Several months ago I made a Facebook post that simply said “This World Needs a Social Constructivist Enema.” Some people probably thought I was just being funny with a Batman quote. Many probably thought I was being weird. I was really just stating a frustration I usually have with the typical Facebook debate.
We see it so often on Facebook: people get into back and forth arguments over some political or religious or parenting issue, with both sides spending most of the time telling the other side what they think that side believes believe. “You missed the point” “You don’t seem to understand” “Your point is invalid because” etc. We spend a lot of time telling people what their beliefs and misunderstanding are, while rarely trying to ask them to speak for themselves. We someone believe we are all carnival magicians that can read minds.
But the reality is, there is very little we can understand of another person without spending time to clarify, and when we assume we know clearly what they think before they even speak it, that makes it even worse.
ALL of our understanding of another person is socially constructed through communicative actions. That’s just the nature of the world. We can only understand what a person has told us, and if we misunderstand, we have to let them explain or else we are equating ourselves with God.
So what we end up with is an unholy amalgamation of empiricism and relativism. We think our view of Truth (with a big T) is the one right Truth, and all others are false. But then we treat all other “truths” that others believe as their own distinct, separate truth that only they can have – different, wrong, and completely separated from ours. We set up this weird system in our minds where everyone else has their own individualized system of beliefs that have NO bearing on our own, yet they are all wrong if they don’t match up exactly with ours.
Social constructivism is kind of the great egalitarian philosophical viewpoint in that we have to work together to define Truth and truth. Its not a dominating system like empiricism where there is only one Truth and if you don’t get it, you are just less than the others that do. Its not a seperativist system like relativism that says all truths are equal, but I don’t have to really care what your truth is an long as it doesn’t affect mine (nor do I even have to share mine if don’t I want to). Its an interactive philosophy of seeking to understand and be understood with the goal of coming to a mutual understanding that guides how we function as a society.
And yes, it can be applied incorrectly. But at times, I am convinced that we need to wash away our weird system of empirical relativism and replace it with a new communicative system built on seeking to understand and be understood through negotiation and discourse rather than to pass out pre-defined understanding.