Updated: Jul 11, 2019
“The man o’ independent mind, he looks an’ laughs at a’ that.”
We are very proud of our ‘National Bard’, Rabbie Burns. He appeals to that Scottish (and indeed British) belief in ourselves as people who have common sense, and are not swayed by riches or authority or status. It is no accident that the poem/song ‘A Mans a Man for a’ That’ (from where the above quotation comes) was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament twenty years ago.
We all like to think that we are of independent mind. I make my own decisions and I don’t need others to impose their views on me. I am the arbiter of my own world view, and if it coincides with others, fine. I can choose to be anyone or anything I want. But is this actually true?
The fact is that everything comes to us as mediated. We have no unburnished or direct access to facts, as the commentator on our last post suggested. We might be able to say that certain events did just happen, that certain scientific proofs are self-evident, but who chooses these to report over others and are they presented with real objectivity. Is such a thing really possible?
Every day we read headlines in papers and social media that state something as fact, only to read a few sentences later that this is a supposition, an opinion, or an allegation still to be proven. Why are they presented in such a fashion?
Humans are the ones who principally communicate with humans. Leaving aside for the moment the question of Al and the role of computers in presentation (though I suspect that we won’t be able to do that for much longer), we tend to pass on, and indeed believe, those facts which suit us.
The reasons are varied and interconnected, to do with past and present relationships, life experience, emotional energy, and a hundred other factors all interweaved that go to make up who we are.
And as for choice, that is limited by so many factors. Yet, the ability to choose is fundamental to our human nature.
Start from where you are
I don’t think it’s a matter of just understanding our own prejudices and then getting to the truth. We have to take others’ self-interests into account too. Even if we could, through some distillation process, arrive at some accepted facts, that might not be the whole truth, for there is something beyond that. I shall address that in the next post.
In the meantime, it might be valuable for us to reflect on the nature of our relationships. On whom do we depend and why? Are we ready to accept information from one source rather than another? What has life taught me to expect from others?