Saturday, June 20, 2009

Objective Perspective

There were sixty of us at the conference. The anticipation wasn't. No-one was visibly excited. Everyone seemed to have dragged themselves through the scree, and into the stiflingly dull meeting hall.

The muffins were nice. The coffee? Not so much. Too bitter.

I swear the thrumming murmurs of the crowd was blending into one oceanic ohm. I felt if I had to hear it much more than the 5 minutes I'd already been there, I'd fall asleep standing.

But then the classic microphone tap-cum-feedback shocked me out of my growing catatonia. I was grudgingly aware.

A speaker was introduced. I don't know who it was. I was too busy trying to recapture the ennui from a moment ago. It seemed a better course than the one I was barreling into, out of control and with an ever-increasing sense of nausea.

Why nausea? Because that's what happens when your dread anticipations of an event are confirmed in reality by the cackling laughter of a pep-talk speaker who can't seem to get her kindergaarten idioms out of her adult speech.

"Good attendence, people!" She beamed almost as loud as her metallic red and white striped blouse. "You really have shocked me today with how wonderfully happy, and aware you seem."

I think she was still sleeping, actually. She seemed to be in a private dreamworld. The crowd, with eyes at half-mast, seemed to provide an object lesson largely in opposition to the speaker's felicitous naivety.

Her topic? "The Objective Workplace". Wow. An electric excitement rippled through the crowd. Eyes went wide, and lips curved into interested smiles almost in unison.

I'm lying. Everybody stayed pretty much the way they were: disengaged, disinterested, and hoping for an out-of-body experience.

But then it happened. She made a comment that set my brain to thinking (which can sometimes be a good thing, believe it or not). She said, "We always have to keep an objective frame of mind."

I wondered, at first, what subjective layerings she had to go through to parrot that popular sentiment. But then I stopped wondering because it was having a negative impact on my ability to stay bored and disinterested. If I lost that much, I'd have an unwanted lack of cynicism to aide me in my festering disdain for these kinds of empty educational venues. And that just wouldn't do.

But it did.

And my mind started churning. My hand followed suit with a black-ink rapier. And against my better judgmentalism, I penned these words:

Objectivity is an ideal -- a common one. Unfortunately, it is practically impossible.

All people are subjective, biased, and prejudiced one way or another. We cannot, by dint of existential experience, lay aside personal investment to achieve pure, ultra-cognitive, or suprarational objectivity.

'Objectivity' is necessarily outside human capacity.

Once I had written that down, I was able to recapture my angst and continue feeling unreservedly disinterested in the presentation. Thank you, Philosophy, for rescuing me.

*Please make note that the preceding was an unbiased, even objective look at a subjectively motivated perspective, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the writer involved. Naturally. ;)


Anonymous said...

Thank God for “empty (headed) educational venues”. Some of my best inspiration has resulted from such events (Sunday School and church sermon included).
My question: do you think it is possible to have what could be called an authentic objectivity as long as it is communicated that the objectivity is defined by a set of parametres? For instance, I am a political cartoonist who likes to say that I am unbiased and unswayed by any political thought or agenda. However, I know that this is not true. Thus far, I believe I have managed to keep my political views vague, at least enough to confuse my critics. Some people think I am of a Liberal mind, others are convinced I am a social democrat (NDP), while a few actually say that I am a red-neck conservative. From my belief in justice, as defined by what I understand of the God of the Bible in the person of Jesus Christ, and through natural human rights, which could also be construed as coming from God since we were created to reflect His character, I attempt to lampoon all parties equally. This does not change the fact that I DO have political beliefs that DO form a foundation from which my views are expressed. So, if you and I know this, is it possible to consider myself an objective and unbiased person from within the parametres of our shared beliefs?
Of course, perhaps I am simply proving what you call a practical impossibility and outside human capacity. That to say my objectivity is defined, of my own choosing, by paramatres A and B makes my objectivity subjective to my objectives as define by my parametres. Ouch, my head.
Perhaps it is impossible for any human to be fully objective. All that we are as humans has been subjectively implanted in us through our culture, environment and other factors.
Alas, where does that leave us? For what may be reasonable and objective to me may be completely biased to you. How can we possibly agree on anything of substance unless we seek out people of like mind and objectivity to confer with under the banner of our mutually agreed upon objectives?
Thank you for your clever and mind-bending observation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on objectivity.
I agree with Chris that it is impossible to be totally objective, but then I believe it is not only impossible but undesirable.
I don't think being subjective is a negative trait, although I do see merit in the statement that it is sometimes hard "to see the forest for the trees".
I have a fridge magnet that reminds me of something similar; it says, "Barn's burnt down. Now I can see the moon."
You can be subjective and bring all of the richness of your life experience (including relationship with the Lord) to something and enrich that experience because of what you bring to it.
Obviously scientists understand the impossibility of total objectivity and that is why they have such large groups of test subjects.
I am glad that we do not live our lives, day by day, scientifically, as if collecting data.
So, I do not agree with the statement that "Objectivity is an ideal" or that it is unfortunate that it is impossible.
I do not believe we were created to be "objective".
Just as the Father is in a triune relationship, we were created for relationship, which is ever-changing.
The other thing I have difficulty with is why someone would want to "recapture" their angst. Each day has enough trouble of its own without trying to recapture some negative feeling that we have temporarily lost a grip on.
God is always reminding us of what is good despite what we see.
I guess if anyone can bring objectivity to our lives, it is He (Him?).
That is why we walk by faith and not by sight ... why it is so important to weigh what we see and experience over and against what His Word says and what we see in the person of Jesus Christ.
I do not trust my feelings, totally, because I know they are not totally objective -- but I would sure miss them. They bring a broad spectrum of colour to my world and, hopefully, I share that in the lives of others.
I feel like Miss Goody Two Shoes of this column, but those are my thoughts on this.
One of the wonderful things about being subjective and not objective is that we make room for learning from others and not just observing them (just the facts, Jack).
What a dull existence it would be to be totally objective (IMHO).

