Enlightened Conflict

optimistically cynical of truth

February 6th, 2011


“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

André Gide

(warning: I get to talk about conflict & truth in one post … something I love)

I am always wary of those who come out blazing by claiming to speak “the truth.”

Mostly because I believe rarely are things black & white.

In fact I have been called optimistically cynical.

I imagine I am a contrarian (up to a point).

I would also imagine it’s because in today’s world I see too much lazy thinking (or possibly lazy sloppy communication) … or maybe it’s just people are quick to select the facts they want to use and ignore others and then pontificate on “the truth.”

Anyway.

I question everything upfront (or maybe one would hope as I have become older I can judge what to question and what to accept upfront) but always believe great things can come of it (rather than use the cynicism to drag things down).

In old times (like really really old) this questioning would be a version of Socratic questioning (because I am not as smart as good ole Socrates).

Socratic questioning focuses on the importance of questioning in learning (Socrates actually thought that questioning was the only real form of teaching). Simplistically Socratic questioning highlights the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of ideas. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds in cultivating deep learning.

(now. In my global generation 9 ‘about critical thinking’ I will actually use this in discussing elements of teaching in the global education initiative)

So.

I guess the point is that questioning <a version of conflict> actually helps us get closer to the truth. In a way … despite the fact ‘debating’ sounds glamorous … it is actually … well … grinding. It is a grind and it is all about grinding through everything to uncover the truth.

The art of Socratic questioning is tightly aligned to the idea of critical thinking.  Mostly because it ties the art of questioning to excellence of thought. To summarize this thought … “Socratic” means a systematic approach in the interest in assessing truth or plausibility of things.

Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end.

Seeking meaning and truth.

Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions in its pursuit of meaning and truth.

Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth.

The beauty of critical thinking skills is that it establishes an additional level of thinking to our thinking, an inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reforms our idea/opinions/thoughts (in a more rational direction) and affects our feelings and actions. Socratic discussion cultivates that inner voice through an explicit focus on using the “outer voice” with directed, disciplined questioning.

So.

As for those who adamantly state ‘the truth’ (and we seem to hear a lot of these people on radio shows and talk shows and “advocates” of some special interest) I would suggest they are lying.

(ouch. big claim there).

Ok. That lying thought.

Maybe better said is that they aren’t stating truth but rather opinion under the guise of truth (and duping a significant amount of people along the way).

Some of the people we have to listen to (claiming to say the truth) have made a choice … a choice to state truth when it is simply opinion (and shame on them for that … particularly if they do it under the ‘freedom of speech’ heading as well as if they have some ability to impact people).

The truth behind the truth is that it does come with choice.

Try this on for size.

With awareness of some truths comes choice, and with choice freedom or chaos or crisis.

This comes from a 19th Century philosopher – a guy called G. W. F. Hegel.

Discarding an absolute notion of truth, he saw today’s “truth” merely as a passing “bloom” in an evolving process of new “blooms”.

(let’s just call these stupid blooms … ‘ideas’)

Ideas and truth advance, he believed, only as ideas come into conflict.

This occurs when a counter idea (the antithesis) arises to challenge the status quo (the thesis). It was this “conflict” or “crisis” which brought about the “higher idea” (the synthesis).

Now.

Be clear. The Hegelian Dialectic is more of an observation of the way thought systems evolve than it is a call to direct action in creating such an evolution (so crisis is not an action but part of thought … think of it as maybe a Plato would … someone states a belief or ‘perceived truth’ and the debate is the ‘crisis’ – or when an antithesis point of view is articulated- of which synthesis occurs and, hopefully, truth emerges).

I make that point so we don’t start running around being crazy trying to drive “crisis” into every frickin’ conversation we have.

But. Marx and Darwin applied this notion to the social and biological realm.

Marx and Communism stood on a pillar of crisis (just called revolution). The higher social order could only arise from the “crisis” of conflict—the proletariat arising to battle the bourgeoisie.

Darwin and Neo-Darwinian theory see the higher biological order arising only from a life and death struggle—survival of the fittest.

So.

What this suggests is that truth can only arise from crisis (or in a dialectic world) through debate and discussion. And I don’t know that I dislike this thought.

As long as we don’t start thinking there is something “magical” in the crisis. While theoretically it is a critical piece to achieve the “synthesis” hat shouldn’t mean we should begin to create a crisis if it doesn’t exist. Or even misjudge “crisis” when it really is just a natural down slope of the curve.

Anyway.

Crisis is a big word. And easily misunderstood (at least by someone with a pea like brain like me)

I don’t believe we need crisis to create change.

Simply some conflict. Simply some debate for god’s sake.

Maybe some questioning of people who state “the truth.”

(then that debate within conflicting point of views could be construed as a ‘crisis’ and Hegel can sleep at night)

Anyway.

I guess the other fear in this questioning construct is the concept of never ending debate.

Or how about “unresolved conflict” because diametrically opposed opinions are locked in “absolute truths” and are unwilling to accept anything otherwise.

In other words  … we never leave “crisis” mode.

That is bad.

And useless.

And dangerous.

But.

The entire idea of “thought” to ‘crisis in debate’ to ‘clearer truth’ is a viable thought.

So when someone states “absolute truth’ without debate or discussion I think its kinda nuts.

Oh.

And one last important thought ( a REALLY important one in this entire discussion).

We are as much at fault as the “liar” if we remain silent.

Silence is the death of debate. The death of the search for truth. No questioning = no truth.

Think about that the next time you hear something that’s sounds … well … wrong. And you remain silent.

Anyway.

I would like to believe I am one of those people who are constantly seeking truth.

I may not be but it is certainly a good objective to try to attain. I do know that I believe as long as you are ‘seeking’ you are being persistently curious and there are worse things to be.

But, yes, I am cynical of those espousing truth all the time.

But maybe Dill said it best:

“I ain’t cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it?” ~Dill, To Kill a Mockingbird

So.

I will not remain silent in my search as an optimistically cynical view of truth

Enlightened Conflict