Magnum Opus World View

World View

a terrific example of how policies that create problems for minority communities come about and how not only their sequelae continue but such policies continue to be made in the present. Some excellent examples are given showing how true grit and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making your family constellation conform to someone’s ideal pattern may not be the solutions we would like them to be and that it may require those of us not living in these zones of destroyed communities to do something to correct the situation.

There are alternatives to us taking action and I am taking those up in my Magnum Opus.


This above statement contains assumptions that may be considered constituents of a world view. One of the interlocutors in this exchange, Jim, considers one’s world view to be determinative to one’s perspective and even perceptions. “What we accept or are willing to ignore depends on the world view.”* That is, what one takes in and what is intake is determined by the way we view the world. Jim wrote, “Thanks, Pat, I look forward to it” in response to my saying I was formulating a longish response. He said he wanted to hear my world view and learn how I came to it and what it means. * He wants us to account for our world views and those of others, if possible.* Jim thinks that in trying to understand my world view he may have misunderstood and represented me in a way that does not really reflect my world view.

An example: he states he sees more good and less evil in our society than I do. Jim may have expected me to deny I see more evil but instead I would say that I do not even look at society in terms of good and evil but only in what people do and what the results are. I would cite FDR and the intense criticism he encounters yet today as an example of the futility of labeling societal movements good or bad because I think the results of the New Deal have been good while Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater attempted to turn back the New Deal. They did not like the results of it. Labeling such things good and evil do not work (IMHO) and “evil” in particular has theological overtones.

The New Deal brings up a couple of side issues. One is unintended consequences, a familiar and powerful trope of Conservatism. Certain dynamics were unleashed by New Deal Liberalism that Conservatives do not like and were not intended by the advocates of the New Deal. Also the difference between big C Conservatism and small c conservatism arises here because few conservatives want to see an end to Medicare, an outgrowth of New Deal Liberalism.

How much of one’s world view comes from one’s culture? A case in point was a young lady I chatted with at a get-together every year of Catholic school teachers. She was a music teacher from Japan and told me how she picked up spare change playing organ at a Lutheran church (Jim is Lutheran and so will appreciate this). Several times she stayed to listen to the sermon and exclaimed, “Wow, I never knew how Buddhist-Shintoist I was until I heard that!” How much of Buddhist and Shintoist belief went into forming her world view? Or do we consider that a separate issue – one’s religion. A hilarious and similar story was heard on NPR told by a man who recorded family stories. In one instance, he told of recording his aged grandmother who had been raised her whole life in Nebraska, a classic sod-buster American of the type I call “Norwegian”. He asked her what she thought happens to one after death and she replied she thought we become one with everything. That’s Buddhist!! or Hindu!! not Christian. There went 80 plus years of Sunday school classes, down the drain. What happens after death would be considered part of one’s world view by most people, I would think, so how did such a dissonant view slip into this Midwestern Christian’s world view?

A good example of world views rises when we look at Christianity and any of the desert religions and compare them to Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism or Taoism. In the former, the view is teleological as Christian eschatology views the end point, the goal of the development of life, to be the return of Christ. The latter see the world as traveling in cycles. The simplification here will offend some because I am really out of my depth; I just bring it up because it is a good example of world view: either you see life and the world as having a direction and a goal, an end point, or you see them as going in cycles over and over. One man told me either you see man as basically good or basically evil and all flows from that.

It is apparent from that last paragraph that my version of what a world view is, is abstract and not pragmatic. As we go along, we will see that the thrust of this essay is toward distinguishing among the terms world view, point of view, perspective, perception, opinion, and fact. If we want to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, all of those terms will come into play and need definition. Jim offered this definition: “The world view is the basic underpinnings and assumptions that determine attitudes and analysis.”*

I saw a film once whose contention was that our world view is formed by the way the world we lived in was at our age ten. At my age ten, the U.S. had won WW II, the economy was booming, many people were moving West, and technology, under the appellation “automation”, was the coming thing that would transform our lives. Very exciting. Did that form my world view? We’ll see. I invite others to delve into the origins of their world view as well as telling us their world view.

But Jim also believes one’s world view is not fixed and can change over time.* Under what conditions, I would ask. Jim has stated that disagreement occurs not due to obliviousness to some absolute truth but to seeing things differently. While the word absolute is, well, absolute, I do think his follow up statement, “……bias and misleading reports, of which I find widespread fault on both sides” reveals a willingness to concede that world view, an absolute truth, may not play so big part as being selective in what we attend to. Jim sees one’s world view as channeling our attention whereas I see our perspective as more likely to do that and therefore make a point of distinguishing world view from perspective. This, in fact, is the origin of the Magnum Opus.

