The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 5:48:05

Of Potstickers and Excessive Objectivism

Devra Torres, Nov 16, 2017

I promise, I won't go on any more about my new workout routine. (If you'd like to hear me do that, you can always read all about it here.) But one day, when I'd been at it a few weeks, I tried to express to my husband why it's been so life-changing for me--specifically, the coach's insistence that I write down every morsel I eat. 

"He gave you a conscience," my husband guessed.

"No, that's not it at all!" I replied. "He gave me hope."

And it occurred to me: that's not just something newly minted health nuts need. It's what we all need.

The thing was, I already had a conscience. I knew perfectly well how I was supposed to regard my beloved hot pretzels and onion rings. Like any sentient American, I've been bombarded with information about such evils all my life. I was adept at feeling a powerful sense of guilt whenever I chose the french fries over the salad. It interfered with the pleasure of those french fries, but it seldom prevented me from choosing them.

What I lacked was not knowledge of the properties of french fries, but hope. I felt trapped in the cycle of feeling bad about eating the things I was going to keep on eating. The older I got, the more convinced I grew that life from here on out would be a long slide into deeper self-contempt and an ever-increasing inability to manage the simplest physical activities. 

But this week I played hopscotch with my younger kids and embarked on a nice mother-son bike-and-scooter ride. What I'd needed was not just information. What made the difference was the guidance of somebody knowledgeable, the companionship of fellow sufferers, and the momentum created by success.

Knowledge alone didn't cut it. That doesn't mean, of course, that the truth doesn't matter. I didn't want to forget about the facts about french fries, or find someone to lie to me and say that science had discovered they were good for you. I didn't want to hear that I was fine the way I was (being desperate enough to work out at 5:30 in the morning, I wouldn't have swallowed it anyway). I didn't want the false comfort of imagining that those who said potstickers would make me fat were being mean or unfair. 

Excessive objectivism is not excessive concern for the truth. There could be no such thing. It's concern for the facts--the objective state of affairs regarding, for instance, the number of carbs in a potsticker--without taking into account the personal subject.

In another context, Katie talks about: 

an insight from Newman and Wojtlya both—[...] Newman wrote of the "infinite abyss of existence" that is each individual soul, and about the mysterious subjectivity of "the illative sense"—the faculty by which we judge for ourselves what to do, what to believe, etc. Wojtyla constantly stressed personal responsibility. "You must decide." He too lived and wrote from a deep awareness of the inscrutability of God's dealings with another person, and the "impassibility" of the frontier between my will and another's.

Each of us has an "interior terrain", a zone of personal responsibility—an area "handed over to us" by God, where we're in charge.

This is significant because once you realize it, you realize your own responsibility to arise out of passivity--that your freedom isn't given to you just so that you can passively be conformed to the truth. But it's also significant for our dealings with other people, other selves. 

I'd had information about carbs, calories, and exercise available to me for decades. You can announce such information to people, expecting them to assimilate it the way a computer assimilates a downloaded image, making it part of a document's content. Or you can be even more disrespectful of their subjectivity by attacking them with this information, by ridiculing or being condescending. Or you can expect people to change their lives, or their bad habits, by assimilating information without a community, without a sense of responsibility, without encouragement and hope, without accountability and personal attention.

But that wouldn't be concern for truth. That would be excessive objectivism.


Image credit: Pixnio