Saturday, July 30, 2011

Differing perspectives

Last week one of the blogs I follow posted an “upside down” world map, which, in turn, came from a well-known site. These maps pop up on the web from time to time, so they’re not particularly novel. However, the blogger added, “There's no up or down from outer space.”

True enough (and that’s what inspired me to post the two NASA photos of earth, above, flipped around). In an absolute sense, there is no “correct” way to view the earth from space—the way we normally see it, the way it is in the photos above, sideways, whatever.

However, if we take the ecliptic plane as a visual point of reference, then it’s just as logical to see “up” as being what we call south (again, as in the photos above). The rotation of the earth isn’t relevant for determining up and down because planets can rotate in either direction and, in fact, the earth rotates both ways: From directly above the geographic north pole, the planet rotates from right to left. Looked at it from directly above the geographic south pole, the planet rotates in the more familiar left to right. Similarly, from above the equator with north at top, the earth rotates from left to right; put the south at top, and the rotation seems revered.

So, if there’s no “correct” answer to even which end of the earth is up, or which way it appears to be rotating, how many other unchallenged assumptions may, in fact, contain multiple “correct” viewpoints? I think this applies to human behaviour, and politics, too, but this idea of relativity of belief drives the rightwing thoroughly round the bend. They demand a world with constants and absolutes—that’s a definition of what a conservative is. The farther right a person is, the greater their certainty in their own certainty.

We humans are good at inventing plenty of absolutes for ourselves, and also complete belief systems to foster and reinforce the idea that there’s only one “correct” way of viewing some issues. I like the expression that says people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. It gets at the centre of this: Just because a conservative declares that they alone have “truth” and only their views are “correct” doesn’t make it so.

People on the left can also have unchallenged assumptions, unjustified faith in their own “correctness” and, like conservatives, this becomes more pronounced the farther from the centre one is. There’s one important difference, however: Liberals’ certainty in the “correctness” of their beliefs leads to greater tolerance and acceptance of others, while conservatives’ certainty leads to less tolerance, less acceptance—and less freedom.

It would be nice if sometimes conservatives were capable of looking at the world from a different perspective, of considering the possibility that even if they’re convinced that they alone have absolute “truth”, they have no right to force that “truth” on to those who see the world differently.

The photos above show a view of “up” that is equally as correct as the conventional view. Being able to understand that—and the implications—is one of the most profound differences between liberals and conservatives. It’s okay to have differing perspectives; it’s not okay to act is if there’s only one “correct” perspective for everything.

No comments: