To paraphrase ten million pages of deep, dense, philosophical wordy meanderings (enough to fill a million academic careers), every person has an opinion on everything, and most of the time, those opinions are in violent opposition to the opinions of everyone else. Like, for example, the topic of the stupidity of cyclists to be, or not to be, on the road. Where the cars are. Who’s drivers are the kings of the universe and owners of the tar.
What we can get from the philosophical domain of, say, a place called Epistemology (look it up), is that the prospect for organising or otherwise arguing for a uniform view on debates like cyclist access to the roads, is zero.
The problem is that every single person out there sees the world through his or her own perspective and that perspective is always a work in the making based on his or her accumulative experiences and genetically programmed leanings. One thing is shared. We all pretty much devote our entire lives to seeking out validation for the positions we might hold and thus search for a reward of enhanced self importance through which to energise our search for yet more self-validation.
When we know about this stuff, and know it might be shaping the way we attach to any particular argument, we call that ‘reflexive thinking’. But almost no one is a genuine reflexive thinker, except, maybe, the Dalai Lama. Everyone might claim to be a Trump-level genius at being reflexive, but almost no one actually is. Just like most people claim to be ‘good drivers’ or even ‘open minded’. Very, very, few people ever are. Including YOU. Or me.
To paraphrase a certain odious person I once knew: ‘enough of that nonsense, let’s get to the real matters at hand’. And thus miss the entire point and prospect for that rarest of all things: an intelligent conversation.
I’ve just read a letter to the editor in a mainstream UK motorcycling magazine. In that letter, the writer claimed to be a keen cyclist who had become totally dispirited with cycling through the seemingly unresolvable dangers directed from aggressive and distracted motorists. So he decided to give up cycling and take up the vastly safer option of motorcycling instead. Naturally, the editor felt compelled to provide his personal vote of endorsement and recommend that anyone else dumb enough to be persisting with cycling should follow suit.
Just imagine the retinue of mindless drivel such a sentiment might spark on that great outlet for the semi-if not-totally illiterate, Facebook!
But it all gets worse when we realise, as Donald Trump and his embarrassing Australian counterparts, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Pauline Hanson have so profoundly demonstrated, that politicians can be and usually are no further removed from the mindless morons who pontificate on Facebook, only that those particular morons are actually empowered to make decisions (unlike their brethren on Facebook, who, thank your chosen deity, are not).
Now I am not defining a dumb decision as being dumb on the foundation only of being different to a choice I might have made; that’s the nature of being reflexive! No, but you can make judgements about a person’s point of view on the foundation of how informed that decision might have been. I want to see the track of reasoning and the various resources consulted en route to that position or decision. How much ‘research’ happened in the making of a position. What are the hidden and not so hidden assumptions? What’s the rich context within which that position was formulated? Including that person’s implicit and explicit cultural leanings, implicit and explicit areas of ignorance and knowledge. All our understandings are at best highly compromised and limited in terms of their accounting for available insight and collected human wisdom. No computer can ever determine anything on the foundation of complete knowledge, if only because that knowledge is always changing and shifting. All understandings are imperfect. No one is ever completely right, or completely wrong. In my opinion, and this is a big one, all knowledge is subjective. Which means there is no such thing as objective knowledge. Which means that there is no real truth out there. Other than that that editor who reckoned that we should give up cycling because motorcycling is safer is an idiot. But hey, I am being subjective that that’s objective.
What I am saying is that I am always deliriously aggrieved whenever some empowered turkey produces rules and regulations from the septic tank of their own context dependent understandings of how the world works. That really, really, annoys me. Why should I be burned off the earth because some redneck in parliament decides global warming is a myth? Or Why should I even be worried about global warming when some scientist boffin has decided global warming is real because his or her own black box algorithms have validated his or her own opinion on that matter as an outcome of his or her own rendering of his or her own opinions via the construction of said black box models! See what I mean by a subjective world…
My dog is so very lucky! He has no problems with the challenges of epistemological reflexivity. He’d do well on Facebook, if he could figure out how to type.
So, let’s get to that elusive point. I hear the arguments why cycling is bad and why I should desist. I hear the arguments as to why cycling is great and worthy of ever more investment of my time and money (not that that would be possible until I get a bigger shed). I hear the excuses people give to stay away from exercise despite their remarkable similarity to Jabba the Hut and perpetual habitation in Doctors’ waiting rooms. I am told I am doing too much riding. I think I can do even more. I am told cycling is killing me (as I slide off the BMI scale into the unchartered territory of ‘underweight’). I am told it is keeping me alive. I am told motorcycling is bad and cycling is good. I am told motorcycling is bad and cars are much better. It seems the only safe place to be is to take up residence in my doctor’s waiting room. But then again, I reckon the medical profession has become the neo-cult religion of our times (with Hospitals as cathedrals, doctors as priests, and faith healing the terms of trade, because all medical knowledge is incomplete and faith a necessity if you believe in any particular cure, or even in any particular diagnosis). There’s a few serious time-validated propositions I have adopted as objective as objective can be: cycling feels great, so does riding a motorbike so long as it’s a Harley-Davidson. Cars are like riding in a coffin. And are as boring as sitting in said Doctor’s waiting room. Or, as one great motorcycling journalist put it: motorcars are the equivalent of a metallic colostomy bag…which is rather suggestive of what he thinks about motorists who operate within that bag…
I will stick to cycling on the road until Pauline Trump Joyce finally makes it illegal to do so and then I will continue to ride anyway. Because I don’t believe idiots like that should ever be listened to. At least not by me.