Dinner: proposition, challenge, clash, mutual discontent. How does one reconcile radically different worldviews between two headstrong individuals? Can the rational discussion of ideas simply and inevitably lead to consensus, or even comity? In my experience, no―not if it’s devoid of a larger context.
“Why do the spiritual and the transcendent bother you so much? Is it because you can’t control them in your head?” “
“Why must you obfuscate human experience with appeals to irrational notions that have no explanatory power? Are you just trying to make your views supremely abstract so they can’t be qualified?”
If you’re thinking that these two individuals’ analyses of one another are cynical beyond belief, I’d agree. However, they provide key insights into how tensions can be reduced, and the actual subtext that drives each speaker’s motivations and insecurities. This is the all-too-often neglected process of conversation and its inalienable role as the substructure of content. I’d bet my house that you encounter it multiple times a day, but are seldom aware of it.
The first person: creative, imaginative, sensorial, with a romantic disposition. The second: analytical, deconstructive, reductionistic, incapable of escaping the clutches of rationalism.
On the surface, it seems as though these two people occupy disparate poles whose potential for mutual approximation is about as likely as the two of them having a cordial supper. Yet, they share a whole set of presuppositions in their philosophies. One could go down to the bottom and list said commonalities, but it wouldn’t facilitate healthier dialogue.
What, then, can be extracted from the boisterous racket that constitutes their evening meal?
Let’s take the first questioner. She believes that not only does her interlocutor dismiss said realms of reality, but that they may even be painful or anxiety-inducing for him to entertain. A petrifying fear, causing him to be so fantastically local in his thinking that he can’t conceive of anything that trespasses the borders of his brain.
He’s the ultimate theorist, in a pejorative sense. Needing every proposition and phenomenon thinkable to function by his specific brand of internal machinery―G.K. Chesterton’s maligned logician. Unsympathetic to anything that evades rabid reductionism, and hostile to ideas that fly above the gravitational pull of the secular.
What of the rationalist’s inquisitions? His wording conveys a salient theme: objections to fog, a distaste for hermeneutics and a lack of vital certainty. Language has ceased to become a tool to facilitate interaction and proximity―it’s now constructing an impenetrable wall.
For somebody who enjoys deconstruction, he seems keen on reinforcing his fortress. The only solution it seems, then, is to stop trying to demolish someone else’s belief system to bolster and sustain his own.
An all-too-familiar homily
My sister’s most recent visit went a little differently. After having eaten, she joined me in my room and began scanning my library. We, or rather, I excitedly discussed a multitude of ideas from different intellectuals and polymaths that I found most provocative and insightful.
I thought it was honourable to select authors whose works I didn’t necessarily agree with, but with whom my sister could identify, such as Jung’s seminars, anthologies of magic and witchcraft stories, the Buddhist Dhammapada and the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata.
Once I’d felt I’d presented enough material that was significant to her, I then explained some of the religious philosophical works I admired, such as Slavoj Zizek’s interpretation of Hegel’s Christianity, Simone Weil’s odd transformation from Marxist revolutionary to radical theist, and Imam Al-Bukhari’s collection of Hadith on etiquette and the Islamic qualification of isnads (chains of oral tradition and their authenticity dating back to the prophet Muhammad.)
Suddenly, I experienced a pang of conscience―I hadn’t stopped talking for nearly an hour. I may have tried to foster a connection and show a modicum of respect for what I believed were her sympathies, but she never got the chance to confirm or deny them.
She politely requested to share something she’d recently done. I balked, knowing it would make me uncomfortable. She explained her experience with a Reiki master and regressive reincarnation classes. Essentially, a person is said to learn about their current demeanour and proclivities by examining the circumstances of their previous lives.
For her, this was eye-opening and of the utmost value; I can’t say the same. As she elaborated on the details and wove connections between different possibilities to address the symptoms of our contemporary relationship, my head swelled with objections and skepticism. I had a value judgment to make. I could either express my doubts and contempt for these conclusions, or I could simply shut up and listen, for once.
I’m proud to say I chose the latter, and I now know that I’m able to do so. I don’t believe I’ll always have that much resolve or patience, let alone that we’ll never have another argument about what constitutes reality. What I do know is that I rose above myself and my insecurities, even for just a fleeting moment.
Just for a short while, I left my atmosphere, the world above the cerebral cogs and factory, where everything that’s merciless exists: the unknown unknowns, their unmitigated intangibility and the inevitability of a fall. Its thin air is austere and initially suffocating, but it’s still more survivable than the industrial emissions.
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