Tag: cognitive dissonance

Objectivity vs. Freedom & Why’s It Always About Sex?

 “I would say any behavior that is not the status quo is interpreted as insanity, when, in fact, it might actually be enlightenment.  Insanity is sorta in the eye of the beholder.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

This blog entry is wordy and not particularly funny, fair warning. And I’ll tell ya, bringing this one up gets people heated!  Even just exploring the topic, most folks start getting defensive right from the get-go.  I’m curious what you delightful readers think.

What is perversion?  Specifically, is it subjective, or objective?

If you ask people, and I have, you may find that most people divide everything into two groups:  what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable.  But there also seems to be a danger zone on your way to unacceptable behavior, i.e. this behavior is okay, that behavior is questionable, and that other behavior is not okay.

Another interesting aspect of this topic and the way people handle it, is that in nearly every case, when posed with the question of what is deviant, perverse, or unacceptable, people answer with information regarding sexual behaviors.  Not violence, not language, not politics….sex.  Always sex.  It’s not really the focus of this blog entry, but my position on the taboo nature of sex is that it is completely arbitrary and inappropriate.  Sex is as natural as scratching an itch and the fact that it is so universally illicit in human cultures is a strangely beguiling phenomenon, especially when you consider how utterly pointless this is.

So people stratify behaviors into what is acceptable and what is perverse, and then they classify somewhat loosely the things in between, that flirt with being unacceptable, but are not, strictly speaking, categorically reprobate.

But in order for a thing to be unacceptable, there has to be an acceptor.  One who deems it unacceptable.  For instance, a person finding a way to cover the Earth in a mile-deep layer of poop is unequivocally unacceptable…to me.  However, if I did not exist, this behavior might be acceptable.  If no life existed on Earth, wouldn’t it be just fine to coat it with excrement?  If not, why?

If you look up words like aberrant, deviant, depraved, you find that the definitions all include directly or indirectly subjective terms. They’re tied to a subject, a person, an acceptor.  And if you look hard enough, you can find people in the world who do not believe that the behavior you condemn is damnable at all.  These same people will likely see ordinary behaviors of your own as debauchery.  Who’s right?

I asked some people if they believed that there are perversions that are objectively unacceptable, not just subjectively.  And I found that folks enjoyed being able to further stratify behaviors according to the level of personal offense.  For instance, non-life threatening sexual violence was deemed perversion, but not something to put a stop to.  That is, as long as all parties consent.  You may share this opinion.  But why?  If the parties consent, why is what they are doing even questionable at all?

And if they do not consent, why is it unacceptable?  We mostly agree that this is the case, but why?  It seems that we share a value in this regard:  that it is proper to do what you would like, as long as you do not hurt someone who does not want to be hurt.  But is this not a personal value, and one that not everyone shares?  Additionally, it is one that is flexible for many.  For instance, is it okay to hurt someone who does not want to be hurt, if they are themselves hurting someone else who does not want to be hurt?

My point here is that it is a personal choice of what is right and wrong, therefore is it not subjective? Isn’t it all subjective?

If you look at a broader view of humanity, you do see trends in values.  Things that are virtually universally accepted, or mostly so, etc.  I think this stems from universal concepts, things that arise from the facts of our shared perceptions of the world.  Folks are fond of pointing out that colors may look entirely different to different people, for instance, but I do not think so.  The way light plays against the machinery in our eyes and brains is not different, and I think we experience it very similarly.  Why else would favorite colors tend to be so telling, personally and culturally?

As a rule, I believe in an objective reality.  I believe that our perceptions of this reality lead to concepts and ultimately to values, which largely (but incompletely) determine our behaviors.  Less intuitively, I believe that the degree to which someone aligns their concepts and values to objective reality is congruent to the degree to which that person will succeed in life, as in achievement of valuable experience, as well as noble achievement (accomplishments).

So if our mental constructs are basically “takes” on reality, wouldn’t it follow then that there is an actual objective basis to morality?  Couldn’t you trace concrete, logical values from the basic axioms of metaphysical reality?  And wouldn’t these values provide clear delineations of what is acceptable, and what is perverse?  These boundaries would be definitive, insofar as our reasonable arrival at them is unflawed (which cannot be known for certain, but can and must be reliably assumed).

The application, however, is another story.  And it acts against the premise I’ve laid out above.  The concept of objective morality is dangerous, to say the least.  In practice it is terrifying.  Is this why I prefer to see perversion as a completely subjective concept, when in fact my basic value system implies it is not?  Am I lying to myself to save myself?  This could be.

Must we as a thinking, reflecting species allow fluid boundaries between what is acceptable and not acceptable, worldwide, in order to maintain the understanding (illusion?) that we are free?  Knowing that in some contexts what is unacceptable may be acceptable helps each of us to feel that we live in a world where anything is possible, and the constraints of the objective reality we’d like to assume exists do not extend so far into our choices as to restrict them.  In other words, ignoring the truth so that the lie will set you free.

A curious concept.  Cognitive dissonance on a global level.

Your thoughts?