An Ideology of Reality

I’ve done many blog posts, books and articles, and otherwise engaged in public discourse, upon a wide range of topics. So I ask myself if there’s a unifying idea, a thread connecting it all.

I’ve previously discussed what really matters: and the only possible answer is the feelings of beings capable of feeling. Hence the over-arching goal to advance human flourishing.

imagesBut this verges on banality; most people would embrace some variant of it, and likewise profess to aim at human betterment. Even some of history’s worst villains would have. Where did they go wrong? Fundamental mistakes about reality (including realities of human nature).

It’s not enough just to want good. The road to it runs through truth and reality. Other roads lead to Hell.

And so, there’s the real essence of my ideology: truth and reality.

images-3Of course, we all think we see truth. But it’s not so easy. Too often, people believe things because they want to, because it’s comfortable believing them. Ideology or faith drives perception, to see the world in ways that comport with the belief system. Cynics in particular flatter themselves that they’re seeing through to real reality; but very often this too is just what makes them feel good and isn’t reality at all.

So, mindful of all this, I turn things around. I try to make perception drive ideology. I strive to base my beliefs on what I see, not the reverse. That IS my ideology. (Or do I too flatter myself? At least I’m cognizant of the pitfall.)

My core belief system is to respect and accept truth rather than trying to wish it away. Only by understanding the world’s realities can we ever hope to overcome the constraints they impose on us, and make life truly better. The quest for the good cannot be divorced from the quest for the truth.

images-4Consider the example of our current gun debate. Gun control opponents believe a gun in the home protects you. Reality check: statistics indisputably show it’s many times more likely to hurt or kill you than protect you. Gun fanciers believe differently because, well, they just prefer to. (Or they don’t think the statistics apply to them.) They also believe guns can fend off potential government “tyranny.” And pigs can fly.

I’ve written before how some Lefties idealize the likes of Hugo Chavez. I look at the reality. Some people see vaccination as causing autism, and dangers in GM foods. I look at the reality. Some reject evolution. I see the evidence. Ideology leads some to deny the reality of climate change; others, to cling to a solution that denies reality.

images-1The problem is especially prevalent in economic matters. The whole antipathy toward market economics is grounded in caricatures rather than the reality of how it works, what it actually does, and its results. Not to speak of alternatives. While some advocates of protectionism do act with clear-eyed self-interest, most who go along are blind to the broader harm, indeed the harm to their actual self-interest. Opposition to outsourcing reflects a simplistic zero-sum economic picture totally at odds with the reality. And the French, many Democrats, and even Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman seem to think there’s no limit to how much can be borrowed to pay out ever spiraling “benefits” (the Greeks learned differently). And so forth.

Of course the biggest whoppers people tell themselves are religious. Now, there isn’t great harm in believing inconsequential nonsense like astrology. But when you believe some divine being is running the world and your life, that’s consequential in the highest degree. images-2Likewise belief in Heaven. How can one make proper sense of life, and operate rationally in the world, laboring under such profound reality mistakes? You can’t even get right the basic “mattering” question if you think God is in the answer.

I’ve written about Muslim societies and violence. I did say there’s something besides just religious belief in play. Nevertheless, imagine how Muslims might settle down and behave if all that religious insanity went away. And please don’t tell me religion is the only check on their baser impulses. I know lots of atheists, and nearly all behave quite nicely. As for Muslims, the reality is that conflict and violence aren’t doing them any good; and if they got a better grip on the reality of the world they live in, they would realize this, and act differently.

Gimme that old time reality – it’s good enough for me.

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13 Responses to “An Ideology of Reality”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    Very nicely written. From “Thinking Fast & Slow” (Kahneman) — Many of the things we think about and make pretty self-assured predictions about — “a chimp throwing darts at a target can do as well.” Two conditions: (1) is the environment sufficiently regular to be predictable? (2) is there opportunity to learn the regularities through prolonged practice? (and I add intelligence & skill). It’s along these lines why I think your “pinko” friend (me), and you, could agree on most things if we really worked together on the particulars.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks Gregg. I was talking about FACTS, not predictions, which is a whole ‘nother matter!

