On Truth and Liberty

The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King

-Emily Dickenson

A person should never abandon the search for truth because it is only with it that we can engage in the endeavors that will improve the world, soothe our consciences, and uplift our beings  If we are aware of our possession of an intellect able to decently estimate the environment and manipulate it to our desires, we now must undertake the responsibility of utilizing our power justly.  The fact that we are ephemeral in contrast to interstellar gas clouds, arbitrarily sized in comparison to various particles, and minutely perceptive in comparison to the information available (even if you limit it to what we sense physiologically) has sometimes been said in arguments to persuade against searching for, or appealing to, truth.  But those facts, interesting as they are, do not prevent truth from being something that can be used to resolve disagreements, which are in partnership with limited resources, in being one of the unfortunate barriers between humanity’s unified effort towards improving our collective and aggregate experience, or as Sam Harris would say, flourishing.

One aspect of truth is holding beliefs reflecting the state of affairs.  At all times it is an improvement to believe something true than something that is not.  My belief in a circuit being well soldered can be different than the reality of the situation.  Only when my belief matches reality will I interact with the circuit the way I want, regardless of whether it turns out to be well or poorly soldered.  This is the easiest form of truth to follow, only suffering from the constraints of experience and intellectual acuity.  The less tractable truth, are the elements of life that the constructivists pay the most attention to.

If you look at history, you will see that revolutions in communications spurred revolutions in technology.  Discourse is nothing to be taken lightly.  It is, chaotically and unpredictably, the force behind all the events we experience from the ones in your living room to the ones you hear about on the news.  Victor Hugo said rightly when he said “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” [citations and examples on the way]

Though it’s pursuit is one of the most important ones in life, it is a difficult task that all people struggle to accomplish even until the ends of their lives. It is important to express humility when presenting our own views of the truth with others and forgiveness of our opponents for any unfortunate clashes along the way, knowing that rarely any of us makes it through social discourse without having made an error that hurt someone else in some way and which we later learned we did because of a false belief or failure of perception or prediction.

The search for truth requires two things, not lying, and not restricting the liberty of others so far as they treat you and others with an attitude of justice.  I believe that the current state of affairs is such that we must not only practice this ourselves but to engage continuously in convincing others to do so, especially if we love them.  It is the only evangelical pursuit I expressly advocate.

Here Harold Pinter masterfully expressed the relationship of truth and dignity,

“…I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.  If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.”

What is “dignity”? It is an “innate right” to respect and ethical treatment.  It is actually interesting to me that such a learned man could say we were on the danger of “losing” dignity.  I love this quote and it inspires me, but I don’t seek a future where dignity is restored, I hope to see mankind finally obtain that which it has never yet been able to. If our species obtains dignity, becomes aware of it’s ability to grasp truth, it will be a miracle and something never before seen on the earth.  

In Mindful Disconnection: Counterpowering the Panopticon from the Inside, Rheingold suggested,

“Liberty is a political concept that must be constructed by a literate population, a Gutenberg-era expression of collective action that increases the range of control individu­als have over their lives.” 

Just because there are boundaries approximating fractals around liberty, does not mean that we have to refuse to discuss what liberty is, which is a measurement of autonomy, a concept even animals are capable of understanding as shown by their distress when caged. Your way of defining it will likely have many nuances and reflect the encounters you have with other and the media.  However, it should probably look something like the U.N. human rights declaration

People should have the right to research and apply its results to extend their lifespans as long as possible.  Each of us is a unique pattern that has established itself of value to our community.  People should have the right to research and apply its results to improve their intelligence whether by pharmaceutical, surgical, or biotechnological methods.  People should have the right to research and apply its results to increase their ability to enjoy various activities and experiences, and decrease their sensation of pain and sorrow, so long as they remain connected to the needs of required by their own and social reality (or so they are not as Yudkowsky described when discussing a different topic “… imagine a mind that contained almost the whole specification of which sort of feelings humans most enjoy – but not the idea that those feelings had important external referents.  So that the mind just went around feeling like it had made an important discovery, feeling it had found the perfect lover, feeling it had helped a friend, but not actually doing any of those things…”). People should have the right to refuse to do so as well. 

Improving our lives does not require any assumptions on the existence of theos or deos, the true meaning of the word secular.  I myself am an atheist, and I am always ready to argue my reasons to anyone who wants to engage in debate, but I really don’t care if you aren’t, unless it makes you disagree with me pursuing my truth or liberty, or others’ pursuits of truth or liberty.  People who are mean to one another on this issue are short-sighted and without proper priorities.  I find that maintaining good behavior, does in fact, involve a combination of ritual practice (prayer, meditation, observance of holidays), community and social pressure, study, and an appeal to transcendent good.  That I don’t call this god, religion, or spirituality, nor go to a church for its fulfillment is my personal choice. That some do, is theirs.

Our potential is that we can colonize the galaxy and make new planets our homes.  We can turn our energies into developing technologies to develop lush foliage, gorgeous cities, clean lakes and air, and music for the entire world to enjoy.

In spite of our potential, there are people and there are groups of people who exist today who are destructive [trigger warning].  I’m not necessarily a pacifist.  I know that there are people and groups of people who even as I write this, enslave and brutalize other people, and that some of them are powerful enough to require military intervention.  I don’t claim to know how many people die justly in a war, so I don’t claim to know whether we have more or less war than we should.  And it is possible to me that it is not possible/reasonable to merely capture our enemies rather than kill them, maybe we don’t have enough Christian martyrs to enact such a plan. Sorry, I really shouldn’t joke in my essay because some people don’t get jokes. Although really, it would be interesting to see a legion of pacifistic religious folks carefully kidnapping terrorists in an effort to reform them for society.The point stands that the beliefs and lifestyle I promote is incompatible with brutalizing and causing oneself to require others risk their lives to stop them, nor allowing it to occur.   People who attempt to remove the life or liberty of others should expect retribution.  But it will be quick and humane, and only after doing what one must to convince the person to mind their own business (here I’m not talking about the military, obviously, who are in a different sort of situation), rather than some eternity of torture which is overkill and says more about the torturer’s admission of powerlessness than the crime.

I haven’t said anything in this essay that hasn’t been said years before, by better and more experienced writers.  I’ve missed saying many things that I could have, about the possibilities of the future and the ways we can ensure that they come to pass.  I hope however, that I have included enough to inspire you to research, to blaze your own trails of hope and to be encouraged to love your fellow humans.  Conflict is inherent in times of tumultuous change, but we have to stick together as humans, as brethren.  Long live liberty and may we ever seek truth.


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