markpasc (markpasc) wrote,


David Weinberger, before making his final point about the nature of the Web:

A realist in ordinary terms is someone who doesn't let his (and I use the male pronoun on purpose) personal opinions and wishes get in the way of his judgment. The business manager who takes over a meeting by pulling out a spreadsheet doesn't just objectively lay out a case. No, he uses knowledge, often more a matter of attitude than of content, to shut everyone else up. He now controls the conversation. What's more, he implies that everyone else lacks the guts to face the facts. Optimism in this environment is made to feel like a refuge for dreamers and girly-men. Instead, the realist assumes, we need to “face facts” because then we can manage our fate. In a peculiar way, realism buys us the illusion that we can master a world that is not of our making; we just have to be hardheaded enough. Realism is denial.

The realist often takes tough-mindedness as a virtue. Those he silences are made to feel that they lack the moral fiber to look reality squarely in the eye. Thus, the realist lords it over others not just because of his firmer grasp of the facts but also because of his moral superiority. But although there are certainly times when hardheaded realism is called for, it limits focus to achieve a pragmatic goal. And that's no way to lead your life. Realism is strong medicine that must be used cautiously because it suspends ways of thinking that are essential components of human existence such as dreaming, imagining, supposing, wishing, and hoping. Worse, it presents a view of our relationship to the world that misses the heart of that relationship. Our default realism focuses on the hard-edged things of our world. It is more comfortable with objects having clear and distinct boundaries than with the relationships among things. Ask a realist for an example of a real thing and he will kick the nearest rock because it is bounded, stable, the same no matter what relationships you put it into. Our default realism distrusts relationships because relationships depend on the things related: if three stones are aligned, move a stone and the relationship changes; but change the relationship and the stones stay the same. Dependency is taken as a sign of lack of realness. (It is no accident that dependency is taken as weakness in our culture's default psychology as well.) Our default realism carries this thinking over to people; for example, it sees social groups as less real than the people who compose them.

But this once again gets the causality backwards, at least for the relationships that count. Change a stone's relationships and the stone stays the same, but change my relationships, and you change me. Take me out of my relationships, and I don't stay the same. Never put me into relationships—give me no family, no nation, no culture, no language, no religion—and I am not me. To say that we are social creatures is to say that our relationships make us who we are. Knowledge, language, events, even the very perception of real things like rocks, all depend on our living in a world that is a deeply interrelated context of meanings.

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