Saturday, March 09, 2013

An analytical mediation on epistemology, part 2.

To recap part one:  We follow Bernard Lonergan in describing what we are doing when we are "knowing" as performing four operations of consciousness:

1. Noticing

2. Interpreting

3. Judging

4. Acting

And the object of each of those operations of consciousness is:

1.  Data (in its rawer form)

2.  Data (in more solidified form)

3.  Interpretations

4.  Judgements 

I then left off with complications inherent to each of these four operations, and described the first complication pertaining to data.  We may then move onto interpretations.


The complications attending the operation of interpreting data are, so to speak, building blocks upon the complications involved with data. 

Just as many instances of data we perceive are really pre-packaged blocks of interpretation, or "adhere" to an interpretive shell, so too many interpretations we may think we have generated in the present of our free will and reason are pre-packaged by our surrounding culture -- even if we may have put our own personal stamp on them, and even though they feel as though they arose out of our free thought in the present.  Again, this does not characterize all interpretations; it is simply a common possibility, given that the content and methodology of our thinking is so heavily indebted to, and so deeply enmeshed with, our surrounding culture along with its historical dimension of legacy and tradition.

Nor is this complication an Either/Or problem: any given operation of interpretation could well be some sort of amalgam of our own free thought in the present, and various degrees of borrowings from the multitudes of interlocking interpretations embedded in our surrounding culture.

A complication within the complication here, so to speak, is that "culture" is not a simplex matrix, but itself denotes a multitude of cultures and subcultures, extending out in space and back in time, in a complexity of layers horizontally and vertically.

Given all this complexity, the reader may conclude that it's a wonder that we can think for ourselves in the freedom of the present at all.  This wonder is not resolved by recourse to another Either/Or:  It is the human predicament and process to be simultaneously free in our ongoing illumination of consciousness, and inextricably bound to a multi-dimensional framework, both in tandem -- even if we may experience a "stretching" in one direction or another at various times or in various circumstances.


Given the common vulnerability of interpretations to be pre-packaged, and hence functioning more or less as inert "chunks" of data, the challenge is to come to judgements authentically.  An inauthentic judgement would simply be an interpretation that has not been tested, but rather swallowed -- and regurgitated -- reflexively.  

However, it's not always bad to swallow and regurgitate pre-packaged judgements and then act on them -- for the simple reason that some judgements are good and true.  Many of us may like to think of ourselves as consistently free thinkers always thinking with unassailably sterling integrity; but come on, we're only human (most of us, anyway), and it's just part of living a normal human life to let our culture do our thinking for us a good deal of the time.  It's certainly a worthwhile goal, nevertheless, to try to be more aware of how we are arriving at our day-to-day judgements, in matters small and big, and to strive to be in luminous control of our decisions and conclusions, so that we know we have really, freely and reasonably assented to any given judgement, and that our action (or inaction) consequent upon that judgement is respectable and befits a free human being, rather than an automaton or a slave.  At the very least, we can try to include such a goal in our list of New Year's resolutions.  But let us not beat ourselves up over our common failure to attain such a lofty height.  It's enough to just give some thought once in a while to how and why we are thinking, what conclusions we derive from that, and whether our behavior is really a logical result of that or not.

At any rate, one doesn't have to be a lofty genius ("it isn't rocket science", as the saying goes) to notice the mountains of data and oceans of dots about Islam, then to begin to explore interpretations of all those data and dots that go against the grain of our current conformism that exerts enormous peer pressure against us to think outside the Islam-friendly Box we have built for ourselves in our 21st-century West.  One needn't be an expert to do this.  Nor is one necessarily a "conspiracy theorist" if one goes against the prevailing grain.  One simply needs to have a garden-variety brain, a normal education, a free will, and an open mind.  Oh, and a respect for human rights and a concern for public safety helps, too.

More broadly and less idealistically, the key is whether judgements abide in the tension or balance between flexibility to new data that may warrant a reappraisal, on the one hand, and fidelity to the truth irrespective of the distracting and misleading currents of fashion or fickle change, on the other.

Each of these virtues -- flexibility and fidelity --  may be right or wrong, depending on context:  It's not always good to indulge in flexibility just because one assumes, prejudicially, that all dogma is bad; nor on the other side of the coin should one defend an axiom even when contra-indicating data begin to pile up.  Our current impasse -- the West's obstinate myopia to the threat of Muslims -- is a case of the latter:  a fashionable opinion, or tissue of opinions, has slowly over time become the dominant and mainstream dogma of the Age, and no amount of data and dots indicating, by a reasonable process of induction and inference, that its premises and conclusions are faulty, seems to matter to those who hang on tenaciously to that dogma.

And what is remarkable about this dogma is that it continues to have the panache and aura of being cool, while those who question it are consistently deemed uncool (the worst sort of uncool under the regime of PC MC: to be deemed to be "bigoted").

A change in judgement should come about slowly, conservatively.  One shouldn't leap in labile alacrity to revise and scrap old judgements and embrace new ones at the drop of a hat. That said, judgements should be open to being tested by data -- particularly when a judgement has become part of a sociocultural regime change of the mind, as has occurred over the past half century or more with the mainstream dominance of Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism.

And even more acutely so, when the alternative judgement -- based upon a reappraisal in the form of a coherent web of interpretations built upon a growing mountain of data and dots -- warns of a growing deadly danger involved with plans and plots of terrorism as part of a broader goal and global network of militant expansionism based upon a fanaticism of frighteningly illiberal and dangerous proportions, and framed as a counter-civilizational commitment to the ideology expressing, codifying and motivating that fanaticism.

A Note on Dots:

I mentioned dots as distinct from data.  The term "dots" denotes a set of data (and/or interpretations functioning as "coagulated" data) which indicate an interpretation, and from there a judgement or conclusion -- even though that set is missing the data that would apodictically lead a reasonable person to that judgement or conclusion.  The problem of Islam, for a variety of reasons, has certain sub-problems which are vulnerable to lacunae in data; which lacunae must be bridged with intuition, inference and induction.  Not all instances of dots are the same: some more persuasively suggest the inference that would become the judgement or conclusion, others less so.  It's often a "judgement call", pun intended.


Our plight in the Counter-Jihad is a matter of persuasion in a sea of dots and data, where no smoking gun evidence exist -- or, rather, where too many thousands of smoking guns exist, distracting from the main point which should be put as a central two-part question on the table of our public discussion in the arena of politics, news media and relevant parts of academe:  

Is mainstream Islam from its historical origins, through its historical career and now in its global revival an expansionist, supremacist, totalitarian organization that uses and glorifies violence in the pursuit of its fundamental desideratum?  And are all Muslims who do not profoundly repudiate these qualities of their Islam to be deemed suspect at best, deadly at worst?

Never mind what the answers to these questions are:  Our burden and challenge over the next few decades is just to get the questions themselves on the table for a serious discussion.  And that serious discussion, to be authentic, must respect the balance of flexibility (openness to new data that challenges the reigning paradigm) and fidelity (allegiance to the reigning paradigm).  

Currently, the entire West, except for beleaguered pockets within it, is held in thrall (or is holding itself in thrall) to a deranged imbalance in this regard:  a thoroughly efficient suppression of flexibility, coupled with an irrational compliance with fidelity. 

And that's just bad epistemology.

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