The Dogma dogma
You’ve notice the political discourse is almost always people talking past each other. As if two people spoke two different languages yet pretended to talk in the same one. Or as if they lived in completely different realities and debate TV shows were a crossroad between parallel universes.
It’s true though. Each person lives in a different world.
Now, I refute sophism, the idea that we can’t know reality or that there isn’t a shared reality. I’m talking about something a bit more subtle.
How do we know about the world? The physical world, the one described by physicist, populated by neutrons, protons and electrons, where most things is just a bunch of empty space with particles interacting with each other in a variety of ways.
We have eyes that see, ears that hear, noses that smell. This is our window into the physical world. But sensors aren’t enough! Put it this way: Some wavelengths tickle in a specific manner tinny hairs in your ears. We do not hear “wavelengths” we hear voices, miaows, helicopter propellers, music.
We don’t live in the physical world. We live in a very specific interpretation of the world. A word of objects, other people, walls, floor, sky, etc. Those are not physical things that exists, they are pure construction of our mind. A concrete wall isn’t much different from a concrete floor, on a pure physical level. Yet to us, the difference is so blindingly obvious that saying they are “the same thing” is outrageously alien.
Not only we do live in a world of human concepts, but of all sky, people, walls, floors and object, we only at any given instant experience a tinny fraction of them. And each person a different piece of the world.
Yet all humans share the same interpretation of the physical world. Outside of philosophy university departments, I doubt you’ll find someone to tell you that cats barks and do not miaow, or that rocks fall upward, or that blue is red.
Maybe this is because our brain is primmed to interpret basic concepts of the world in a specific way. A trait for survival or a remnant of a more primitive, less flexible brain.
This is nice, we can understand each other.
Well not exactly.
Think of a pig. A nice little adorable pig, you know, snug, that you can kill to feed off of. Yummy! A murderous afraid thing with the capacity to mob and down and kill people if they feel threatened. Are those two different pigs? A “wild pig” and a “domestic pig”? Yet both “pig”. With time, the same pig can be once wild and then domestic and conversely.
Someone who has known and been hurt by a wild pig will never see pigs the same way as a city dweller. The concept of pig (the things that populate someone’s world) in the latter person is different from the concept of pig in the former.
Pig is a relatively uncontroversial concept.
Is the earth round? Not a thing we readily can assess with our tinny window of sense into the world. Should I worry that the earth is round and not flat as it appears to be? No not really. Well, unless you need to do some astronomy, plan a very long trip, send a rocket into space, or phone to someone at the other side of earth. The shape of earth only matters to people that do things that could be influenced by the shape of earth.
Well, there are people who seem to believe the earth is flat. They can only say that because the curvature of earth doesn’t matter for them, in fact they can really only believe it because other people believe it is round (their airplane pilot, the developer of their calendar app)
For them, earth is really flat. It is central to their being, and in a way, it means there is a world where the earth is flat, their world, the world they perceive.
“Is” interacts with floaty concepts, words. “Earth” for the airplane pilot definitively means something different than for the flatist Instagram influencer who takes the airplane to go to the international flatist conference. To the pig victim, “pig” does mean something different than to us. Yet no one is wrong when calling a pig a pig or the earth the earth.
How can we even talk and understand each other? How can people even appreciate poetry or literature? When each person has a different interpretation of what a word means. Each person having a unique and exclusive experience of the world, having a singular interpretation of the concepts that inhabits it.
Maybe words don’t have meaning, they are more a suggestion, an invitation to go in a semantic location. Each person has in their head a subset of the full concept of “pig”. A necessarily incomplete piece of a larger model of “pig”. When you hear “pig” as said by the victim, your understanding of “pig” expends to the murderous creature. At any given time, when you use or hear a word, you implicitly understand that the word “pig” only caries the relevant subset of the whole concept of “pig”.
What is the government?
Ah! Here we go! Finally to the point! This is really something that do not exist in the physical world, it can only exist as an interpretation of reality, in our head.
Government is in fact something that cannot be described by mechanical means. There is no tool a physicist could build that could possibly detect a government.
We do not share a reality where governments exist (the physical reality). We can only guess what governments are.
Everyone has a vague idea that government is a collection of people who has sovereignty over a given delimited territory and do things, such as collect taxes and set rules that may be referenced to encourage people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Oh, yeah, this definition is definitively controversial, most people would refer to Max Weber, talk about violence and/or social contracts.
But really those are interpretations. Ways of explaining why the hell there are little people with pointy noise in drab uniforms, in drab buildings writing notes and adding up numbers, doing nothing else and getting myopia for their service. In a way, encouraged by the rest of society to add the numbers.
Fundamentally those things do not need to exist, they exist because they existed a short while ago and no one decided it was worth stopping between then and now.
In a way, the government is a bunch of clown acting a very boring play in a theater where everyone think it best that the play continues.
To some, government is taxes and the constant implicit threat of violence if ignored.
To others, it is the commons, the things that people do together that they couldn’t possibly do individually.
Are those really describing the same thing? Yes! Yes! Yes! Same as pig and pig.
We figured out we can talk about pigs and understand each others. Yet, like the government, pigs do not really exist. They are a pure human construction.
Like a government, there is no tools that could possibly detect a pig. You say, maybe, a DNA sequencing machine could do it? No, not really, you could easily confuse it with boars and hybridization. A pig is really the idea of a pig. The fluffy concept in our head of a pig.
The physical world is unreadable. In our head, we only have a limited model of it. We can’t fathom the entirety of the piggyness of pigs, similarly we can’t fathom the entirety of the governmentness of governments.
We can only see at the same time a small subset of government and a small subset of pig.
Taxes and threat of violence is only an aspect of government, while the common goods is another one. Those, even put together, do not even begin to describe the entirety of government, it is even questionable whether government can be described in any way. Like words, government is constantly changing.
Picture one of those funny 3D models, that looked from one direction spell a word, and looked from another, spells another word. Government as a thing in our shared understanding of the world is like that. Government as a myopic partisan view is like the words it spells.
The seven blind men and the elephant, do a better job that this miserable nonsense to communicate what I mean here. (For my defense, seven men and an elephant surpass me in weight by a large amount)
Reality is complex, multifaceted, multidimensional. Our tinny brain, our window into the world, cannot possibly fathom it in its entirety, so we reason, act, based on an “good enough” subset of the whole thing.
We build our model of the world based on our experience, based on the other bits of the internal world we already built, based on other people’s experience.
This is the dogma. As we grow older, the pre-existing model becomes unelastic and informs the interpretation of the new informations much more. We can’t reshape the existing model anymore, so we reshape the new things we let in.
If we only have a very limited model of “government”, well, it can’t be updated anymore, so it is the rest that gets reshaped. You might even need redefine your understanding of pigs to keep your former understanding of government!
Anyway, this is insight. Even if your representation of the world is drastically different than someone else’s this means you’ll have to account for their belief. It is likely there is a greater, more comprehensive world, where both representations are compatible.
Even if seemingly outlandish, everyone’s representation of the world is valid. Most people believe what they believe because of a sincere belief that it is a helpful thing to do.
When hearing someone’s theory, keep this in mind, put yourself in their shoes, understand them. You’ll grow as a person, and make more friend.