Paradox and Human Universals
Given the irregularity of this week, Justin and I have elected to deviate from our normal Tuesday, Friday schedule and only give one, more flexible post. I say more flexible because, as you can tell it is light and musing in style, yet may prompt a more serious and deep read for anyone who finds themselves with the time and inclination.
We all have different personalities and traditions. For me, I grew up spending most of the holidays enmeshed in new books and engaged in polite and impolite debates with family. This would have been an opportune time for me to have a little more to read, ponder, and discuss. On that note, most people come to us through word of mouth, so please share any of our past posts that you found especially valuable. Regardless of where you are or how you spend this time, we hope you’re well and feel deeply fortunate to have you as philosophical brothers and sisters.
I’m sure I’ll revisit both the concept of paradox and human universals at a later date, because they are imperative to the IHD mission of striving for truth and the principles of human thriving. The majority of people live on a conveyer of simplistic conclusions. It is far easier and gentler on our egos to determine a simple narrative, classify it as truth, and then walk around life certain that you have the answer. In a world where confirmation bias is delivered to us through Facebook algorithms, fewer than ever do the hard work of constantly refining their understandings and creating a greater capacity to perceive nuance. Yet, this is where truth lies.
“Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” -Carl Jung
Truth is always in the paradox. Some of my favorites:
Skepticism Paradox: In light of humanity’s proven capacity for bias and self-deception, we must be skeptics and yet, there is obviously a transcendent natural harmony—a sense of the sublime that we must be open to.
Self-Reliance Community Paradox: Humanity thrives in community and connection. We are a social species, owing our tremendous success to an advanced capacity for coordination. Yet, there can be no community without the development of the individual. Strong communities are built on culture’s that promote self-discovery, autonomy, and self-reliance. Dependency is a recipe for narcissism, entitlement and selfishness. We only have strong communities when there is a demand for personal competency and reflection on the deeper meanings of life. Thus, the most effective solutions for community issues are almost always broad programs that drive the individual towards a path to cultivating themselves.
Capitalism/Socialism Paradox: From this it is easy to see the challenge of economics and governments on the modern scale. For most of human history, we thrived in small, nomadic egalitarian communities. As Malcolm Gladwell explores in his book, The Tipping Point, communities over 150 require little to no regulation or formal hierarchy. They are efficient organisms promoting the greatest human flourishing. In this size of community, we are all socialists and it works magnificently. However, as a solution for any group of people over 200, socialism has proven to be an unbelievably ineffective playing field that repeatedly promotes the worst in humanity. It simply doesn’t work.
Conversely, modern capitalism is extremely efficient, moving the standard of living to heights we’d never have imagined possible. Free market systems promote technological innovation and staggering surplus’s. Yet, even the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, knew the isolation of parts and expectation of ease would promote “mental mutilation” and the “deformity of mind.” Today, we live lives of incomprehensible ease and entertainment, yet society has never been more depressed, anxious, and prone to suicide. Consumerism has promoted a disposable society, hell-bent on always accumulating more and, in the process, most become less. In mass materialism we see isolation, selfishness, and unsustainable consumption that seems to hurt the individual as much as the collective.
On the surface a lot of these ideas would seem to contradict each other, yet upon further investigation there are deep revelations about humanity. This is the beauty of seeking multiple perspectives and taking the time to work through boring, superficial conclusions.
The reality is that everything I have ever written is incomplete. It oversimplifies or fails to weigh some crucial counterpoint. Our minds create meaning by contrast—hot is only relevant in comparison to cold—and, thus, any piece of writing is most applicable to the recent events of my world. I respond to my own experience and, despite all efforts to expose myself to a broader set of views, this perspective cannot ever tell the whole story.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” -Walt Whitman
Truth is wrapped in paradox. It is a tight wire balance, seemingly full of contradiction and only made sense of through intense magnification. This is the beauty of having a brilliant business partner.
Over and over, Justin and I have attacked the same issue, but with very different styles. This was not planned, but is symptomatic of our shared values. At our core we have a strong aversion to being controlled and a desire to pull the best out of humanity. Despite very different personalities and life experiences, we gravitate in the same direction because our mission remains the same. Sometimes we’ll come to seemingly inconsistent conclusions, yet I’ve always found these contradictions to be essential additions to the original post. It is these pieces I’d like to highlight today, because they help provide a more rounded view of some important human universals.
Most recently, Justin and I looked at all sides of Judgment and Discernment to give some clarity on how to best guide our perceptions and make decisions. We both come to the same conclusion, but by focusing on the faults of the other extreme. My piece takes a strong stand against moral relativism promoting the honing of our better judgments, while Justin highlights the equally destructive tendency of judgments to move towards moral rigidity and limiting, broad categorization. The two are best read as complements.
You’ll see that Justin and I have similar convictions, but very different styles. Justin, a former engineer writes technically, sequentially, and beautifully, dissecting concepts across his broad range of experiences and talents. He is endlessly readable, making the complex seem palatable and obvious. My writing is more of an avalanche of emotion full of stories and a spider web of cross-curricular connections.
For this reason, it is also fun to see those issues where we plainly agree, but express unique perspectives and different suggestions.
Justin wrote, Wrong Thinking, a potent condemnation of the social justice warrior dogmas and how they create many of the neurotic distortions Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been so effective combatting. Other than being one of my favorite of Justin’s pieces, I was amazed to read it because I was in the process of finishing Face Your Fear, where I explored my own experience with Exposure Therapy—a technique founded in Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
These are just a couple of the many times we have attacked the politically correct culture of victimhood. While we are both very cautious of promoting the opposite extreme, this is an issue we’ve felt compelled to engage on many occasions:
We’ve attacked different components of our broken school model:
I could, honestly, keep adding, but I think that is more than enough to wrestle with if you are inclined to spend time catching up on the IHD philosophy.
Analyzing issues from different sides is a humbling experience that speaks to the nuance of truth and helps us bring empathy and understanding to our fellow humans. I hope you’ll find value in this exploration and, as usual, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read.