  3. Lee Says:

    Reality is indeed key. For the most part the problem is not that people contradict reality, though there is a little of that, but mostly that people cannot agree about what the reality is, or that people are selective about which parts of reality they choose to emphasize.

    For instance, I read an article about Hugo Chavez by a respected blogger that mentioned that Chavez had been “rightly jailed” for trying to overthrow his government in 1992 … leaving us to believe that Chavez’s actions were thuggish. Purposely or not, I cannot tell, but the account failed to relate that the government had just massacred 276 civilians and thus that many civilians considered the attempted coup to be heroic. Likely, there is even more to the story that I do not know, or worse, perhaps there parts where the reality is unknown or in dispute … and that’s where the trouble really lies.

  4. frank S. Robinson Says:

    Chavez in 1992 attempted a military coup against a democratically elected government. Was it a perfect government of angels? No. And there are always people who might see such action as “heroic.” But I doubt Lee would endorse such anti-democratic coups. As to Chavez’s subsequent career, I frankly don’t think it’s a close call of interpretation or selectivity about facts. As your quoted “respected blogger” (me) explained in the blog post in question: http://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/hugo-chavez-vile-thug/

  5. Lee Says:

    Is Wikipedia wrong when it writes about the “democratically elected” government of Pérez?:

    Pérez’s policies angered some of the public. In an attempt to stop the widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez ordered the violent repression and massacre of protesters known as El Caracazo, which “according to official figures … left a balance of 276 dead, numerous injured, several disappeared and heavy material losses. However, this list was invalidated by the subsequent appearance of mass graves”, indicating that the official death count was inadequate. Pérez had used both the DISIP political police and the army to orchestrate El Caracazo. Chávez did not participate in the repression because he was then hospitalized with chicken pox, and later condemned the event as “genocide”.

    Disturbed by the Caracazo, rampant government corruption, the domination of politics by the Venezuelan oligarchy through the Punto Fijo Pact, and what he called “the dictatorship of the IMF”, Chávez began preparing for a military coup d’état, known as Operation Zamora….

    It could be that Wikipedia is wrong; that this is merely the rewriting of history by someone sympathetic to Chávez. In that case I can see that your stated ideology and your blog entries are consistent.

    Otherwise, I am still having trouble understanding your stance that you believe that reality should trump all — if the Wikipedia entry is accurate then the reality is that this is not your average democratically elected government — that this is significantly more than politicians failing to be angelic.

    And I meant it about you being a respected blogger. You are much more reality-based than too many others. I apologize that I have had to ask you for clarification on this particular point.

  6. frank S. Robinson Says:

    OK — my position is that whatever may be the wrongs of an elected government, the proper remedy is the next election. Remedy by military coup is absolutely ruled out as intolerable; a great crime.
    And in any case — whatever may have been the rights and wrongs of 1992 do not exonerate the great crimes of Chavez in his years in power.
    I hope Lee’s comments do not exemplify the efforts of ideologues on the left to find excuses for this fascism.

  7. Lee Says:

    I share your respect for democratically elected governments, and would tolerate many a crime committed by them in the name of preserving the democratic process. However, it is not absolute tolerance. If I were as smart and as brave, I would have joined Harriet Tubman in her efforts against democratically elected governments that enforced human slavery. Hitler arose to power through legitimate means, and if I were brave, I would have taken action there too. I do not know Venezuelan history well enough to know what was going on in 1992, but the word “massacre” does give me pause.

    For what it is worth, while I might not have waited for the next election, likely I would not have attempted a coup. The ongoing protests and other illegal actions might have been more effective at removing a government that had lost its legitimacy, if the coup attempt had not been made.

    The rights and wrongs of one era do not justify those in another era. Chavez rose to power legitimately, tried to extend that power through legitimate means (though mostly failed) and, like all politicians failed to achieve angelic status. To the best of my knowledge he does not massacre his own citizens nor declare war on other counties. Considering the above, he has not yet earned my respect nor my wrath.

