What is reality?
attempted to answer this question as I have been very concerned with actions
that justify their grounds on the basis of culture, beliefs or tradition.
I believe that we can do better than produce or reproduce actions that use
culture, beliefs or tradition as excuses to pursue power and to free oneself
from the responsibility to think. It is my view that the very concept of
culture implies practices that claim to be cultivated, hence our current
respect for all cultures. But respect is given to those that show consideration.
It is my argument that actions that are based on ignorance and arrogance cannot
be, at the same time, seen as considered and hence cultivated. I will argue
that disrespect is not much different from madness. Both function in disregard
of others i.e. seeking control rather than an understanding.
In this discussion, the general line that I would like to take here is
that reality is what we experience as real. Also we would all agree that
reality brings with it events of which some we understand better than others.
Since reality therefore in its true sense seems always to escape us, it
may not be the issue whether one has a right or a wrong model of reality.
Rather, at stake here is whether our judgments are civilised or mad. Let
me explore the issue in the text below.
say that the question 'What is reality?' is not a relevant question.
In fact, I would argue that questions that attempt to explore 'how things
are' are irrelevant. This is so because opinions in regard to 'What is
...?' are opinions that seek a single, hopefully true basis for their
views and, in the process, they produce answers that are based in a specific
ideology that they reflect or in terms of some specific criteria that are
applied. The difficulty with ideology is that it can never consider all
relevant factors because the very notion of relevance is relative. We can
never know it all as we can never escape the relativity of the perspective
from which we construct our points of relevance. Ideologies thus assume
reality to be the way they portray it and hence prevent themselves from
considering what they miss. Ideologies thereby work by exclusion rather
than by inclusion of competing potentialities. Solutions that are based
in ideology seek out support by means other than consideration.
to ideology is not a set of criteria to be applied but an understanding
that the most we can do is to attempt to understand better: a process that
does confine its inquiry to assumptions specified prior to the inquiry itself.
An alternative to ideology is not another ideology (as it is often said)
that seeks to prove its point and thereby reducing the strength of
the competing points of view. Rather, it is a process (as opposed
to a paradigm, model or sets of criteria) in the course of which points
of view are relativised in terms of what they help to open up and what they
obscure. A methodology of this kind replaces a need for models or paradigms
for a mode of operating whose strength comes exactly from the richness that
it secures by inquiring about, rather than asserting, the truth-bases of
the assumptions or hypotheses that are considered. The process is about acquiring
power (more voices) by resisting one's own power (one's own voice).
A methodology of this kind works by inclusion rather than by exclusion
as its outcomes are never seen as more than the articulations of the points
of view that they manage to connect. It can be said therefore that
a methodology that works by questioning and challenge never seeks to answer
questions. The most it can claim to do is to systematise points of view,
or perspectives, in ways that help to reveal more rather than less.
now become more apparent that ideologies and a methodolgy of inquiry that
proceeds by challenging its own perspectives are two very different modes
of operation. While ideology promises answers, a methodology that seeks
challenges does not attempt to produce the truth about reality. Rather,
it is a pragmatic model where the perspectives taken are seen as depending
on the conditions considered. Nothing is correct in an absolute sense i.e.
in itself and through itself. Although this argument may appear obvious,
it needs to be said that most research institutions encourage a research
tradition which proceeds within a framework of ideology rather than challenge.
Consequently, we are caught in the belief that one day we will know all that
there is to know. But the problem is that to realise this dream, we have
divided knowledge into a multitude of specialised areas and, as a result,
increasingly we become caught in a game where we find out more and more about
less and less. The bigger picture keeps escaping us and will do so unless
we abandon the insecurity on which ideology breeds and begin to ask big questions i.e. questions that force
us to consider more rather than less.
of the above arguments, the question 'What is reality?' is abandoned
and, instead, I decided to explore what may be a more interesting question:
'Are we happy?'. The 'Are we happy?' - question
is very interesting as it brings into play individual points of view in
regard to reality or how we see reality. Furthermore, it also brings into
play the realisation that our happiness does not depend solely on us but
also on others. As such, the question 'Are we happy?' reminds us
that people, as individuals or group members, have the capacity to
affect their reality. Depending on how our experiences of reality are affected
and shaped by us and others, our understandings of reality will differ respectively.