Christopher said...


Took me a while to respond to you, but here I am. I hope you can forgive the lapse.

Anyway, you wrote: "The other thing I have difficulty with is why someone would want to "recapture" their angst. Each day has enough trouble of its own without trying to recapture some negative feeling that we have temporarily lost a grip on."

When I wrote this piece, I was being sarcastic and ironic the whole way through. With, of course, the exception of the actual observations concerning objectivity; those were serious. That being said, the idea of 'recapturing' my 'angst' was simply an effort at maintaining the ironic theme of the article.

In reality, I'm quite happy to get rid of as much angst as I can. Though I will say that I was quite tempted to hold on to my angst at the convention the article notes; it was the most treacherously, and insidiously boring even I've ever been in. Hence why recapturing my angst was much, much, MUCH more entertaining than the maniacal drollery I was enduring at the time.

Christopher said...


On a different note, you observed the following:

"God is always reminding us of what is good despite what we see.
I guess if anyone can bring objectivity to our lives, it is He (Him?)."

Bishop George Berkeley (d. 14 Jan. 1753) was concerned about the notion of perception. In a nutshell, he was confounded by how anyone can be assured of actual existence since we have imperfect perceptions about reality (subjectivity). His solution was to suggest that since God perceives everything that is actual, He is able to (objectively) substantiate our existence via His infinitely meticulous perception of all aspects of existence.

All that to say that you've hit on a famous resolution to the philosophical problem of objectivity. ;)

"I feel like Miss Goody Two Shoes of this column, but those are my thoughts on this."

Good. Keep feeling that way. I'm happy that you do. We need a little sweet here to compliment the sour.

God bless you,

Christopher said...


We agree. Again. ;)

Thank you for your reflections. I always love reading your thoughts. You should write for St. Cynic.

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

I wondered if the writer was you.
I'm glad you haven't made friends with your angst ... but, then again, I recall living in a small town in Saskatchewan with a "Main Street" and cranking Bob Seger's "Main Street" (I loved that song then). Somehow his angst seemed to match mine at the time and was disconcertingly and mysteriously soothing. Perhaps it was just that another soul could let his angst be known while mine was still quietly brewing. It was a time of my life that I was searching still ... and a lonely time.
Enough navel gazing.
I don't think that God is objective. But I'm sure he doesn't fit our idea of subjective, either.
He lived a subjective life on Earth ... but still with the perspective of His Father.
I need to be careful here because I "fear" that I could cross some invisible line with my toe and be thought of as heretical.
God relates to us in "real time". I believe he knows the very depth of our angst, just as he knows the very depth of our joy.
The things that touch us, touch him. Yet, he is not bound by what binds us.
Much of this is mystery.
I do believe God perceives what is actual, but I also believe he knows what may be as well as what is.
He interacts with us and welcomes our involvement in the cosmic battle that is going on in our physical world as well as in a realm that eyes do not see but is just as real.
I thank God that I am not objective and that I need to depend on him for my perceptions.
I thank God for the depth of angst I have known because that means I can know a depth of joy.
I couldn't relate to a Father who was completely "objective".

Anonymous said...

Sometimes (often, if I'm truly honest), I try to understand things that are not possible for me to understand -- only to get a glimpse of, perhaps.
I was thinking that subjectivity and angst go hand in hand and that angst is like that bone that the dog buries in the backyard. It is no longer visible, but the dog sure knows where it is.
So it is with us; angst may be invisible to others, but we know exactly where it is.
Subjectively speaking,