Perspective, such a simple subject and yet, so key to our understanding of the world around us. We get our perspective from our life experiences and our culture. Once we have accepted one perspective, it can be hard to see the world around us in any other way. We begin to take certain ideas, certain values, certain world views for granted. We forget that there might be any other way to view things. Our perspective becomes our undisputed reality. And yet, most of the time, there are other perspectives. In this chapter, McCarty reminds us of this fact. She challenges us to broaden our perspective, to learn to see the world from a different vantage point. To challenge our reality, for this reality, as Russell points out, is little more than a prison for our minds.
In fact in his work, The Problems of Philosophy, Russell convincingly states that, “the man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation of consent of his deliberate reason.” This way of thinking is closed to speculation or theory about possibility. Philosophizing, on the other hand, allows us to see even the most ordinary things in unfamiliar light. Though such consideration diminishes our faulty certainty about the world, it suggests numerous possibilities “which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.” Though we lose a little of our confidence as to what things are, we gain knowledge of what they may be. Philosophy banishes “arrogant dogmatism” and liberates “our sense of wonder.”
If we want to free ourselves from the world view our culture has prescribed, we might begin by cultivating Russell’s concept of the “not-self”. We need to realize that our view of the world puts us at the center, quite literally. Just a quick look at most maps confirms what I’m saying. Everything else is measured in relation to us. And what’s more, even our size is distorted. We believe what we are seeing is a reflection of reality. However, a quick adjustment, a brief change in our point of view and suddenly our reality begins to melt before our eyes. Europe all but disappears, and the United States quickly is matched in size by Brazil and Australia. And Africa suddenly seems to deserve some respect. We are suddenly disoriented. Our most basic beliefs shaken. And so it begins.
Once we realize that much of what we take for reality is actually colored by our perception, we begin to doubt and question everything. With time, as McCarty states, we find that “Cultures and traditions other than [our] own are a valuable part of [our] mobile perspective. As [we] pick and choose less and less, [we] can pull more and more into [our] embrace. ” Rather than reacting in fear, we meet novelty with curiousity.
But in the process we could very well find ourselves, like Wollstonecraft, pushing back against our own culture/society. We are no longer able to accept our way as the only way. We do not march to the drums of nationalism. We caste aside beliefs those around us hold dear, and we are suddenly alone, and as Wollstonecraft herself warned, it won’t be easy. People will think you are a traitor. They will accuss you of having lost all reason. You may even begin to doubt yourself, but you can keep Wollstonecraft’s words in mind:
“Those who are bold enough to advance before the age they live in, and to throw off, by the force of their own minds, the prejudices which the maturing reason of the world will in time disavow, must learn to brace censure.” – from Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft
So, it is with fair warning that we now venture out into the world, with the challenge of seeing it with eyes wide open. Go ahead, turn the map upside down. You never know what you might find.