07 April 2008

The Problem with "Worldview"

It is a word whose construction I like. Worldview, derived from "view of the world", follows a trend I like. Much as in German (a language I love unashamedly) it is a simply constructed compound. It is similar to a word I did not come up with, but which I use in my writing and thus hope to win it acceptance: mindstate (i.e. "state of mind").

But the word worldview, like all words, is more than its construction. Worldview matters because of how it is used. And it is in some of these uses that I find a problem.

I am a freethinker. Unapologetically so. If you are ever going to see the world as it really is (or as close as human perception and faculties can facilitate) you must step outside your preconceived notions and inherited prejudices and opinions. An analogy: from the moment you were born your parents put a pair of goggles over your eyes. You have spent your life seeing the world through those goggles. They have colored your every experience. And that's fine. But. If you want to know what the world really is and how it really works, you have to take those goggles off. Moreover, you have to try looking through other sets of goggles and from the input create a composite image of the world (especially of the people who inhabit it).

Here the concept of worldview complicates matters. Worldview, as a notion, is is the result of a well-intended effort. In the vein of thinking (mis)labeled as post modernism, worldview is an attempt to understand that we all have lived different lives, we are characters in different, sometimes overlapping narratives, and we need to recognize and accept this aspect of our interactions if we are to begin to understand each other. To this end we categorize similar narratives under headings that we call worldviews. The problem arises when we make the mistake of assuming from this process that all these worldviews are equally legitimate, that they all have, more or less, the same justifications and qualifications. This is just not the case. Some worldviews are based on the world, on experience of the real thing. And many others are based, self-evidently, on fantasy, delusion, wish-thinking, and plenty of flawed logic. The danger of worldview as an idea is its power to place all points-of-view on a level playing field and thus destroy all standards of legitimacy and realism.

And because of this, people mistakenly think they really understand the world even though they've never taken off those goggles. Since it's all just a question of worldview, why does it really matter which ones you pick? And why does it matter how many lenses you've tried?

That is the problem with worldview.

No comments: