Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rhetoric: On Contradicting Convictions, Moral Inaction, and the Logical Pathway to Resolution

The Problem:
Moral inaction on a personal level based on contradicting internal convictions. The classic superego vs superego Freudian problem. The lack of motivation to take moral actions stems from an uncertainty within the individual derived, I would pose, from conflicting internal convictions.

Distinctions and Definitions:
Conviction comes out of the merger of facts and belief. (Whether that is facts and belief in religion or facts and belief in reason. Or both.)The facts are the raw data gathered from the world. The belief is the manner in which that data is then processed. This provides a basis for what we can know, or knowledge. And knowledge considered to be certain, verifiable, or beyond reasonable doubt of changing, shapes our convictions. All conviction, whether religious or secular, whether correct or incorrect, is but a form of knowledge applied.

So therefore, the only thing that can cause a change in conviction is a change in the underlying base knowledge of the individual, Which can only result in either a change of facts gathered or a change of beliefs used to interpret those facts. Either of those are extremely rare phenomenon. An observational fallacy tends to hide contradicting facts and prevent them from being gathered once a conviction is formed. And in order to change a central or core belief requires a dramatic restructuring of an individuals ideological make up, which goes against our natural tendency to want to be correct and avoid uncertainty.

Separating Conviction from Emotional Stances:
Convictions are not emotional stances. When emotion moves a stance that stance cannot be grounded in conviction. The only things that a new emotion can affect is previous emotions. So therefore, if a stance changes based on new emotional agents introduced (such as empathy, fear, sadness, etc) then the stance is based upon emotions. Therefore, these emotional stances cannot be changed based on new facts or changes of belief. They can only be changed by a change in emotion.

An Application:
When Senators and Governors change their views on gay marriage because they find out one of their close relations is gay, usually a child, this change is usually one based off of emotions. Because it is not the fact that there is one more gay person in the world than expected or that their child may be influenced. It is because their fear of the foreign is replaced with either fear for their child, or empathy stemming from understanding based on more exposure to the thing that was foreign.

Similarly, if someone changes their stance on homosexuality or gay marriage based on greater exposure to gays and the gay community, this is an emotional change. The greatest strength and greatest weakness of emotional stances is how easy they are changed. All that is required is the introduction of a newer and stronger emotion.

On Artificial Convictions:
A further note should be added that convictions can also be artificially dictated and implanted into an individual. This artificial dictation happens to almost all individuals on at least some scale, based on the values, rules, and moral boundaries enforced on them as children by their cultural setting. This artificial construct can be as simple as the benefits of brushing teeth to the complex ideological structure of sexism. These artificial superstructures can become grafted into the individual's own personal convictions, however, in order for an artificial superstructure to work across a wide range of individuals, it cannot be flexible or adaptable, otherwise it would warp beyond recognition from person to person and would collapse into a more natural conviction forming process as described above. And that does occur for many individuals close to the quarter mark in life. If the superstructure remains in place, then it will at times create tensions between individuals' personal convictions and their superstructure convictions. The result is an internal conflict, resulting in divergent paths that both seem to be the morally correct thing to do. The individual will either have to compromise one of their convictions, resulting in severe feelings of guilt and often shame, which then materializes in self exploration, self condemnation, or aggressive justification. Or they will not make any decision at all, thereby not satisfying any of their moral calls to action, but at the very least not resulting in as much guilt as actually compromising a conviction would.

An Application:
This conflict between the superstructure of morality and the individual's personal moral convictions plays out clearly in the inaction of American Christians in the gay marriage debate. Because their artificial superstructure dictates that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage should be heterosexual and monogamous (all of which are not necessarily the end convictions of biblical knowledge - based on a biblical belief system interpreting the data in the world), but their personal convictions state that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and have the same rights and access to happiness. This moral contradiction creates a need for them either to violate their conviction in the Bible or their conviction in justice. And that is why so many American Christians are morally incapacitated by the debate over gay marriage. Because they cannot support either side without the feeling of guilt associated with the transgression of a moral conviction. This moral inaction can then only be justified by a surface reconciliation of the two moral convictions. This can occur in a number of ways, for example removing the actors from their actions e.g. "God hates the sin but still loves the sinner", or through a separate but equal kind of resolution e.g. "Civil Unions but not Marriage". And sometimes the reconciliation can come in a call for greater understanding, e.g. the "Let's Just Love People" stance.

