My mind tends to cringe when people say this to me. It is a statement that is usually/almost always delivered in conjunction with the “eye-lock,” a way of looking at people combined with a tone of voice that communicates “You know what I’m about to say is right” and/or “I’m the grown up in the room when it comes to this topic.” It’s a kissing cousin to “Meanwhile, back here on Planet Earth.”
Here's an example:
In 2018, Cesar Sayoc, a career criminal and an ardent supporter of then President Trump, sent 16 bombs via the US mail to a combination of Democratic politicians and news organizations like CNN. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden were all intended targets.
Cesar Sayoc’s Van
When ABC News reporter, Tara Palmer, asked Mike Pence if he thought Trump’s rhetoric and behavior contributed to Sayoc’s attacks, the then-VP responded:
Here’s the video.
"Look, the reality is the people responsible are the people responsible. And what the president and I stand for, and I think every American stands for, is that threats or acts of political violence from anyone, anywhere, for any reason should not be allowed." [Emphasis added.]
Needless to say, there are a lot of people who don’t see it that way, Mike.
And that’s the point.
My guesstimate is that well over 75+% of all categorical “advocacy” statements like Pence’s could and should be subject to question. One making an advocacy statement believes that he or she is stating a fact, regardless of the evidence.
Here’s an example of an assertion within an inquiry statement that makes the opinion open to being disproven. "Given the dynamism, insecurity, and rate of change in the Anthropocene, can we agree that this era requires a dramatic shift in the ratio of inquiry to advocacy statements?"
Chris Argyris, his collaborator, Don Schön, and their “guild” (of which I am a member) engaged in an extensive study of the behavioral strategies of people under organizational stress of one sort or another and determined that most people use advocacy statements most of the time in any situation that they feel called upon to express a point of view.
Stress is a moving target. Something may be stressful for one person and not stressful for another. Many psychological and sociological factors determine what will be stressful for a person. Regardless of these variations, people under stress are vulnerable to absolutist thinking and behavior.
This evidence about how we tick seems highly relevant to effective function in the Anthropocene because, increasingly, the very definition of reality is up for grabs.
As discussed in another blog entry, George Soros asserts (and demonstrates with data) that there is a “reflexivity” between mind and matter. Matter exists, but the emotions that matter evokes in us and the ways in which we think and act upon our reactions to matter tend to blur the character of whatever aspect of reality we’re responding to.
A mindset about what is observed can be as important if not more so than the material in the question itself.
Once you’ve seen it, can you not see it?
Once we have a frame of reference regarding a phenomenon, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to change our minds about “know to be true.”
Neuroscience elaborates on the nature of reflexivity.
Based on extensive experimentation and analysis, Anil Seth is a prominent neuroscientist who holds that “our brains hallucinate our conscious realities.” We trust our senses to inform our consciousness, but, apparently, it’s the other way round. The part of our brains that decides what is going on weaves the perceptions of our senses together in a part of the brain that is remote from the components of the brain where “reality’s” inputs arrive. Consciousness’ pre-existing conclusions regarding meaning are applied to input received and say “This is A” or “This is Q.”
Intriguingly, and not surprisingly, quantum physics arrives at a similar conclusion: “reality is what you choose it to be.” It seems that everywhere we look, what we see is what we get.
Given that most of us most of the time are unaware of the fact that we’re making up reality and given that it’s also completely clear that, paradoxically, reality does exist, it’s not surprising that a belief in inevitability walks hand-in-hand with the certainty with which most of us proceed through life. Here are some examples:
It’s inevitable that the United States and China will go to war
It’s inevitable that the worst effects of climate change will unfold
It’s inevitable that experimentation is anything other than heterosexuality leads to depravity
It’s inevitable that capitalism ruins people
It’s inevitable that socialism stifles innovation
It’s inevitable that we’ll find life on other planets
It’s inevitable that we’ll discover that there is no life on other planets
You get the picture.
If one arrived in the Anthropocene from the Middle Ages, for example, the experience would be astonishing and overwhelming. There would be ways in which human beings and some elements of nature would be familiar, but the technological accomplishments of humanity would be beyond any concept of possibility available to all but the rarest of Medieval minds. I suspect that most immigrants coming here from 1200 would have heart attacks within half an hour of arrival. I’m sure that folks 800 years ago had many assumptions about what was absolutely going to transpire on our planet in the future, and 95+% of those expectations would have been completely incorrect.
So, look, the reality is, we might believe that we know what is going to happen in the 'Cene, but that isn’t the same thing as actually knowing. It’s our story of the truth, rather than the truth itself. We’d be advised to hold our beliefs tentatively, to think more in terms of hypotheses than certainty, and to pay particular attention to evidence that disconfirms our convictions. It’s hard to learn from what we know. Isn’t it what we don’t know that can teach us?
P.S. It’s a Dalmatian