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Human Nature and the Need for Small Theory

O.G. Rose

‘Monotheorism’ is the belief that there exists a single theory that can explain everything, and it is human
nature to be monotheoristic either consciously or subconsciously. If we are Capitalists, it is natural for us to think
of all problems are due to a lack of free markets; if our passion is ending racism, it is natural for us to think of
everything that happens in terms of race; if we are Theists, it is natural to think everything can be explained by
God; and so on. It is very difficult for us to think of x in terms of Capitalism, y in terms of race, z in terms of
coincidence, and so on. For good or for bad, we naturally accept a framework and understand everything through
it. So married do we become to our framework that it becomes ‘invisible’: it’s too natural.
Motivationally, humans are also monotheoristic in that they naturally look for ‘a theory of everything’.
This arguably obsessive search is most obvious in Physics, and please don’t mistake me as saying that there is no
such thing as ‘a theory of everything’ or that such a theory cannot be true. My point is that we are all naturally
monotheoristic and that this can blur our discernment, making it less likely that we will be accurate when we claim
to have found ‘a theory of everything’ or act like such (perhaps unknowingly). And please also don’t mistake me as
saying that an economic, racial, and/or gender theory cannot be right, cannot account for much, or that
socioeconomic theories are never accurate – it is not my place to make such claims. Again, my only claim is that
humans are naturally monotheoristic, and being aware of this, it is my hope that we will be more capable of being
accurate in our theorizing, and furthermore more capable of ‘costly empathy’ versus ‘cheap empathy’, as will be
expounded on.

As discussed in “Self-Delusion, the Toward-ness of Evidence, and the Paradox of Judgment” by O.G.
Rose, ‘cases’ are what change phenomena into evidence – if I believe someone hates me, the scowl on the person’s
face becomes evidence that this is so, versus a random look – and it is very difficult for a person to hold onto
more than one case at a time (let alone five). For example, it is very difficult for a person to look at the world both
as a Theist and an Atheist simultaneously and equally: if we try, we usually can’t help but give one side more weight
than the other. And if we do try, if we’re a Theist, we tend to look at the world ‘as a Theist-Atheist’, per se: we
tend to look at the world ‘as a Theist through Atheism’ versus ‘an Atheist through Atheism’. We put our shoes in
other people’s shoes every now and then, but very rarely our feet. It’s just too difficult to separate ourselves from
our minds and the ‘case’ and/or ‘worldview’ our minds have married with (and everyone’s mind must marry with
some worldview).
The human bring is naturally monotheoristic, and as a result, we are naturally not empathetic. As argued in
“On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose, empathy is nearly identical with critical thinking: it is epistemologically
invaluable. Because we are naturally monotheoristic, we also are not naturally skilled at critical thinking, and as you
need critical thinking to realize you lack it, so it is hard to grasp that you aren’t empathetic unless you know what
constitutes empathy. To make a distinction inspired by Bonhoeffer’s ‘cheap grace’ versus ‘costly grace’, the only
empathy people tend to exercise is what I will call ‘cheap empathy’, which is the act of ‘thinking like others think
according to your worldview’. Self-deceptively, worldviews tend to entail a view of how others think; for example,
the alt-right Conservative may think that Muslims in the Middle East hate America, and hence when such a
Conservative tries to think like a Muslim, the Conservative thinks about ways to destroy America. This is an
extreme example, but I do believe it makes the point: ‘cheap empathy’ confirms ideology versus lead a person to
critiquing his or her ideology and ‘opening up’ one’s world to others.
In ‘cheap empathy’, since you are thinking about what others think, it can strike you as empathy, and
frankly since the results tend to fall in line with your ideology (as they are so bracketed at the start to do) the results
are easy to accept. You frankly want to accept the results, for they strengthen your ideology precisely by making
you think that you are not an ideologue; after all, you’ve (seemingly) exercised empathy, which is precisely what
ideologues don’t do. If you believe whites are racist and try to think about the world as a racist, you may think
you’ve tried to be empathetic of whites, but rather you’ve only been empathetic with your idea of others, not actual
others (though that doesn’t mean you are necessarily wrong). Tragically, this is usually the only kind of empathy
anyone ever exercises, and though it seems empathetic, it is ultimately nothing more than a tool of ideology
preservation – something at which all of us are talented.
‘Costly empathy’, on the other hand, costs you: it forces you to challenge your worldview, to suffer
existential tension, and to ‘die to yourself’, per se. To ‘put your feet in another person’s shoes’, and actually see the
world through another person’s eyes, first of all, forces you to confront your own fallibility, finitude, subjectivity,
and ‘smallness’. When we consider our limits through our own eyes, we tend to ‘soften them’, to acknowledge that
we can be wrong but to do so within a framework that assumes in its structure that we are right. Hence, when we
are ‘cheaply empathetic’, considering the possibility that we are wrong is done ‘softly’: it doesn’t really cause us any
existential pain. However, when we truly think about our own fallibility through the eyes of another, there is less if
no ‘softening’: you see yourself as ‘nakedly’ as you tend to see those with who you disagree. This can existentially
hurt; this can ‘cost’.
‘Costly empathy’ forces you to confront everything you think, say, and believe. It forces you to
‘destabilize’ yourself: to see yourself in a world with others who think differently than you and who confront you
with the possibility of being wrong intellectually, religiously, and ideologically. This causes existential tension that
had you not tried to be empathetic – had you thoughtlessly accepted your ideology and view of others – you
wouldn’t have ever experienced; for trying to be actually empathetic, there is a sense in which you are punished.
But ‘costly empathy’ isn’t so much a punishment as it is a ‘purging’, a refining and ‘sanctification’, per se. It
improves us, helps us escape ideology preservation, equips us to love actual people versus our ideas of them, and is
necessarily for Pluralism to lead to human thriving versus conflict.
Those who fail to combat their monotheistic tendencies are especially prone to fail to be totally
empathetic. There’ll seem empathetic to those who happen to think like them, but this isn’t true empathy: it’s
group-think. Monotheorism isn’t only a matter of empathetic failure, but empathy is the best tool for combating
monotheorism, enabling critical thinking, without which our thinking will be our brainwashing.

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