Each of us views the world in a unique way. There are no two people who view every single aspect of life in the exact same way (unless of course, they’ve been brainwashed or programmed by some other form of intelligent life or magic, thus stripping them of their individuality). Unfortunately, oftentimes we don’t recognize the lens we see the world and the drawbacks such a view may have. We may be so active in our pursuit of a narrative that we become blind to the experiences of other people around us.
One of the biggest conflicts we come into is when someone says or does something that upsets or unbalances the narrative we ascribe to ourselves. I think that part of the reason for this is that we give these narratives a prime location in our identities. When something attacks what we see as our identity, we raise the alarm in defense and prepare ourselves for war. But do we actually know why we believe in these narratives and identities?
These narratives ultimately affect the way we approach the way we assign value or the way in which we find value. How do wearrive at our conclusions? Sims writes, “How we arrive at value judgments, and, indeed, whether we can arrive at value judgments, are now at least as important considerations as what the actual value judgments themselves are.” What drives us to these different levels of theory?
One of the fantasy series that I’ve been reading is called The Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore (put on your nerd/geek glasses and bear with me for a moment). The basic story is that Drizzt Do’Urden is a Drow (a dark elf) from the underground city of Menzoberranzan, the major city of Drow Elves. In the world of Faerûn, the Drow are among the most feared races due to their history of violence and torture in the service of their goddess Lolth, the Spider Queen. However, Drizzt is different in that he sees the tenets of Lolth for what they are and his own moral compass refuses to allow him to follow her decrees. After exiling himself to the surface world, he finds that his own morals align most closely to the goddess Mielikki, the goddess of the forest and of rangers.
The epic narrative of Drizzt (which currently spans around thirty-four books) sees Drizzt trying to reconcile his identity as a Drow on the surface – where people’s natural reaction is to be afraid of him because of his heritage – with what he knows to be true in his heart. In the latest trilogy I’ve been reading, however, his morals and allegiance to Mielikki are called into question as he finds that the values of this goddess do not align perfectly withwhat’s in his heart.
This reaches its climax in the book Maestro where Drizzt must face the Demogorgon after the barrier between the Prime Material Plane and the Abyssal Plane. To keep a long story short, Drizzt’s question of reality and morality come to a head during this time as he formally acknowledges that he does not believe in the tenets of Mielikki or any god, but rather the tenets of himself. He sums this up in a journal entry at the beginning of the next book in the series, Hero: “The only truth is that there is no truth…no reality, just perception. Because if perception is reality, then what matters? If this is all a dream, then this is all simply me.” (You may put on your scholarly glasses again).
I bring up this passage because it calls into question the way in which we think about the world. How do we come to our conclusions for what narrative we choose to align ourselves with? Is it through reason? Is it through our emotions? Is it through experience? Is it something else? A combination of all the above?
Since moving to Hong Kong, I’ve noticed a trend in the people I knew in high school. Coming from a small town in Kentucky, you could say that my old friends and I came from fairly conservative backgrounds. I was chatting with one of my old friends recently and was asking him how our old group is doing (it’s been almost seven years since I’ve spoken to any of them; the most I’ve seen has been the occasion meme on Facebook). As he unfolded their various stories, the common link that I saw was that where at one point they had been some of the most conservative people I knew, they now leaned toward the far left. I asked what had changed and my friend told me it boiled down to the various experiences they’ve had. For better or worse, their values had shifted because life happened. Now they call for the end of capitalism and for social reform (which I find fascinating in my current context).
While experience can be a valuable tool in discerning values, we must temper it with reason without losing our emotional nature as a by product. If we make a value claim, we have to know why we have chosen that value. I find Sim’s discussion of the Synthetic or “Magpie Approach” to be interesting. We live in a a world with so many narratives and theories floating around that it’s inevitable that they would eventually cross pollinate in some capacity. It even begs the question of whether there is a pure form of thought in that regard or if it’s all mixed in in some way.
We already live in a time where the act of critical thinking is foreign to some as we mindlessly gorge ourselves on information and theories. My prayer is that we would wake up from our stupor and actively engage in our values.
 Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon, Introducing Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide (London: Icon Books Ltd, 2012), loc. 103.
 R.A. Salvatore, Hero, (Washington: Wizards of the Coast, 2016), loc. 444.
Photo taken from <https://medium.com/@mbtomori/what-drizzt-dourden-teaches-us-about-racial-diversity-d9799fae25c9>