is wrong to benefit from falsehood and fraud “except when” the individual perpetrating the acts can pay steep fines in order to skirt other forms of punishment. It’s amazing how many of our supposed ethical structures fall by the wayside when confronted by our need to adhere to another invented structure, namely the market system.
I pass no judgement on any of our human conceits, from the meta-perspective they simply exist, with no inherent positive or negative value to them. My goal is to point them out and discard the falsehoods surrounding their use. There are too many concepts that, when viewed from the meta-perspective, create a sense of lacking, where many of the ideas we have always accepted without question become nonsensical, like “deserve” or “wrong” or “success” or “value” or “proper” or any of the hundred other abstracts that have no measurable correspondence in reality.
We all cling to certain illusions to ensure we can enjoy at least some part of the society that fosters us, and it’s surprising how completely opposite ends of the spectrum can use inverse arguments in order to satisfy their own needs. A poor person may justify a lack of social success with such arguments as “but I’m a good person” or “I focus on what’s really important” while a rich person may justify a lack of scruples with “I can have anything I want” or “I focus on what’s really important”. Or neither clings to anything and simply exists, without justification or emotional bartering. From the meta-perspective, they are valid. Validity itself is a conceit.
Being able to see things from the meta-perspective is, for the individual moulded by society, a blessing and a curse. Perceiving a lack of absolute value or importance in things leads to a number of states, none of which are conducive to living within a social framework. Consumerism and the purchase of goods for personal comfort or status become unsatisfying. Ambition and the quest to establish dominance become empty pursuits. The drives to engage in ethical or moral improvement ring hollow. The good are seen to be deluded, the bad are egocentric and go unpunished, and the ugly, outside of evincing a characteristic which is to one side of the median of aesthetic norms, have no inherent value one way or the other.
On the bright side, it’s lovely to be able to look at absolutely everything and laugh.