2012-11-29

Finding Fault

Peras imposuit Jupiter nobis duas.
Propriis repletam vitiis post tergum dedit;
Alienis ante pectus suspendit gravem.


Jupiter has placed upon us two wallets.
Hanging behind each person's back he has given one full of his own faults;
In front he has hung a heavy one full of other people's.

- Phaedrus, Fables, Book IV. 9. 1

The typical cliche with respect to finding faults is that we never do a sufficiently good job of acknowledging our own, and that whatever faults we see in others are typically representative of what are own faults truly are. So, the man who first proclaims others to be greedy is more typically the greedy one; the bigot is a closet homosexual; the compassionate activist has a loveless marriage; the psychologist's kids are all screwed up; the economist is poor; and so on.

Enough has been written about this apparent phenomenon across the eons that I do not wish to expound any further on the topic here. Besides, I see things a little differently.

In my experience, a person's faults have more to do with what that person imagines he or she deserves. Whatever a person feels most critically entitled to, that will be the thing that governs his or her faults.

How about a nice personal example? This may surprise my faithful readers, but I have a tendency to construct long, convoluted arguments in favor of my personal world view. (Go figure, right? You'd never have thought that.) Part of the reason I keep this blog is that so my lengthy expositions find an unoffensive repository out of the sight (and email inboxes, and message boards, and Facebook pages) of my friends and family. If I'm writing about it here, I need not write about it there. All this is to say that I have a penchant to talk too much about things that only I deem important, and put a lot of extra effort into proving my point in no uncertain terms. At its best, it makes me a decent rhetoritician. At its worst, it makes me an insufferable and all-consuming nuclear blast of argumentation.

Not good. It's a fault. But wouldn't it be something if I were to claim that the only reason I argue so much is because I myself won't hear the arguments of others! Actually, that's not it. In order to respond to something at all, I must first hear it and second consider it.

Instead, the truth is that I feel the need to argue so much because I have a long and sordid history being ignored and dismissed regardless of how little I may have had to say. Dismiss a man long enough, and he will soon feel an overwhelming urge to be noticed and properly considered.

So, for me, that's a lot of what's going on in my head. I'm comfortable admitting it.

Not too many people can compare their faults to the one I've just expounded upon, but everyone certainly has faults. Rather than assuming that whatever they're going on about is a window into their own personal inventory (or "wallet," as Phaedrus would have it), I suggest that we all consider what it is driving a person to their faults.

The usefulness of such an exercise does a few important things:
  1. It builds compassion for one's opponent in a debate.
  2. It helps you more directly address a person's concerns.
  3. It helps you avoid getting sucked into a fact of psychology, and therefore helps you stick to the discussion at hand.
  4. It helps you know when to give up and walk away.
As I mentioned yesterday, there are many good reasons why capitalism is better than its alternative, but none of those reasons really meet capitalism's opponents where they stand. A view into "the anti-capitalist mentality" reveals that folks hold no particular dearth of logical ability or appreciation for justice.

In the reality, the difference is merely one of psychology, caused by a very different set of experiences and resulting conclusions; different from those of a capitalist, anyway. And what's true of capitalists-versus-non-capitalists is true of any other two parties in the midst of a disagreement.