Politics is perhaps the most challenging division of cultural reality. The word originally referred to the ancient branch of philosophy that investigates governance. Of course political science is the more modern technical discipline, although again it lacks the precision of the natural sciences. The truth of real world politics is found by the same process as history and current events, though one needs to have an even higher level of wariness and seek more sources especially in the present environment. One key principal to bear in mind is that in situations of political disagreement, no position is likely to be completely correct or incorrect, in fact, all may be either mostly correct or incorrect depending on the vantage point of the spectator. Herbert Spencer in Synthetic Philosophy 1 concludes on his analysis of truth in the realm of politics (as elsewhere) that between the most diverse beliefs there is usually something in common or taken for granted in each which has the highest probability of truth. It is the philosophical person’s task to identify those underlying truths.
More general interpretations of human behavior can be found in texts of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, with the same cautions. I personally have been influenced most by Ernest Becker who in The Denial of Death 2 attributes key actions of great historical figures and common men to the enigma of finding meaning in a finite life through a subconscious striving to illusory heroism or significance. I was also deeply impressed by J. Bronowski’s essay Knowledge and Certainty3 where he notes that dogmatic certainty may lead to tragic consequences, and that every judgement stands on the edge of error. Meanwhile, John Dewey attributes human conduct to a mix of habit and impulse where (learned) habit encourages societal stability and impulse informs the change required of a varying environment. Intelligence then is a proper balance allowing a thoughtful reconstruction of society- the alternatives being stagnation or disorder.4 Each of us needs to try out a variety of theories in the context of our experience and observations to derive our particular picture of society.
Cultural reality is perhaps the most vital level of reality to grasp for everyday living. We can survive and even thrive without concentrated attention to the other components of reality, although life’s meanings may be obscure and fixing a direction in life may be a struggle. But as long as we are social animals, cultural reality is likely to remain the most important aspect of reality to access from a purely practical standpoint.
1Spencer, Herbert, Synthetic Philosophy. D. Appleton and Company, 1903, page 8.
2Becker, Ernest, The Denial of Death. The Free Press, 1973. ISBN 0-02-902310-6.
3Brownoswki, J., The Ascent of Man. Little, Brown, and Company, 1973. Page 374.
4Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct. The Modern Library, 1930. Pages 125-180.