Back in my San Jose State College undergraduate days I took an Epistemology class.
Don't remember much about it, aside from writing a paper on the subject of Zen and Naive Realism. Might even still have it tucked away in a storage box.
Today I came across that term, naive realism, again. I resonated with what psychologist Jonathan Haidt says in his fascinating book, "The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom."
Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don't agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.
...It just seems plain as day, to the naive realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are.
...If I could nominate one candidate for "biggest obstacle to world peace and social harmony," it would be naive realism because it is so easily ratcheted up from the individual to the group level. My group is right because we see things as they are.
Those who disagree are obviously biased by their religion, their ideology, or their self-interest. Naive realism gives us a world full of good and evil, and this brings us to the most disturbing implication of the sage's advice about hypocrisy: Good and evil do not exist outside of our beliefs about them.
...The myth of pure evil is the ultimate self-serving bias, the ultimate form of naive realism.
...Idealism easily becomees dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. If you are fighting for good or for God, what matters is the outcome, not the path.
...In philosophy classes, I often came across the idea that the world is an illusion. I never really knew what that meant, although it sounded deep. But after two decades studying moral psychology, I think I finally get it.
The anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun." That is, the world we live in is not really one made of rocks, trees, and physical objects; it is a world of insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals, saints, and sinners.
All of these are human creations which, though real in their own way, are not real in the way that rocks and trees are real.
So how do we get out of the web that we have spun for ourselves? Or at least see the web for what is it: our own creation, not objective reality.
In a conflict, look at the world from your opponent's point of view, and you'll see that she is not entirely crazy.
...once anger comes into play, people find it extremely difficult to empathize with and understand another person. A better place to start is, as Jesus advised, with yourself and the log in your own eye.
...When you first catch sight of a fault in yourself, you'll likely hear frantic arguments from your inner lawyer excusing you and blaming others, but try not to listen. You are on a mission to find at least one thing that you did wrong.
When you extract a splinter it hurts, briefly, but then you feel relief, even pleasure. When you find a fault in yourself it will hurt, briefly, but if you keep going and acknowledge the fault, you are likely to be rewarded with a flash of pleasure that is mixed, oddly, with a hint of pride.
It is the pleasure of taking responsibility for your own behavior. It is the feeling of honor.
..You can still believe you are right and the other person is wrong, but if you can move to believing that you are mostly right, and your opponent is mostly wrong, you have the basis for an effective and nonhumiliating apology.
Haidt is right. I'm proud of what I did this morning. And pleased with how good it made me feel.
Today's Oregonian had a piece by the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: "An Outbreak of Lawlessness." I noticed it when I turned to the opinion section. A quick glance convinced me I wouldn't agree with it.
After all, I liked that the Senate did away with filibusters on presidential appointments and most judicial nominations. And I feel that as flawed as the Obamacare rollout is, it certainly isn't "lawless."
But a few hours later what I'd read in Haidt's book began to have an effect on me. I thought about how ridiculous it was that I didn't want to expose myself to a different viewpoint. What was I afraid of? Why was I so reluctant to read Krauthammer's column?
I went back and read it.
Amazingly, I could almost agree with some of it. I definitely could understand why conservatives were upset with Obama when I visualized how I'd feel if George W. Bush had done similar things (well, actually Bush did do this, and I was indeed upset).
After reading the column I felt better, not worse.
I realized that sometimes I can be as closed-minded as conservatives who I like to apply that epithet to. Just as Haidt said, the pain of that realization was much outweighed by a sense of relief.
I'm not perfect. I get things wrong. My vision of reality is clouded. Just as everyone else's is. Including Krauthammer's.
If we try to see the world from different perspectives, likely we'll view it more clearly. Believing that we see things as they are is without foundation both philosophically and neuroscientifically.
What's naive is considering that naive realism is true.