I may be two weeks late, but Happy New Year nonetheless! We’re already halfway through January, the dual month of beginnings and endings. For some reason, new followers have trickled in since my last post to the point where there are now around 600 of you. For some reason, over a week ago, I got offered a place at the University of Cambridge to read English. And thankfully, probably due to a rest from college work and all the positive messages I’ve been receiving, I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a month ago. I don’t know how long these good omens will last, but I’m definitely endeavouring to act on them.
Now aside from that brief update, I just wanted to talk about beliefs, opinions, convictions; whatever you want to call them. This topic, even if perhaps not expressed as coherently as it possibly could be, has been weighing on my mind for a long time and I felt I may as well get it down in words. If you’re still reading and you’re not in the mood for even a smidgeon of philosophy, this may not be for you. Or you’ll discover a brand-new passion. Who knows.
As a Philosophy student, for 4 and 1/2 hours a week I’m sat in class having an answer-less, generally circular debate with a group of other tired teenagers. Now, the thing about studying philosophy, or indeed, evaluating your opinions about anything, is that it will lead to only one of two outcomes: your opinion will remain the same, or it will change. As youth mostly raised and nurtured under England’s liberal law system, what I often find is that every single one of us teenagers eventually returns to the same point in our debate. Sure, some of us play devil’s advocate (I do all the time; it’s no fun to sit in a circle and nod in agreement at each other all the time), but when it comes to the heavy things, when we have to discuss letting the poor starve to death instead of providing welfare, or the cold utility of sterilising the disabled, our first and strongest reaction is horror. It’s…interesting, how permanent is the social conditioning you are exposed to at a young age. It’s uncomfortable to discuss, disquieting to realise, but essentially we are slaves to our early experiences. We say things are right and wrong, but really these are concepts which are subjective and directly dictated by a cultural exposure we never had any control over.
One of my classmates in particular was convinced, whether in her naivety or ignorance I do not know, that the Taliban were aware that they were ‘evil people.’ I’m not usually so blunt but I laughed at her. In the West, there is a particular arrogance, perhaps the English version born out of the remnants of this country’s past colonial nature, where it is assumed that Western values are superior to values found elsewhere. Freedom is what the individuals want, Western opinion says, it is what the people need and what is ‘best’ and we can construct several arguments referencing Locke, Rawls, the Founding Fathers, etc. to prove it. What’s often ignored is that the opinions of the ‘evil people,’ if you’re childish enough to believe people can be so defined, can be just as well defended. Theories can be explained, logical arguments produced and coherent reasons expounded on as to why they believe what they believe. And in these ‘evil people’ or those culturally different doing so, the problem of logic is exposed – things are only logical from particular assumed positions. It is painful and uncomfortable to realise it, but our Western idea of freedom is no more or less noble than what some men of Abu Dubai see as nobility in chaperoning their women. Both are the results of gut feeling, conditioned by years of early experience that make them so.
Reading this over, I feel I’ve got bogged down in my annoyance and haven’t explained myself properly. What I am trying to say is, as much as we may not like the reality of it, morality and what is thought of as just is not a concrete thing coinciding with our own opinions. People hate the idea of cultural and moral relativism but it’s the cold hard truth that the difference in our opinions is not the result of the flawed logic of one party (often, coincidentally, foreigners of different cultures or people with different political views) which renders their opinion lesser, this dissonance is simply a result of our feelings. Our intuition. Except it isn’t even entirely intuition, because these feelings are influenced by what we’ve been exposed to in our youth.
My friends are slowly starting to realise this, and some of them are become quite disillusioned with the subject and society in general when they realise that what they used to hold as wrong and right isn’t necessarily so black and white. I don’t, though, think it’s a cause for depression and disillusionment. Heck, I see it as a cause for action. We’ve spent our childhood and adolescence accepting that with which we’ve been raised, those opinions and values held somewhere in our society, and I believe it’s honestly a responsibility of adulthood to get rid of our youthful ignorance and learn to understand the differing opinions in the world. Get out there and learn! It doesn’t hurt and if you simply accept that you are no more right than the other person is wrong, it’s (in my opinion) an interesting experience. You might change your views, you might not. Having experienced life on an extremely low income, I disagree with an anti-welfare stance, yet I can fully understand it and even think of many arguments to support it. Despite being black and gay, I even understand (and yes they do exist, as horrifying as it may sound to some of you) coherent arguments against homosexuality and for the opinions of nationalists (of any race).
Yes, it’s horrifying at first to admit that ideas you fundamentally disagree with usually have a logical core to them. That they are not so different to your own, once stripped away. But I find it more horrifying that people are so willing to disregard or ignore the natural ideological variances we have within human culture. It’s scary to admit that many of our opinions are essentially decided for us before we actually come into being, but it’s scarier to admit to yourself that a part of you doesn’t want to change these opinions out of a fear of new ones. But, I suppose the irony of my typing out this long speech is that if you’ve been following me, you’ve probably realised that this is just my opinion, borne out of my experiences and feelings, and if you like you’re free to disagree and neglect my ramblings. Of course if you’re still reading this long piece (thanks and well done!), you’re free to disagree in the comments below.