Friday, August 26, 2005

My problem with labels

So, you think you know a lot about Venezuela. Let's say you are a somewhat typical left-leaning, non-Venezuelan, mostly rational individual that is interested in the developments of my native country. You have read a lot of stuff about Venezuela, from both sides, and have made up your mind that Chavez is the best thing to happen to the universe since red-colored carrot cake. I, a Venezuelan, now tell you: "you are wrong by far." What is your reaction?.
  1. Assume that I must be an oligarch, Washington Consensus loving, racist bastard (OWCLRB for short).
  2. Assume that I must be paid by some OWCLRB consortia.
  3. Assume that I might be a somewhat rational individual, but my biases don't let me see "the truth".
  4. Try to set aside your prejudices, check my facts, check the sources for the facts, and leave room to change, or qualify, your opinion.
  5. Think that you might want to pay attention to someone from Venezuela, that has to be better informed than you are.
  6. Decide that this topic is too complicated, and Venezuelans can't make up their mind, so you stop caring.
If you answered anything but '4', you are not a rational thinker in my book (if you answered '6', you are just lazy). Let me give you another example: what do you think about the empty labels: flip-flopper, death-tax, liberal, tree-hugger, bias; or better yet: right-wing, conservative, oligarch, elitist, communist, proletariat, poor, fascist, God? Do these create an image in your mind?. Well if they did, I will tell you that not only the image in your mind is different from mine and from everyone else in the world, but that I do not have an image in my mind the first time you mention it, because I know that it will not be the same, no matter what. To me these meaningless labels serve no other purpose than to manipulate people into thinking that they understand a topic, because they can attach a label to it, so the next step into stupidity becomes blindly believing someone, anyone (even me), just because he/she uses all the right labels that you like. So if you think that you know something because the right labels, placed by someone else, are lighting up in your mind, I need to tell you that you are wrong, because attaching a label to something is not the same as knowing that something. Remember René Descartes' method:
"...never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt."
If you have not read his discourse, you probably should. It's the basis for science, it's the basis for knowledge (and if you start squirming at his views towards "God" remember, that's just another label!). Granted, when it comes to news and politics, you cannot ultimately know what the absolute truth is, so you have no choice but to qualify the truth, to accept each possibility partially, and slowly come to an internal consensus opinion, without totally discarding the alternatives. At some point you might want to trust some sources more than others, but never negate the possibility of there being a consensus truth which satisfies those things that you know are facts, and best explains the position of the dissenting opinions, just make sure that such truth does not involve an empty label. Only principles and faith can make reasonable people to disagree, but never reason. Words are the biggest obstacle to communication. So, to conclude, I have no problem with ignorance, it is opinionated ignorants that I can't stand.
Post a Comment