It would hence follow that what we see as reality is less a matter of how
things are and more a matter of the factors in terms of which our experiences
of reality are established. It would seem that the more factors we are prepared
to take into account, the bigger the picture we gain from which we can judge
the way we see reality and hence our role in it.
it would follow that an attempt to unravel the truth behind reality should
be less about searching for a single truth as to how things are and more
about exploring how our actions affect us and others. To position a discussion
on reality in such a light, also takes the discussion away from academic
debates which pose abstract questions and seek abstact answers that they
then hope to apply to the human context. Instead, this essay posits
the debate right in the middle of potentially the biggest concern of humanity:
'Are we happy?'. To answer this question, as this essay
insists, the least of our concerns is to find a path to happiness and then
to convince others as to its correctnes.
the essay suggests that in order to explore how our actions affect us and
others, it is necessary to inquire
about the potential stakes or purposes in terms of which we (and others)
interpret, organise and experience our actions and those of others. To reiterate,
'real' is what individuals experience as 'real'. The greater the basis in
terms of which we evaluate our experiences, the greater the chance we may
have of managing our reality to our advantage. What is now emerging is a
picture of reality which cannot be established in terms that are absolute
or transparent. How we see things depends on what we see. It seems therefore
that asking the question about reality has allowed us
to build the discussion in a direction which denies the production of absolute
criteria for judging reality that would then be translated into a recipe
for a happier life.
Rather, reality takes on the shape of a
multitude of experiences established referentially and relationally i.e.
in terms that are subject to processes of legitimation which have least to
do with how things truly are and more to do with how we make things be. This is a very powerful statement as it brings
out he potential that is available to every human being. In every aspect
of our lives, we can make conditions around us work for us rather than
against us. Personally I would argue that so far we do little of that.
important to emphasise that this essay does not say that reality depends
on one's point of view. Rather, it says that how we experience reality is
a matter of how we work with the information (taken here in the broadest
sense) available to us. A point of view is a closure or a state that is as
powerful or as legitimate as the conditions that it is able to manipulate
and hence affect. If we lock ourselves in a point of view, we lock ourselves
in an ideology that refuses to consider more and hence confront more. Here
the test is not what one knows but what kinds of concerns one's hypothesis
can help to take account of.
one thing to believe in one's rights, power or values, it is another to exercise
them in a way that reveals an attempt to understand rather than an attempt
to tell it as it is. As stated above, things are not, they are made
to be what they seem to be for reasons that appeal to the
particular sources of legitimation that are applied (see essay written on this issue but
in regard to linguistic competence). The more prone we are to submit
and to accept the status quo, the less able we are to expand the mindset
in which this status quo is shaped and projected. Pierre Bourdieu, a French
sociologist, said that thinking is subversion, it cannot be anything else
(P. Bourdieu, On Television, 1996).
say therefore that our beliefs or experiences of reality are established
dialogically i.e. in the context of and in reference to other beliefs or
experiences that we construct about the world at any given time. Reality
now becomes a dynamic concept where how we see things is not a matter of
the beliefs that we hold but a matter of the beliefs or experiences that
we consider or take into account! In other words, how we see reality is an
active process on our part. When we reflect upon the question 'What is
reality?', what matters therefore is not what we believe
reality to be but the terms in relation to which we establish our
beliefs about reality and/or are prepared to do so.
important therefore that the terms in which these beliefs or experiences
are established, or sensed, are broad rather than narrow. To broaden the
reference basis of one's beliefs or experiences, it is necessary to expand
i.e. to learn from and about the other. One cannot fill a bucket with things
that one does not have. To generate more, we have to acquire things from
others. By implication, in order to understand ourselves better,
we need to understand others better.
such as culture or being civilised effectively mean to understand. They
are in opposition to concepts such as madness. Culture developed as an attempt
to understand in order to manage the conditions around in a richer, i.e.
informed, way. On the other hand, madness is about refusing legitimacy to
the experiences of others i.e. experiences that are outside the reference
framework that madness understands. Madness therefore is in opposition to
the recognition of others as sources of positive growth. Madness imposes
its point of view. Madness invents its own sets of rules and criteria which
replace the reality, where understandings are negotiated, with its own reality
that is generated in disregard of others. Madness is capable of actions
that would be foreign to a concerned mind.
is in opposition to attempts at being civilised or cultivated. Civilised
action seeks to understand and as such does not serve the interests of self-centred
individuals. Civilised action does not seek power. It is powerful because
it inquires about the sources of its own beliefs. It does not seek to reinforce
its beliefs but to understand more and hence see more. Civilised action
is powerful by virtue of the diversity of concerns that it embraces and
engages in the process. The outcome of civilised action is not fair or just
in an absolute sense. But it has the potential to be more encompassing than
the outcomes of mad judgment.
October, 2002 (Ania Lian)