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Vincit Veritas

Entry 2087, on 2020-11-06 at 17:30:32 (Rating 4, Comments)

Many people today, especially our amazing and famous prime minister (sarcasm alert!), have been extolling the virtues of kindness. It makes sense, doesn't it? We are going through a period of history which is difficult for most of us, so why not exercise a bit of kindness to try to make it all a bit more bearable?

Well, sure, I can partially agree with that. I mean, I don't think things are quite as bad as people think. COVID is bad, but not as bad as many people imagine it is. And politics in the world today is chaotic, but it really doesn't represent the existential crisis many people seem to believe exists. But kindness seems like a good principle to pursue whatever the current state of the world, so why not?

If we could have more kindness without sacrificing other positive phenomena I would be fully on board with the idea. But, of course, we can't, because the one beneficial concept which is often negated by kindness is truth.

Sacrificing truth, especially in a political context, is a dangerous action to take. A politician (not thinking of anyone in particular) might ask us to be kind to try to get through the pandemic, but by doing that we fail to engage in an appropriate level of evaluation and criticism of that politician's policies. I might say that the complete opposite is true: during periods of crisis we should be even more vigilant than we might be during other times.

In my interactions with people on-line, I often seem to come across as being unkind, because I sometimes take a view which opposes the accepted orthodoxy. But disagreeing with someone is different from being obnoxious, aggressive, or arrogant. At least it can be!

My discussions seem to end in one of several different ways. Most of the time, I make a particularly good point and my opponent disengages from the debate and is never seen again. On other occasions there is a sort of ceasefire where we agree to disagree, because the topic under discussion might involve subjective assessments which have no right or wrong answer. And finally, there is the best outcome from my perspective: the participants understand a little bit more about the other's perspective; they see that there is some merit in both sides of the debate; and, most importantly, they see that the other person isn't an evil racist or a naive fool, they are just a person who has a different perspective.

Just today I completed a debate on Facebook about a very contentious subject: Maori culture, and while several of my opponents (I tend to debate several people at once) dropped out without trace, like the first category I listed above, one of them met me at a mutually agreed point and we completed the discussion in a "kind" way. In fact we both mentioned how we would enjoy further interaction on that sort of subject in future.

So I'm fairly sure that the others who dropped out of the debate part way through thought I was some sort of far-right, racist, misogynist nutter. But the person who honestly engaged and kept rational probably realised I was a reasonable person with a somewhat different perspective and set of interests from her.

The Baxter family motto is "vincit veritas", meaning "the truth will prevail" or "truth wins", or something similar. Needless to say, I'm pretty happy with that, especially in comparison to other mottos, like "in cruce salus" (salvation from the cross), "dum spiro spero" (while I breathe I hope), "in Deo confido" (I trust in God), "labore et honore" (labour with honour), "constans et fidelis" (steady and faithful), and "ora et labora" (pray and labour).

Then there are truly terrible ones, like "spero meliora" (I hope for better things). Really? That's all you could come up with? And finally "touch not a cat, but a glove". What is that all about? And why is there no Latin version? Lame!

On the other hand, there are a few pretty cool mottos, like the Bond family's "nemo me impune lacessit" (no one provokes me with impunity). I suggest a new line for the next Bond movie: "Bond, James Bond; nemo me impune lacessit".

So yes, I take truth very seriously, along with free speech and trolling! And sure, I do admit to sometimes engaging in arguments just for a bit of fun, but there is almost always a more serious element beneath the surface where I genuinely want to challenge what I see as fake narratives, lack of deep thought on a subject, and (especially) unthinking political correctness!

It's very easy to classify people according to artificial criteria which are grossly simplistic, and this is often the factor blocking a worthwhile discussion with people with alternative views to your own.

For example, when someone sees me rejecting special privileges for Maori, they assume I'm a racist, yet all I want is for everyone to be treated equally, and I work with many Maori people and treat them with the same respect as everyone else.

And if I have major misgivings about abortion, it's not because I'm a misogynist who wants to take rights away from women. It's more that I want the unborn child to have the rights that it deserves, and sometimes that overrides the woman's rights. And people shouldn't reject that opinion because it comes from a male. If it's wrong, say why, instead of attacking the messenger. Again, I work with, and know as friends, many women, and apart from a few controversial comments, I generally treat them with as much (or more) respect as I do men - or gender non-binary people; wow, I almost left them out!

And I have some problems about trans people having the full rights of their new gender. There are some situations where men (or people who now identify as women and were previously thought of as men - sheesh, see how hard it is to discuss this without offending someone?) do enjoy advantages over women; that's why we have separate categories for men and women in most sports. So I think I partly agree with the TERFs on this one, and I never thought I would say that! But again, I treat trans people as real people. In fact when a friend transitioned I treated her with more respect than almost anyone else.

So people should see that there is a place for nuance in these contentious debates. You're not either for minority privileges or a racist, or against abortion or a misogynist, or completely supportive of every right a trans person demands or transphobic.

Because if you really want to avoid being misogynistic, racist, transphobic, etc, etc then there is one thing you will need to give up: the truth. There is almost always a choice between kindness and truth. And remember my motto: vincit veritas!

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Comment 1 (5602) by Anonymous on 2020-11-09 at 15:38:48:

I am an ardent defender of both free speech and the incessant search for truth in all matters. And I believe somewhere in this tangle there is also room for kindness without compromising either or both too much. How often have you failed truthfully to tell someone to leave their hands off computers because they are too stupid for it?

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Comment 2 (5603) by OJB on 2020-11-10 at 09:22:51:

I accept that point. I shouldn't have implied that the truth should prevail in all cases, despite the motto I discussed above. There are situations where the truth isn't that important and other factors - such as kindness - might take precedence. After all, "white lies" are well established as a fair response in many cases. However, I would say that in any situation of consequence involving big issues, public good, etc is usually best to give priority to truth over other factors.

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Comment 3 (5604) by OJB on 2020-11-10 at 09:25:32:

I have never told anyone they are too stupid to use a computer. In fact, I don't think I have even really thought that, except as a bit of a joke. I have advised people to slow down and think, or not be so unnecessarily cautious, or to ask before acting when using a computer. Has that helped? Maybe.

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