For the past several weeks, I’ve been asking myself the question, “how can I write about politics in a way that might provide some insight into our ongoing stalemates in DC.”
The light went on when I came across the German phrase, “der Mauer im Kopf.” Roughly translated, it means, “the wall in the head.” It’s obviously not a physical wall but it’s not so obviously even more resistant to outside influences. It holds out anything that doesn’t fit within. It keeps everything inside safe, comfortable and orderly.
Different from the protective walls of ancient cities, these walls are built on nominal foundations. Paradoxically, breaching ancient walls of stone was easier than breaching “the walls in the head.”
Why do I make this claim? To explain, I’ll start with this: In this context, the word nominal, means acting or being something in name only, but not in reality. So to translate, the walls in our heads are built on foundations that are not real. They are made up of sediment upon sediment of pre-existing logic and suppositions, which become unexamined premises. In fact, most of us take rigid positions without ever thinking about the foundations of our opinions
Like the ancient stone walls, which were built layer upon layer of increasingly larger sediments at the deepest levels, the walls in our heads are built on foundational logic, suppositions, and premises about reality that are our and others’ interpretations of that reality.
To be sure, they seem very real to us. My proof: Listen to how our public political discourse represents our common concerns with stubborn insistence on opposite interpretations.
Let’s test my claim: The word, intersubjectlyverify is a mouth full. I’ll break it up: Inter – meaning between and among. Subjective – meaning personal or individual. Verify – meaning to ascertain the truth of a proposition. In philosophical terms, to inter-subjectively-verify means to receive independent agreement about what is true.
An example might help. A man sees an elephant sitting at the counter in a local diner. He says, “does anyone else see that elephant?” By doing this he’s asking for inter-subjective-verification. No one else sees it. His proposition is probably not true.
Another example, a politician claims that our deficit problems can be only resolved if we raise taxes on the super-rich. And another, a politician claims that the only way to fix our budget deficit is to cut government spending. We have differences that seemingly cannot be reconciled because they come from within walls in brains built on different nominal foundations.
The logic, suppositions, and premises that make up our political theories are social constructions built on the illusion of common foundations. They do not reflect objective reality. Instead, they show that the reality we experience is a complex matrix of subjective interpretations; people’s varying opinions.
So how do we begin to reconcile what seems like irreconcilable differences? We start with agreeing that the damages we are doing to ourselves and our country are very real. We then admit to each other, that the foundations of our arguments are nominal; yours and mine are grounded in our interpretations and not a commonly agreed experience of political reality. We then ask ourselves, “why?” And then we turn off the political talking heads who are making millions at our expense and begin to speak and listen to each other with the intention of solving our problems and not winning arguments. Finally we recognize and acknowledge the safe, comfortable and orderly feelings we get when we stay within the walls in our heads, are as illusory as the hyper reality that gets pumped at us 24×7 from the Main Stream Media.
From Marcel Proust, “The real voyage to discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Given the logjam in DC, our current economic landscape is going to stay this way for a long time. New eyes might help. But we can proceed only when we admit that our foundations are nominal: not inter-subjectively -verifiable.