To directly address Jim’s request for my world view, let me make as simple a declaration as I can and I would refer you to my blog and the category Pat’s World View for broader discussion. But here it is as succinct as I can render it:

My world view is that the past makes up the present and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. William Faulkner said the past is not yet dead, in fact it is not even past. A propos of later discussion in this essay, he was referring to the American Civil War and its aftermath. That human beings are biological and that our organization of our world in terms of how we feed and shelter ourselves, raise our young, and nurture our psyches derives from this biological nature. Your puppy tearing up an old sock is preparing to tear small, cute mammals to shreds, including your cat. At one time, our – meaning Western European (a sop to the Conservatives) – philosophers built up a system of political and social thought based on man as an individual, a conceit that proved useful in defining citizenship. But now we have studied our primate ancestors and done archaeological work to find we have always lived in groups, what Conservatives call collectivism. My perspective, rather than world view, on America then is formed by my view of its past and what made us what we are. Other perspectives stress our political ideals, others our religious heritage, others our economic vitality, others our pragmatism, others our predation against other peoples, others on technological advances, some on what they call race, and some on a heritage based in Western civilization. All of these, or most, have something to offer our understanding; my focus is always to delve into how we got to be the way we are. Even race, understood as a social construct, would play a part.

Just an example of race as a social construct: my wife’s doctor is Nigerian. She is a beautiful woman and yet she says she encounters aloofness, even hostility from White people………. until she opens her mouth. She is African, not African-American, so the relationship to her is as a foreigner, an immigrant. Which is exactly my point: it is not the color, it is the relationship. And what is that relationship? Former slave-owners to former slaves, pure and simple. Melville Herskovits, the outstanding anthropologist whose Myth of the Negro Past opened up the study of African and Afro-American cultures, described seeing a man in Dahomey (modern day Benin) ride up to some people on a horse and the people took a submissive posture toward him. Curious, Herskovits asked what the relationship was: they are former slaves and he belongs to the slave-owning class. So even long after slavery had been abolished in West African colonies, the relationship persisted.

Much of what I write about in this essay contains graphic violence, made necessary by the continuing denial of the on-going effects of slavery. The name Francis Fukuyama will come up a lot simply because I have been using the framework his Origins of Political Order has given me to frame the social and political order we find in every society. Recently I have been in intimate contact with a person who spent eight years in prison and have avidly heard his account of prison society. It demonstrates man’s insatiable desire for order, social order, even among people who violated the order of their birth society.

Why does violence occur, why can’t change occur without it? Here is an example of what leads to violence. This is a statement by Chief Justice Rehnquist of SCOTUS, a man whom I shall write more about further on: “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by “liberal” colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed. To the argument that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional rights, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are.” He wrote this as a law clerk and a young man. He did not change his mind as he led the highest court in the land. Given this position, and finding yourself in the minority, what would you see as the remedy? Don’t kid yourself: at the start of the Civil Rights Movement, most White Americans did not believe in rights for the Negro. If you are of a certain age and you are White, you might remind yourself of where you stood at the time. Most of us did little to promote the rights of our fellow citizens and even if we spoke out, we allowed the deprivation of rights to continue. So what would you have done as a minority? Now that Whites find themselves moving toward minority status, they are getting upset and fearful. We will explore the origins of that fear in other segments. But I will leave this topic with a quote from an 18 year old kid standing in my kitchen a few weeks ago, a White boy, who said, “Most White people are afraid the Blacks are going to do to them what they’ve done to Blacks.” This boy represents the working class and is not well educated, so he is reporting what he hears and not parroting some Liberal conceit designed to make a point. He was speaking honestly.

We cannot doubt that the world view common to Americans fifty years ago has changed. Recently one of the members of the grouplet, Brian, sent me one of those nostalgia pieces that drive us nuts, the Leave It To Beaver world of the fifties that I had to disaggregate for a man who appealed to listserv members with his invocation of an idealistic past of the 1950s. I listed a number of things I had witnessed and experienced as a child in the 40s and 50s and he wrote back that my childhood had been Dickensian. Yet we cling to these narratives of earlier times – all cultures do. The gum was sweeter and lasted longer. The girls were prettier and wholesomer (do they forget short shorts?). And on it goes. We must not stray too far from the reality of the past because the past figures prominently in my world view and in my perspective and in my narrative. Saying, “I don’t remember any of that” will not cut it. A library card will get you access to the information you need.

Which brings me to facts. I remain unconvinced that facts themselves are squishy. They may be easily manipulated, interpreted in dissonant ways, but there remains a hard kernel. For instance, tonight, April 13, Chris Hayes of MSNBC told a surrogate for a candidate that the crime rate in NYC did not go up 10%. That is a flat fact and she indeed dodged it by saying “everyone agrees” that NYC is not as nice a place as it used to be. That’s different from insisting that the crime rate, a statistic whose parameters have been established for a long time under rigorous scrutiny, has gone up when in fact it is at its lowest point in decades. Fact.

So part of my world view is that facts exist and facts matter. Daniel Patrick Moynihan will be discussed in this essay because Jim cites him frequently and his formulation of the pathologies in the Black community figure prominently in Jim’s arguments, but it is the late Senator from New York who famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.” In checking this quote, I also found this, quite a propos:

“Political society wants things simple. Political scientists know them to be complex… One could argue that, in part, the leftist impulse is so conspicuous among the educated and well-to-do precisely because they are exposed to more information, and are accordingly forced to choose between living with the strains of complexity, or lapsing into simplism.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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