Resolving the Problem of Moral Inaction:
This final surface reconciliation technique is the first step towards actual reconciliation of the moral contradiction felt by American Christians. For actual reconciliation to occur there has to be communication between the superstructure and the personal conviction, and a dialogue needs to occur that can call both sides into question. For this to occur there cannot be the feeling that either of the convictions are in danger. A conviction in danger results in a person avidly defending that conviction and shuting down any real communication because of the need to defend their stance to themselves. And the only way to relieve that sense of attack or of danger toward the conviction is through mutual understanding and trust. Which comes out of an easily acceptable common ground such as the "Let's Just Love People" stance.

The Method:
Once dialogue can begin, it becomes important to ask where convictions in the superstructure and the individual's personal moral convictions come from. This involves a deep exploration of the biases, the assumptions, the facts and how they were gathered, and where trust is being placed to form the conviction. This allows further common ground to be established between the two, which creates greater ease of dialogue. Which is important for the next part, which questions whether there is any chance the conviction on either side could be wrong and what the consequences for that incorrect conviction would be, in the short and the long term. This then requires a proper risk management assessment, to further inform what is at stake. Often this in and of itself is what dictates an individual's end conviction, though it is stronger if this merely helps to inform the end conviction.

The Aim:
This internal dialogue aims to come to a level of mutual understanding within the individual. To make a new conviction based off the former two, that doesn't leave the individual in a place of moral conflict. Rather, through close scrutiny of internal functions, the person can find a stance that does not violate their internal convictions by eliminating extraneous and unnecessary biases and preconceived ideas and instead focus on the core values they do not wish to violate.

A Caveat:
For this to be successful the individual has to be willing. That is the first step. A person who is set in their ways, and has no desire to assess their own inner workings will never be able to find moral resolution to their inaction. Instead, they will morally atrophy in their inaction and project that unsatisfied feeling outward, creating larger and larger facades of morality in order to mask the lack they feel within. They may donate more to causes, or express a sudden deep interest in some cause that they can support with both their superstructure as well as their personal convictions. No one can force anyone else to make the choice to find moral resolution. But these are the steps to finding it, if anyone is willing to seek it.

The Benefits for the Individual:
The benefit of this self exploration and resolution is that the individual is freed from their inaction and apathy. They are freed to make moral decisions and take actions that validate their moral stance and to still apply their personal belief sets while doing so. This is important in allowing the individual to function holistically as well as creating a healthier action set for approaching the world. As technology increases and the instant access to verifiable facts and resources (data and knowledge) increase, the various artificial ideological superstructures, such as Western Protestant Trinitarianism (the dominant form of Christianity in the United States and Northwestern Europe) as well as the Social Liberalism (specifically the dominant form found in most higher education institutions throughout the United States and most of Western Europe), will all experience increased conflict with individual's personal convictions.

The Benefits to the Community and the Public at Large:
Having this tool, this ability to reconcile, will not only help individuals continue functioning morally but will allow for greater understanding in larger cultural institutions as well as larger public forums on important moral and cultural decisions. In previous epochs of history, when large scale technological reforms have led to greater availability of knowledge, there has long been a tradition of decades and even centuries marked by blood and chaos. The printing press and its pamphlets precedes the Reformation, Counter Reformation, and centuries of Wars of Religion in Europe. The Enlightenment and its increase literary rate and access to books precedes a century of violent Revolutions throughout Europe and Asia. Throughout history whenever advancements in technology has increased access to data and knowledge, three groups of people were demarcated. Those who maintained their superstructure and their unchanging nature. Those who completely discarded their superstructure to create new moral structures based only on person convictions. And those who were caught in between, who could not ignore the new data being presented but who also did not wish to simply abandon their superstructures. And eventually it is the reconciliation of individuals, such as the historical Queen Elizabeth and her Acts of Toleration who stopped centuries of religious civil war and brought stability back to England, that eventually cause the bloodshed and violence to subside. The goal of this call to introspection is that as the cycle of violence is preparing to start again around cultural issues that call on morality, the individuals who bridge the gap, the ones who have this internal conflict, are the keys to prevention of violence. But before they can prevent that violence they must get past their inaction. They must stop and find internal reconciliation before they can look outward and bring cultural reconciliation.

Data+Belief=Knowledge+Certainty*=Conviction+Action(-Emotion)=Personal Conviction/Stance
*relative certainty, not absolute certainty

When Artificial Superstructure =/=  Personal Conviction = Inability to Take Moral Actions

Common Ground - Threat on Convictions + Inquiry = Expanded Artificial Superstructure + Expanded Personal Conviction = Greater Common Ground + Accurate Risk Assessment - Any Unknown Presuppositions or Assumptions = Basic Most Valued Moral Convictions = Reconciliation of Artificial Superstructure + Person Conviction = New Conviction - Inaction + Basic Most Valued Moral Convictions

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