The political polarization that has arisen in America and around the world seems to run counter to the evolution of human society toward democratic ideals of equality, basic independent rights, and a broader global management of nature and life on earth; however, it seems to me that the technological advances of mass social communication has only revealed a base natural characteristic into which most individuals fall back to find comfort and power in an uncertain world – absolutism. In essence, in order to find order in one’s life, one seeks to find a framework of absolutes to live by, bonds with others who agree with this set of absolutes, and quickly dismisses and rejects those who refuse to fit within this strict set of rules and beliefs. The uncertainty of decision-making is resolved by the internal acceptance that, in all circumstances, there is only one absolute right way with all else being the absolute wrong way. This determination can be conceived through religious doctrine or social theory, but one’s acceptance of an absolute interpretation relieves one of the guilt and angst of making a wrong decision, laying the blame for an unacceptable result on the actions of others who follow a different interpretation. However, this sense of absolutism can only undercut the delicate balance within the context of life itself.
Many of Aesop’s fables have simple morals that have guided me in life and influenced society through the centuries. However, I remember reading one fable that did not truly fit the concept of the moral presented and caused me to reflect on the flaw behind the absolute in the moral. I have seen a couple of ways the story is told, but one simple version is a king providing comfort to a traveler on a cold night. Basically, the tale has the traveler blowing on his hands and, upon questioning, states he is warming them up from the cold. The traveler is then provided with a bowl of stew, fresh from the fire, and he begins to blow on it. When questioned, he states that he is cooling the hot stew so he can eat it. At this point, the traveler is sent back out into the cold with a statement from the king that “no man could be trusted who blows both hot and cold.” The moral on its own is a caution against trusting or dealing with hypocritical individuals, yet the traveler was not a source of hypocrisy. His life and the lives of all creatures depends upon a range of temperature far from the extremes of absolute zero and the solar furnace. When a person blows out of his mouth, the air that comes out is in this normal balanced range, which means that it can transfer warmth to items that are colder, like skin subjected to a freezing night, as well as absorb energy from hotter items, like a bowl of stew fresh from a fire. In essence, the traveler was balancing the levels of hot and cold around him. However, the traveler was accused of expounding both extremes, because the king could only see life in the absolutes of hot and cold. Aesop had fallen under the trap of absolutism.
As I see it, this has become the course of political and moral discussion in today’s broadcast and social media. Although I do see true incidents of hypocritical actions at times, often I witness the accusation of sin, incompetence, or hypocrisy directed toward others because it is outside the accuser’s absolute narrow set of ethics. An individual who attempts to resolve an issue by finding common ground between two sides or seeking a suitable balance of needs is accused by absolutists of “trying to have it both ways,” as well as “totally violating a sacred rule or law.” Any view, balanced or otherwise, that exists outside an absolutist’s view is labeled extremist, and any action, that goes against the absolutist’s narrow laws, regardless of context or intent, is grouped and branded under the same accusation of failure or sin. In other words, it is easy for an absolutist to compare “apples and oranges,” because it is all just “bad fruit.” By following and judging others from an absolutist set of ethics, an individual is able to avoid having to analyze the actual context under which actions and events occur, which is probably why so many seek to accept a straight set of rules.
The truth is, to accurately and constantly analyze and fully understand the evolution of context in trying to make the right decision requires the omniscience of God, yet we are constantly strapped by the limitations postulated in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which forces us to make some decisions on faith, setting some of these decisions on a course to failure. However, I feel that if we do not try to hide behind a blind set of absolutism when events do not follow as we have planned, but rather use a broader set of principles to guide us while continuing to monitor the changing context of events around us, we can find a better balance in successfully connecting with a broader range of humanity and making more successful decisions. Yet, I am sure that there will be many who will claim that I am only “trying to have it both ways,” that my thought and actions are “violating their rights and freedom to bring the truth to others,” or that I will “suffer in hell for turning my back on God’s word.”