Our Peekaboo World. Now We See It Now We Don't

There are so many different ways of seeing our world. Most of them fall into two broad groups of see-ers. First, those empirical minded folks who thrill to the hunt for the next great truth or innovation. We’ve always had a lot of them in this go-for-the-gold country. Second, the more philosophical minded folks who aren’t so sure every new hunt is worth the effort.

Neither is so right that the other is wrong. Still, I can’t help hearing the second saying to the first: “Life is a mystery to be lived, not just a problem to be solved.” And I want to believe them. Not because I don’t value restless ambition,but because I admire restful assurance even more. In effect, the capacity to live out Buddha’s maxim: “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

The Buddha’s Way has never been comfortable to most restless Americans. Maybe that’s because there is so little consensus among us about what it is we should really want. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new book “The Righteous Mind” elegantly examines this. For example, he finds that liberals and conservatives these days not only want different things, they perceive their world in entirely different ways. Reinforcing the observation: Our perception is our reality.

The current case before the Supreme Court as to the constitutionality of Obamacare makes the point. Despite what is being argued about the Commerce Clause, what’s really in play here are intensely personal perceptions about our very way of life. The final decision will be written in legal language, but some of the true origins for that language will often defy mere language.

Our feelings and values run deep. Including the Justices. Often deeper than we realize or articulate. After all, many of these have taken us a lifetime to develop. Once we have, they sneak out of our thoughts and into our language in ways that may surprise even us. Take the controversy about modern science. USNews.com recently reported a University of of North Carolina study found 48% of both conservatives and liberals expressed “a great deal of trust in the scientific community” in 1974. Today the number remains the same with liberals, but has dropped to only 35% with conservatives.

Same science, but perceived so very differently. Which is why the Court’s decision will be a split one. Reflecting how deeply split we are as a nation over so many issues. Will this ever change? Has it ever? Divisiveness is one of the attributes and burdens of a democracy that includes so large a multi-cultural people. I was thinking about that the other day when looking through a toy store. Especially at the miniature old-time cars and trucks.

Good lord…this tiny but authentically crafted 1938 Dodge car in my hand. In 2012 it’s a toy. In 1938, it’s the proud automobile my Father’s Dodge & Plymouth agency sold to excited customers [and at which my boyhood eyes beamed]. Once a life-size part of the great American scene, today a plaything I can hold like some god. Makes you realize that despite all the sound and fury of THIS world, it’s really well on its way to becoming another shelf of toy memorabilia.

Perspective like that might help perceptions like ours better understand what we think we’re seeing.

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  • According to Berkeley(Not Busby but Bishop George), to be is to be perceived---esse est percipi. His school of philosophy was called idealism. Dr. Johnson famously refuted it by kicking a stone, proving there is a reality outside the mind. This is the assumption of empirical science: that the scientific method can discover this reality. Of course what is not measurable and without physical dimensions would not be grist in the mill of science. Interpreting the Constitution is an exercise of opinion based on textual, historical, and, yes, ideological, approaches. Hence, it is often the subject of dispute.

    As usual, Jack, your post is juicy fodder for thought.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Hard to top you -- or Johnson -- when it comes to making a point..

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