Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nietzsche, Socrates, Interpretation, and Arrogance

There are two phenomena that I have discovered result in gross misunderstandings. Actually, I didn't discover them. Rather, they were discovered by Socrates and Nietzsche.

Nietzsche observed that nobody actually reads what is written but, rather, read what they bring to what is written. The reader thus projects their own ideology, own world view, own hangups, own ways of doing things, own self-loathings onto the writer. The writer in many ways cannot help the person's misinterpretations, and the writer can only anticipate them to a certain degree. In online discussions, where the discussions are in fact written, the same problems arise. Worse, it seems that you can clarify all you want, and the reader will continue to insist on their interpretation of things.

The more abstract the thinking, the more this is a problem. This is in no small part because abstractions can have wildly different forms in the minds of different people. Plato's Socrates discovers this over and over and over again when he tries to learn what abstract ideas like "justice" or "piety" mean, for examples. Each person doesn't even really know what those terms mean within their own heads, and discussion tends to go around in circles. More, it's not uncommon to use metaphors to try to explain things. And that opens up an entirely new can of worms.

I cannot tell you how many times I have used a metaphor and been accused of "changing the subject." This either suggests that a great many people don't understand metaphors or the nature of metaphors, or it suggests that derailing conversations through purposeful obtuseness is a common tactic. I Oftentimes wonder if the latter isn't the case when not just this phenomenon, but ignoring clarifications over and over and over occur. But perhaps all of these things are simply variations on the phenomenon of reading what you can only see.

The other phenomenon is what ultimately got Socrates killed, and that is the phenomenon of people accusing you of arrogance when you are insisting that something cannot be known to the degree people seem to think it can be known. Socrates was going around proving judges don't understand the nature of justice, while I keep running into this phenomenon when it comes to government regulations and central planning. Somehow saying that we could not possibly know enough to engage in central planning, or even to create regulations with known outcomes, make you arrogant and not the person who claims such knowledge to be possible (and which presumably they have).

This accusation of arrogance can come about either from those who don't like that you are saying they cannot possibly know what they claim to know, or it can come about from those who project their own issues onto what you are saying. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the accusation of arrogance when I have argued that it's okay that the vast majority of people aren't interested in things like higher education, philosophy, poetry, reading, etc. Somehow acknowledging that there are esoteric areas which interest but a few is arrogant, no matter what your attitude toward those who aren't interested in such things.

And let's face it, interest in things like, say, philosophy, tends to strongly correlate with both high IQ and a strong desire to learn (whether that desire to learn is realized through formal education or not). Also, things like philosophy or poetry tend to be interests you have to develop over time, through education. I hated poetry for many more years than I have enjoyed it. And it took probably a decade of actually writing poems before I started to like poems. (That sounds weird, but based on Ben Lerner's book "The Hatred of Poetry," it's not as uncommon as one might think.) Let's admit that it takes a pretty strange person to purposefully choose to do something they don't like over and over until they like it. Most people aren't that strange.

Why should I be accused of arrogance because I like poetry? Or because I make the factual observation that poetry is complex and difficult, and that most people don't want to engage in cognitively difficult things, and that that might contribute to understanding the lack of interest in poetry? Yes, varying interests matter. Yes, there are other cognitively difficult things some people are willing to engage in who would not be willing to engage in poetry. Tastes differ. There's nothing wrong with that in the least. But the fact of the matter is that when it comes to cognitively difficult things, IQ matters a great deal, and the overwhelming majority of people simply do not have the IQ required to engage in cognitively difficult activities. That these same people seem perfectly happy in their lives, going to work and socializing and watching T.V. doesn't bother me in the least. I don't understand why it bothers so many people that it doesn't bother me. And I don't know why the people it bothers in turn accuse me of arrogance for thinking everyone is okay in having different interests.

Which is more elitist? To say that college isn't and shouldn't be for everyone, or to insist that your life and work have no value unless you to go college? Somehow, those who think the latter are the ones accusing the former of arrogance and elitism. But it is the latter who think that their life choices are the only ones of value. And it is they, then, who are the truly arrogant.

To some degree, we may have discovered that Nietzsche's and Socrates' observations/experiences are not really all that dissimilar. Whether it's literal reading, or the more metaphorical reading of a situation, we all tend to bring ourselves into the reading. And when someone disagrees with us, we tend not to change our minds, but rather to accuse the other of arrogance. Perhaps I am doing it too, but surely the term "arrogance" has some sort of meaning. Surely the arrogant are those who think only their lifestyle and life choices are worthy of living. And further, if it means the defense of pluralism in cognition, education, and interests and the observation that there are things that we cannot ever know with such certainty as to be able to make accurate predictions, or even accurate pattern predictions is arrogance, then the word is truly devoid of meaning.
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