    I am guessing, though it is at best a guess, that what you do not like is that he used his “democratically elected” power to nationalize several industries. Reasonable people disagree as to whether this was better or worse than its alternatives. Like democracy, capitalism is not something to be disregarded lightly. However, is it the case that the poverty of the disadvantaged was so extreme and/or that the legitimacy of the ownership rights so tainted (as a result of historical non-capitalistic / illegal acts) that the nationalization could be considered appropriate? I cannot share your evaluation that Chavez is a thug until that question is debated.

  8. frank S. Robinson Says:

    Harriet Tubman was not trying to overthrow the government.
    Hitler did not gain total power democratically, but by what amounted to a coup.
    Gandhi provided an excellent model for how to achieve governance change in an undemocratic system.
    Chavez’s nationalizations are objectionable, yes, but perhaps the least of his crimes. More vile is his abuse of power to eviscerate opposition and criticism and silence the press. I do not consider his means “legitimate.”

  9. Lee Says:

    If Harriet Tubman and her supporters had guns and used them lethally when they deemed it necessary, was that okay because it was not overthrowing the government … even if the targets were local law enforcement, such as elected sheriffs?

    Perhaps my confusion about your position would be clearer in a more modern example. To the best of my knowledge, the leaders in Palestine are elected in free and fair elections. If Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu thinks that a leader represents a severe threat to the Israeli people do you think he can (organize an attempt to) assassinate that leader? If yes, is that because Netanyahu is not a Palestinian voter? If the assassination makes use of Palestinian (voting) collaborators, are those collaborators committing a crime that is more reprehensible than Netanyahu’s?

    If Chavez did “eviscerate opposition and criticism and silence the press” then he is indeed a thug. However, “eviscerate” and “silence” are very strong words — I would want to see evidence of actions that even election strategist Dick Morris would consider vile. (Or would Dick Morris be a thug in your dictionary?)

  10. frank S. Robinson Says:

    I’m not aware that Harriet Tubman ever shot anybody. Israelis have assassinated Hamas leaders; that’s effectively a war situation. Dick Morris I wouldn’t call a thug — merely a jerk.
    But what I don’t understand is how hard you squirm to resist the obvious judgment on Chavez. Is it simply that he somehow gets labeled a man of “the left”? You wouldn’t for a minute squirm like this over anyone labeled “right-wing.” As if the labels mean anything in today’s world.
    If you want evidence, just go read The Economist’s coverage of Venezuela over the past 14 years.

  11. Scott Perlman Says:

    Excellent post.
    M. Scott Peck wrote, ““Human beings are poor examiners, subject to superstition, bias, prejudice, and a PROFOUND tendency to see what they want to see rather than what is really there.”

  12. Andrew Semeiks Says:

    Frank,
    I’ll repose my question from the email:
    Now, I have neither the interest nor the technical expertise to arrive at my own conclusions on global warming and global climate disruptions.

    What interests me is, from a cultural and political position, why this is a controversy if one side adamantly states this is a conclusively proven problem. Governor Pence, Representative Blackburn and other conservatives like them are not hypocritical, ignorant, moronic, idiots. Why do they think this way and why does such a large proportion of our country agree with them?

    One can have conservative social and economic positions yet still be an environmentalist and be aware of and raise the alarm of humankinds harm to the ecosystem. As an average follower of current events, I don’t see any such spokesmen.

    I’d like to know why there is not a broad consensus on this across the whole political spectrum. The answer cannot simply be politics and the influence of the right wing media because this would brand the entire political right as being wantonly ignorant.

    I do not think it is quite as simple as people believe what they want to believe. If these people are so clearly wrong, why should we believe them on anything else they may say? Are you familiar with any writings of politically and economically conservative thought leaders who are genuinely raising alarm on global warming?

    Andy Semeiks

  13. rationaloptimist Says:

    Yes, there is one politically and economically conservative thought leader who believes global warming is a real problem. Me.

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