The Value of Objectivity

Although it may seem strange for a playwright to write about the value of objectivity, it is relevant to theater. Theater is inherently an illusion. Actors are pretending to be the characters and the stage set is pretending to be a real place. Although theater presents an illusion it also presents the audience with the physical presence of real people performing real actions. Part of the appeal of a musical is that somebody is really singing right in front of you. Somebody is really dancing right in front of you. The theater is where dreams are acted out right before your very eyes. A fiction is given a physical presence on the stage. On stage dreams have a physical reality. The tension between illusion and reality has always been part of the appeal of live theater and a frequent subject of plays.

Although theater presents an illusion, serious drama strives to be truthful. Countless plays have been written about people who are delusional until they are forced to face the truth.  One of the more famous plays about cruelly busting people’s bubbles is Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. In that play, a hard headed realist named Hickey arrives at a bar and proceeds to rouse all the drunks to give up on their pipe dreams. This play asks if we can face reality without our delusions or comforting fantasies. Or is it simply too disheartening to give up our cherished dreams? I have come to dislike these plays because they seem to delight in discouraging dreamers. Although they promote the value of facing reality, they don’t question if people are even capable of perceiving reality without distortion. The truth is that nobody can grasp empirical reality in its entirety. We are all restricted to our limited perspective.

In addition to exposing the truth, a playwright must also ponder the conflict between the rational and irrational. Nobody is strictly rational. Evolution did not create the human mind to accurately perceive empirical reality or to think rationally. If a false belief serves to enhance our chances for survival or reproduction, then evolution will favor human beings prone to that false belief. Some cognitive scientists believe this is why we have religion. Belief in imaginary beings and gods may not be strictly factual but it serves to promote social cohesion.

Given that nobody is strictly rational, how do we ensure that our decisions are not irrational? It can be very disadvantageous to be irrational. My favorite example is determining the factors that are preventing you from becoming a successful writer. Obviously this something I have given a lot of thought! There may be several factors that are holding you back. It could be that you are just a terrible writer and need to improve your writing. Or it could be because you are a woman, black, or gay. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of  victim mentality. If your writing just sucks, then attributing your lack of success to your being a woman is a mistake. It you feel that way, you won’t work to improve your writing. Instead you will spend all your time complaining and making accusations against the publishers who won’t accept your work. On the other hand, your writing may be really good and you genuinely aren’t getting anywhere because the percentage of female writers is just too low. Nobody can beat bad odds just by being the most exceptional.

It is important to be clear headed when evaluating the factors that are preventing you from getting what you want. Emotions tend to get in the way of clear thinking. The value of objectivity lies in disinterested consideration. As long as you don’t get emotional, you can consider the factors without favoring one over the others due to the emotional weight it has for you. Objectivity is vital for strategic thinking. When the situation becomes difficult you need to calm yourself down and allow yourself time to think. You must not let your emotional state dictate your actions.

Unfortunately, some people are actively discouraging objective thinking. They believe that being objective is just a tactic that is being used against them. They think they are being asked to be objective in order to discount their feelings. I see this in the growing lunatic fringe of the Far Left. The problem with this theory is that once you abandon the very concept of an objective truth, there is nothing stopping you from becoming ever more delusional and belligerent. The Right has been criticizing the radical Left for valuing feelings over the empirical truth. The Far Left then sees this as opposition and becomes even more hostile to objectivity.

But I see some emotion driven people on the Right making the same mistake. Take Jordan Peterson for example. It is clear that he has cherry picked ideas from various intellectual disciplines to support his conservative views. He has an emotional investment in traditional values and reasons to support his bias. I don’t think he has been objective and if he were accused of not being objective he would probably argue that you need to find something of value in life, something to consider sacred, and then defend that to the death.

Objectivity is valued by science because it is important to determine how the world actually works and not how we would like it to work. To get the facts wrong is to be mistaken. When we are arguing about human nature it is not an argument about “how things are going to be from now on”. It is an argument about how we are to understand human nature. To win the argument is not to determine the very fabric of reality. If you win the argument and your interpretation is wrong it is not going to change anything. You have only won the right to be mistaken and frustrated when things still don’t go according to your desires. Unfortunately, many people have become ideologically committed to their feelings and a defiant subjectivity and consider objectivity to just be opposition to their ideology. This has reached the point where to declare oneself a realist is tantamount to being a Nazi. We also see the Far Left waging a war on normality. Only a lunatic fringe would wage war on the normal. However, the Far Right is equally irrational when they become alarmed over the attacks on Western Civilization and go on a crusade to protect traditions which are rooted in human nature.

The contemporary playwright is put in a difficult position where he is expected to have the intellectual honesty to tell the truth yet finds the theater community promoting a lunatic fringe’s subjective truth. Playwrights often entertain ideas in opposition to the norm because they need to create believable villains and people behaving badly. This makes playwrights natural contrarians. In an increasing polarized environment in which everyone has abandoned objectivity in favor of their subjective truth, the playwright is highly likely to get himself in a lot of trouble by appearing to be on the wrong side. When people think the stakes of their disagreement is the very fabric of reality, they tend to become quite volatile. If you don’t think this is the case, then just consider how often radicals claim they are being erased. They talk as if they will pop out of existence if they don’t prevail. This is pure solipsism!


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