Can we not look further than Cogito Ergo Sum to approach issues of common interest?
For all that I discussed in my Day 6 post demonstrating how, with freedom, the merit of taking the public/broad interested perspective over a self interested one, the latter mentality is still more pervasive. Why is that so? Maybe it’s because of the dependence on certainty that continues to make Rene Descartes’ cogito ergo sum the central dictum that guides how we run and shape our modern society.
I think, therefore I am expresses the understanding that the only certainty any of us truly and uniquely possesses is one’s own identity and thoughts. Through this idea, we have progressively built the foundation of Western democracy and its legal systems based on a set of rights that respects, recognizes and protects our individuality.
While much has been achieved and accomplished in the development of our contemporary world through this understanding, the conflicts that accompany such emboldened individual expression has also hampered our collective decision-making ability, especially when factions of individual and special interests use uncompromising approaches to push forward their entrenched positions.
These types of interests come in a wide range of motivations, but while some, like religion, the environment, and culture, can be understood as raising legitimate questions about social issues and character, it is the truly unapologetic self-interested individual that poses the real challenge to the notion of whether we have an obligation to consider any sort of external interests in any of our decisions.
Reasons for such views are narrower and thus gain strength from their focus. Some anti-socialists, like followers of Ayn Rand objectivism who reject altruism as irrational, have no patience for committing resources towards improving social order except for that which protects their own interests. Many believe their views are justified through an interpretation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand concept which claims that optimal social outcomes naturally materializes through the pursuit of self-interests. Those views can and already have been contested.
Perhaps the heart of their opinion from which these people gain the strength of their conviction, even in the face of popular opposition, is anchored in that I think, therefore I am proclamation that declares of everything that exists, the only thing we can be certain about is our own views, thoughts, and desires. This not only absolves such people from social responsibility, but makes them more sensitive to fears and risks of issues rather than their positive attributes.
In modern democracies, there is a high burden of proof when it comes to intrusions on personal rights, especially in our legal systems. This allows and justifies rulings in favor of an individual even against overwhelming evidence of significant harm or lost opportunity to the public interest. We are limited in how we promote public interest because we value and respect individual rights, but there is no obligation for those who idolize individualism to reciprocate.
This certainty of the individual suggests the self-to-public interest dichotomy I have been featuring in many of my recent posts naturally leans to the self-interest side. However, what if certainty and uncertainty was a naturally inherent characteristic of the dichotomy itself?
A presented individual can be readily identifiable and characterized whereas doing so for groups of people becomes increasingly difficult as its size increases. The same naturally applies to their interests. However, why should the legitimacy of the broader interest decline just because the accompanying level of uncertainty also rises as the size of the group increases? Rather than defaulting to self interest because of its more reassuring level of certainty, you can argue that broader interest positions cannot be readily dismissed since uncertainty is a natural feature of social life.
I consider this to be a principle that can be applied to many aspects to the relationships in our lives. For example, as much as I may know another person, I can never be absolutely certain about their thoughts simply because we are not mind readers. This is difficult already for one person much less a family, community, city, province, country, and beyond.
Getting beyond the question about the demand for certainty will help us move social matters forward from the personal point of view. This understanding can be a step by which we can begin to have a more meaningful dialogue about how we address and approach issues of common interest.