Wednesday, November 16, 2005

why am i not a gold coin?

Grandma' taught me a saying that goes like this: "I'm not a gold coin to fit everyone's pocket". I think the saying is true, apart from my bias, because it must be true. Grandma's lesson intended to show me why I couldn't be cherished or loved by all of them (all of my friends, all of my neighbors, all of my classmates). But I think the lesson goes deeper. I think it shows us why our ideas will never (and can never) be shared by everyone, our arguments will never (and can never) convince everyone and our job and views will never (can never) be appreciated by everyone.

I was thinking today on how easily it is for a student to shift from one view to another, from one writer to another, from one theory to another, and more. Underlying all this shifting there is, suppossedly, a common thread. Something that explains why you keep shifting. If you are a reasonable person, chances are you are shifting from one to the other because there is something common to both which you are chasing (or at least, you think or thought there is or was something like that). Ideally, that common thing or thread will be truth. Ideally - or at least that's what we would say when asked 'why do you now believe in X and not in Y like yesterday?' - we shift because the old view is not as truthful as we thought unlike the new one which (at least for the next couple minutes)is certainly true.

But that's not all there is to this story. There are also cases where you find yourself utterly incapable to believe in something. Perhaps the new theory is not so good, or so convincing, or so atractive. Perhaps the new philosopher in the block, the new argument on the table, the new book in the journals, just doesn't fit your belly. So, it is not true (or at least not always) that we shift so easily from one theory to the next, eating books like crackers.

There are many ways in which you can explain this allegedly anti-evolution measure. One is very simple: you just don't follow because you just don't understand (although, one must accept, a lot of people don't have trouble in following even when they don't understand - this sounds like an oximoron, how can you follow something that you don't understand? what is it that you are following?). Another explanation is a little bit more interesting: you understand but you just have too many fixed beliefs already, so you better stay with the old ones. A third one might be this one: you don't believe in the new theory because you just think it is mistaken, because your guts tell you there is something wrong. More often than not, when this third option is the case you also get the feeling that you are loosing track of something. The thread of proper evolution perhaps. Who knows? Truth is: everyone claims to understand and follow that line and you just can't do it. What is wrong with you?

Today I found myself in a situation pretty much like the third one above. It was one of those cases where no one, except for you obviously, dares to ask such questions, have such doubts, and make such bold claims ase you in the middle of the seminar. And then you, me, ask yourself, myself, what is wrong? My answer: nothing! Even more, it's not only that there is nothing wrong, but there shouldn't be anything wrong. And this is such because you are not a gold coin; and not only, you shouldn't be a gold coin to fit everyone's pocket, or everyone's theoretical pockets.

If it is true that one shifts from view to view because you're keeping track of the underlying thread of truth that moves on in our historical world, then, for the same reason, you should be able to stop the shifting and listen to your guts. And that reason falls under the label: 'to follow a maxim of consistency and responsibility'. I don't know if 'consistency and responsibility' should be read morally, logically, epistemologically or what not. But you should certainly do both, shift and stop shifting, at least for a matter of consistency and even more for responsibility.

And that is why you are not a gold coin. Because if you want to fit everyone's pocket, everyone's theoretical pocket, chances are that you are looking for fame, not for truth; or for friends, not the good.

And even more, you shouldn't be a gold coin. An ideal world would be such that all our theories consistently fit in all our pockets. That is to say, an ideal world is such where we not only get true theories, but where we only get those theories. Our world, let me tell you, is not one of those. Our world is such that it's full of theories, varieties of theories, competing theories and, more importantly, incompatible, mutually excluding theories. I'm sad to say this but, so it is that you can't blindly follow the next theory, the next philosopher, the next argument or book. This given, if you want to be morally or epistemologically correct, you don't want to be a gold coin; because gold coins fit everyones pockets, and those pockets do not fit well into each other at all. And that is why you shouldn't be a gold coin. That is why you shouldn't think there is something wrong with sometimes being the outsider. In such a world where you'll never be certain about the truthfulness of your beliefs, perhaps the best you can do is to be responsible and get some consistency here and there.

The best you can do is to avoid anyone's pocket, and any pocket for that matter; stop being a coin and stick to yourself. Whatever that might be it will certainly be better and more praiseworthy than any shifty coin with no head or tail, and no substance at all. Gold coins are omnidoxastic folks, and that has to be wrong. Because you are not a gold coin, and you shouldn't be one.

[coming soon: "we can't go home"]