I developed The Good Decision Project on the understanding that humans were subjects and had to directly deal with their own subjectivity when making decisions. A subject differs from an object in that a subject can never be fully described or known 360 degrees and in complete depth. The experience of being human, and therefore a subject, makes life a great deal less predictable because a subjective entity is always ‘subject’ to change. Inside the trajectory of change resides other human emotions such as anxiety, hope and trust. Since we have no choice but to be subjects, and be subject to change, we rely on such things as trust and courage and perhaps faith to give the project of life meaning. In trust, courage and yes, goodness is found a certain dignity that is unique to the task of being a subjective entity.
As for objects, one could get very complicated on this side of the conversation if you were to introduce, for example, quantum mechanics, but for this short treatment there is no need. As a young boy my brother and I understood our summer baseball as an object. We probably loved our one new annual summer baseball as much as any object we owned excepting our bedraggled baseball gloves. We knew the history of the ball from the moment is was separated from its packaging. We watched it get scuffed up in the dirt and bruised by the bat. Eventually we saw the first seam break and by August little red strings were supplemented by our mothers heavy duty sewing thread. Ultimately when school started we could take the leather covering off and throw it around a bit before doing the autopsy. We would break that ball down to center and know exactly how it was built. The baseball was an object. We knew it to center and it’s entire history. One can be objective with a baseball. You can of course love the baseball you caught at the stadium hit to you by your favorite player, but it is still an object because it is known in its depth, history and dimension. We all have plenty of objects, loved or otherwise in our lives.
We are not baseballs, and so as subjects we can not even completely know ourselves, much less completely know the person before us. We all play out our lives astride a fair amount of mystery. We can offer human dignity to other persons by acknowledging that while we see them, we don’t and can’t know them entirely. It is the awareness of ‘not knowing’ the other that allows room for respect and mutual dignity in our relationships. This not knowing allows curiosity about the stranger and to know more about the stranger it is essential you ask questions and share life narrative. The alternative to curiosity is the imposition of stereotype. The stereotype is a form of short cut objectification that substitutes limited and limiting demographics for the full mystery of personhood. The assignment of stereotype in lieu of personhood in a personal encounter is frequently experienced as oddly and subjectively painful for the person on the receiving end of the stereotype and particularly if that stereotype is negative. When stereotyped you were but now you aren’t. Assigning stereotype is a diminishment of the fellow human being by negating the spirit and mystery of the other.
Contemporary race, gender, and political narratives are absolutely riddled with stereotypes. I cannot even estimate the number of times I have I felt objectified. The demographics for this ‘privileged white male’ are often factual enough in that I have had good fortune in my life, and my skin color as well as gender contributed that good fortune, but the pain is in the dismissive summing up of a very complicated life full of loss and trauma as well as good fortune by someone who knows me not and is not curious enough to care. If anyone wants to know the breadth and limits of my empathy and understanding I need them to make the effort to know the shape of my subjectivity. My Sense of Good is offended by any objectification of me and yet often I knew no way to fight back without falling into another stereotype. In most cases I take my own advice and Pause. The depth of my anger suggests I am neither neither entirely right or wrong, but something is seriously amiss. What upon reflection is amiss is objectification through stereotypical summary and it hurts.
I share all this because we are facing a critical national decision point in upcoming election cycles, and even the people in ‘my circle’ who are not always wrong or right could lose this election, not because they didn’t fight the other side hard enough. They are likely to lose to a slim margin because of these almost non-conscious habits of objectification which could well split and alienate critical members of their own traditional constituencies. Violations of human dignity are even harder to forgive than the consequences of a physical fight. As this nation realigns its loyalties, the people who fully understand the mysteries and respond to the realities embedded in the subjectivity of their constituents will likely win the election, regardless of what any of us think of the motivations of their leadership.