The above scene was perhaps one of my favorites in the recent Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises”, mostly for it’s clear and direct use of camera angles and body language to emphasize the sheer overwhelming dominance of the villain Bane. It’s straightforward, succinct, and eloquent. The heavy hand on the shoulder is a particularly poetic move.
Why am I discussing body language? Just an observation of the way in which physicality is used so bluntly to demonstrate who is really in charge. Is this important? In itself, it is not. It is merely a demonstration of the fact that power expresses itself in a variety of ways, but it always finds a way to show its face. This can be through overt shows of dominance and strength, or in a more subtle fashion. We can always recognize power wherever it may reside, as long as we know where to look and how to identify it.
Watch this scene again. Take a look at how the characters are dressed. One is wearing a tailored suit, showcasing financial resources. The other is clad in paramilitary ensemble, highlighting his capability for violence. If we stood those two men next to each other, with no context, it would be hard to tell who is more powerful in that scenario. For the purposes of the film, the party with the upper hand (figuratively and literally) is pointed out, but if we did not have that shoved in our face, how might we tell who is the more powerful of the two men (judged upon which of their powers is more relevant and thus “wins out” in this situation)?
We would have to rely on more than just camera angles. Body language is a key factor here. Facial expressions will also be of note. Watching the interplay between the two would reveal signs that we might pick up on. If all we had to go on was a still image, we might even have to go on the look in each character’s eyes at that given moment, but we would still manage to find contextual clues that underlie the dynamic at work.
As with power, reality always finds an outlet to reveal itself. However, while it is fairly easy to pick up on power dynamics and such things, reality is a far more nuanced thing to seek, and there is no end to the difficulty of teasing it out from the signs of its nature.
What do I mean by reality? I use the term to refer to the underlying principles behind which the world operates. I won’t get into vague metaphysical quibbling (it always was my least favorite branch of philosophy) so I shall merely state that for my purposes here that is the definition I shall be operating from.
So how might we tease out reality? A good first step might be to step outside and observe it, What is to be done once this is accomplished, though? Observations mean nothing in and of themselves. We must interpret and analyze the results in order for them to have any meaning to us. Watch an apple fall from a tree a few times, and you can perhaps reason that if you drop an apple and it will fall. Take some measurements and apply some calculation and you can derive the gravitational constant, however.
The tricky bit is that it is incredibly easy to create differing interpretations for some phenomenon. My car might refuse to start because it is frozen from staying out in the cold all night, because my neighbors have sabotaged my engine, or because I might have offended a particularly unruly deity of some sort.
In cases in which we must pit two interpretations of the world against each other, oftentimes there is no discernible way at first to identify which one may be more in concert with reality. Religion offers us boundless examples of this. Is Theravada or Mahayana the correct school of Buddhism? Which style of paganism is more correct, Hellenistic or Norse? Who goes to heaven, Catholics or Protestants?
(Though my Catholic friends all assure me that only Catholics go to Heaven, I shall consider this question unresolved)
It seems logical to assume that any interpretation that offers a more consistent and correct explanation of reality is a superior one, but how can we assess that? Setting asides the problem of emotional influences and cognitive biases warping our interpretations and even our very perceptions, the other big issue we often run across in forming our schema to explain reality is that we simply don’t have all the information needed to make a precise judgement.
When it comes to relatively mundane occurrences, unexpected consequences might be slim (I might take a new route to class one day and run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while). When it comes to weighing cultural and societal values, systems of government, or economic systems, however, all of a sudden the potential for drastic consequences increases greatly. Any deviation from the underlying principles of reality when it comes to making decisions like these is inevitably going to have unpleasant effects. The USSR adopted policies that were not 100% solid on the incentives that drive human behavior and it collapsed in less than a lifetime. The US ignored that Afghanistan is where large and powerful forces go to be defeated and found itself entangled in a quagmire. An improper interpretation of reality is not merely a harmless mistake, but a very dangerous one indeed.
For such things though, we cannot gather all necessary information to determine if they align with reality or not simply by taking a snapshot in time. Unfortunate as it may seem, the only real way to know how such value judgements like democracy or feminism will play out is to observe how their effects play out over decades, and even centuries. Changes in societal norms often take generations to fully manifest, and the architects of social policy rarely live to see the full consequences of their alterations play out. An analysis that critiques any ideology, whether it be reactionary or revolutionary, progressive or conservative, is thus going to have to examine a broad time frame in order to even have a chance at saying anything meaningful.
Reality rarely comes screaming at us brandishing harsh truths with which to whack us over the head. While those moments are valuable, and perhaps the most enlightening of all our experiences, it is during the quiet journey through the less exciting moments of our lives that the overwhelming majority of the quest for truth plays out. It is through these times that we develop our abilities to know and comprehend the world, and so come closer to the truth of reality.
It is this quest for truth that ultimately drives many of us in the Reactosphere. I suspect this is also why many of us happen to have some background in philosophical training (including Bryce Laliberte, Amos & Gromar, and myself), as the quest for truth is, at its core, a philosophical one.
The signs that point to the ultimate truth of things are subtle and nuanced, and the possible interpretations of them are endless. Truth rarely comes out and presents itself in the open. It needs it little unearthing first. But the signs are out there, and every once in a while, we somehow seem to figure out where and how to dig. If a finding comes up that doesn’t seem right (like say, the Anti-Reactionary FAQ), that is no excuse to shut your eyes or condemn it outright, but to dig deeper, because even in interpretations of reality that are off-base, there are still kernels of truth that can be found. The tricky bit is finding them, and seeing in where the alternate interpretation of them went wrong. There is no other proper response for those who wish to work within the confines of reality.