Maybe Ambivalence Is a Virtue

A person who has to deal with a wide range of opinion from other people might be inclined to adopt a hypothetical attitude about their own beliefs. They might find it hard to part with belief; and brain science would back them up. For a brain to lack beliefs would be for it to lack experience. Nevertheless, beliefs which might be unpopular or even vilified by others need some amount of indirection to guard the identity from binding too strongly to them.

The point is that a person concerned with objectivity, or building consensus, or finding the truth, must be strategic with respect to framing. Whereas others do not mind the frames they use, the knowledge reconciler has no choice but to do so. This requires a certain degree of ambivalence not only about what the objective truth “out there” is, but about on which side of the issues one stands. For “side” is the very problem.

It would be hard not to feel this to be an absurd and futile endeavor. Why should opinions be reconcilable? Perhaps that is the belief driving all the superficial ambivalence. This is the faith of the knowledge reconciler. They know that objectivity must be composed of subjectivities. They might even have a way of framing framing itself.

But let’s not get carried away.

A person like myself, who unwittingly regards all conversations as a search for knowledge, and who dwells in this Internet age, faces a supreme challenge. For the Internet was conceived according to a cruder concept of mind than what is necessary for the pursuit of knowledge to continue indefinitely: communication is the conveyance of messages. It was understood that computers would have to agree on protocols. It was not understood that humans would have to agree on frames. So what we have in the web is not really communication, but the mechanics of conveyance. We think of meanings as quanta, like packets of energy universal in their import.

This theory gives rise to a practice which is not in the theory, which is the vilification of those who do not agree on frames. Fault is found with them like it would be of a computer failing to speak the agreed protocol. But conveyance has nothing like a protocol; it ignores framing.

What is the recourse, then? Do we give up on the Internet as a vehicle for mediating knowledge? Do we go back to word-of-mouth town squares, face-to-face conversations by people who have lived in one place for decades or centuries, who have a shared bodily experience?

My strategy has been to step back from my points of view. As yet I do not know how others should do. I cannot command them. At best I can frame the situation.