Friday, May 09, 2008

Objectivity and Human Nature

This is a follow up of my last few entries where I have been talking about how I deal with opposing viewpoints, etc. I am just setting the groundwork for how I approach a lot of everyday life issues and how I go about understanding history.

One of the guys I debated years back had a real hang up towards the word objective. Meaning, real apart from one’s mind. He was convinced the area of science was the only real area of objectivity. So, just about any other area be it history, religion and morality was subjective. Meaning, only existing in one’s mind.

I am not going to rehash how I responded to him, but there is a philosophical or logical trap one can get into by thinking like that. It has to do with making the statement, “X is subjective.” The statement is either true or false. If it is false, then we know “X is not subjective,” after all. On the other hand, if it is true then it self-destructs because it is making an objective statement about “X.” It is like someone saying, “I can’t utter a word in English.” Well, they just did. How about, “There is no truth.” Great, now we have a truth that says, “There is no truth.”

The same can be said with something like, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Someone may say that, but they usually have an idea in their head what they think Beauty is. Same with people that dispute academy award movies. The debate is going to be on what criteria is used to judge whether something is beautiful, or which movie is the best. It is the same with history too.

As far as history is concerned, and related to my last entry on opposing viewpoints, the key to being objective is how one goes about getting and presenting their information. Objectivity, in this sense, is having a rationally informed opinion by considering other points of view besides your own. By considering and acknowledging what others say prevents bias on the topic.

Again, like I mentioned in the opposing viewpoints entry, when I talk about controversial subjects I will try to provide the best sources on the issue. This may not always be successful, but that is what I attempt to do.

I wanted to say something else about how I view human nature because it does relate to what I was just talking about. I think humans, although they have great ideals and conscience in them, tend to be very selfish creatures. The first thing we do in the morning when we get up, through the day, until we go to bed is we think of ourselves. We may try to help others and do great acts in the process for our fellow humans, but we tend to think of ourselves before anyone else. If someone said I could go off to any 3rd world country I wanted to in order to help my fellow humans I would, but then the next question might be where am I going to live, or will I have enough food to get me through it. That might deter me from the trip.

I wanted to bring this up because there are a bunch of historical areas I examine where they are a lot of different types of people. Many are considered “Heroes” and other might be considered “Villains.” In Old West history, this usually comes up. It can always be disappointing to find out someone that some considered heroic turns out not be heroic all the time. On the other hand, some guys considered evil may actually do some charitable act or put there life on the line for someone.

I like to come back to human nature on that. I do not expect everyone to live black and white lives like this. All people have their own failings, temptations, addictions, etc. they have to deal with. If some source I read says a person did an act that they normally would not do, then unless I have reason to believe otherwise, I assume they did what they would not normally do. I do not come in with a bias assuming they can or can not have done something based on their previous behavior. This is the hang up a lot of people have who have studied Wyatt Earp have gotten into. Let the guy be human like the rest of us and do not worry about it.