personal growth followup and social signaling

August 26, 2017
Following up to yesterday's rambling. David Parmenter said "I'm not with you" on that, in terms of him being a big believer in personal growth. Fair enough - I see my inability to grok personal growth as a problem myself. But it was funny how much his comment bothered me for a second.

Lately I've been thinking of how I operate with a two-layer view of reality; simple objective reality, the first level of facts, and subjective interpretation, the second level of judgements. My emphasis is on supporting a shared understanding of that first objective level; to the extent that most of my "judginess" involves things that block understanding of that factual leve (in other words, people with agendas that make propaganda that distorts the underlying facts) and I also have a severe reluctance to judge people's behaviors in typical ways - since if I start judging on that second level (with its proclomations of what people "should" do) it increases the chance I might be incorrectly working based on assumptions about "facts on the ground" that I'm wrong about.

So, I'd like to think that David's comment bothered me because of how it might be indicating that I'm just objectively wrong. But there's the conservative-related view that no, I'm bothered not because I'm wrong, but because someone in my peer group thinks I'm wrong. Rightwingers have really leapt on this concept of "mere virtual signaling" - they are awfully dismissive of most attempts to say the right thing, because they find it likely to be insincere. This accusation is at risk of mixing up the medium (other people's opinion) for the message (a description of objective facts-on-the-ground reality - or in the case of judgement, an opinion most likely and widely agreeable (i.e. the facts about what personal growth is and isn't.))

In this "fake news" age of "truthiness", I'm a liberal in part because I think liberals are more humane - who look to expand the "circle of empathy" - and because they are also amenable to level one reasons - especially in terms of science - in a way conservatives ain't - especially with their emphasis on faith. Now, the conservative view might point to examples of liberals desire to be humane distorting their interpretation of plain facts, and in some cases that's true, but I find in general liberals have the edge in not going for "if the facts don't match the theory, change the facts". (Hm, I think this is why I find the self-appointed name "objectivism" so objectionable, with it's dubious claim that there's an ironclad connection between level one facts and level two interpretation and recommendation for behavior that "objectivists" have unearthed.)

Yesterday I was listening to a 2015 podcast where Marc Aaron interviewed President Obama. A quote that struck around 42:30 "But the truth is though, it is accurate to say I believe in reason. And I believe in facts. And I believe in looking at something, and having a debate and an argument, but trying to drive it towards some agreed upon set of assumptions about what works and what doesn't."

Maybe there's a correlation with my "profound shallowness". I don't trust things that aren't directly accessible. For example, I don't like music that demands (and hopefully rewards) deep and attentive listening. You can take my "recently added playlist" and with very little further curating have a good mix for a party. My view is if there's an art form that demands you work to understand it, that "sophisticated" audience is now vested in promoting its quality (if not of the individual artwork, than of the worth of the format as a hole) because it justifies the effort they put into learning how to appreciate it. I like video games with physics engines rather than story, I like board games that are about performance and creativity and not strategy and planning, because the appeal is visceral and harder to deny, rather than cerebral and debatable and more prone to subjective uncertainties.

(PS speaking of that first level/second level stuff - notice how I hedge almost every paragraph? "I think" "is at risk for", "might", "maybe"... is my habit of couching things that way acknowledging the difficulty of getting to objective truth and the uncertainty of any position at the second level of judgement? Or is it me just covering my ass so none of my peers can say I'm wrong? Or both?)