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That’s a Mountain, I’m a Tree – Religion and Politics

I can’t tell you just how many people have complained about others expressing their beliefs, but if I had to guess, I would account the number of those who have to be larger than those who haven’t.

There are a good many things folks believe with which I disagree, but if the individuals in question actually elaborate on exactly what makes them feel justified in what they believe, we have a good starting point for discussion and—dare I say it—argument.

People take argument to be a bad thing, but in reality, it’s a necessary thing. It’s not the “bad thing” to set the record straight, incivility is the bad thing. If we can agree to disagree with civility, we will still disagree, but we need not do so in ways that make us want to harm or kill one another. And in the process of disagreement, perhaps one or both of us will learn something we didn’t already know. In the worst case, we will walk away continuing to disagree. Somewhere in between, somebody will realize his or her argument was flawed in some way (which may lead to a change of heart, or at least a “retooling” of his or her argument). In the best case, one or both will realize they were wrong in foundational ways, and will end up agreeing.

The best case is fairly uncommon, because it requires folks to face the thing most of them like least of all, being incorrect—and worse yet, being incorrect about something the which they care strongly about.

I’m not talking about arguing over what to have for lunch here (which can be a pretty substantial argument, mind you). I’m talking about arguments in basic and fundamental tenets of one’s existence and surrounding the world at large.

To use the old saw, I say all that to say this. Sometimes a fundamental belief a person holds is flawed. Let me give you an example.

Someone about whom I care recently cited the statement of another, who said something like the following, “I don’t understand how you can say you ‘don’t agree with’ my being a tree. That’s like saying you don’t agree with a mountain being a mountain. It doesn’t make the mountain any less a mountain.” What they said was not nearly so succinct, wasn’t nearly so politely expressed, and didn’t look as bizarre, as they chose something it was expected was “normal” in that person’s world.

The funny thing is, you’re being or not being a tree (or gay, or a male when biologically female, or frankly whatever) is not what’s at issue here.

The real problem is one of external identification versus self identification. You see, the mountain, didn’t wake up one day and decide it was a mountain. Nor was it “born believing” it was a mountain. The mountain, rather was externally identified as a mountain. And though there are those who might disagree with that identification, as a rule, if something is identified externally, and a sufficient number of folks can agree that the identity is valid, we can at least argue that to some, that is a mountain.

In the case of self identification however, some person or other sentient entity decides they or it is or are something. They may actually be the thing which they self identify as being. Then again, they may not. The corroboration for that fact is not in that individual making a decision they are or are not a particular thing, then asserting to the world at large that such is the case. Nor is it by necessity or in reality, about finding a bunch of like-minded folks to agree that the being is what it asserts itself to be.

I started (and will likely finish at some point), writing an article on something that somewhat “morphed into” an article on the concept of standards. It  turns out that this article tends to lead down the same path.

You see, determining what something is, requires having standards. If one doesn’t have standards, it is not just possible for something to identify as something it is not, it’s possible for people to identify things to meet their desires, regardless reality.

If you don’t think that’s a problem, allow me to give you a reason you might want to change your mind. If I tell you that a traffic light is red when in fact it’s green, and you’re responsible for traffic control, without taking the time to confirm my assertion and find yourself in agreement with it, you may decide that the “opposing light” should be green, since the one it “works against” is red.

This is one of many examples. Imagine that I tell you a car is in “perfect working order” when I sell it to you, but when you buy it and try to drive it, you find it lacks an engine! If I am allowed to set a standard that says “perfect working order” means “everything that’s present is operational,” and you have an expectation that the vehicle will operate as a vehicle should, our difference in standards is assuredly an issue. And though the examples are matters of external  identification, the same by necessity must apply to self identification. That is to say, there must be standards, and as a rule they must be outside of a single individual’s consciousness.

By way of example, because the physiology of Jewish folks makes them more susceptible to Epstein-Barr virus, or a person of African familial origin to hypertension or sickle cell anemia, if a person chooses to “self identify” as not being Jewish or of African heritage, it will be a great deal harder to track down what afflicts them. That’s not a matter of my attempting to separate folks by “race” (a thing which folks who know me, are aware, I don’t even believe in), it’s a matter of scientifically observable phenomena.

And just because you can’t see a way that misidentifying or mischaracterizing something “hurts” anything, doesn’t mean such a “way” doesn’t exist. Put another way, misidentification can have literally tragic results.

My final thought. External Identification is not nearly always correct, but it is a mechanism by which folks can agree what someone or something is. Equally, self identification can be correct or incorrect, by contrast though, if self identification doesn’t match external identification, it’s more likely to be of little to no value—and that’s in cases where it’s not harmful.

As always, thanks for reading, and may your time be good.

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