A Case for Impersonalism
Posted July 30, 2004
I am an impersonalist. I believe the message is more important than the messenger. Therefore the incident related below -- a recent exchange from one of the ISKCON electronic fora -- is stripped of any personal details. These people may all be GBCs. They may be new bhaktas. If you don't know, all the better. Exchanges of this type happen all the time. I find them so frustrating I want to scream.
FIRST ROUND. Ann, Liz, Fred, Bob and Greg make a public statement on a Subject they have studied as part of their profession.
SECOND ROUND. Marilyn disagrees. She dismisses their opinion as wrong because, she says, these five people's professional qualifications are extremely dubious.
THIRD ROUND. Fritz disagrees with Marilyn. He sends her a detailed list of credentials for Ann, Liz, Fred, Bob and Greg.
FOURTH ROUND. Marilyn dismisses Fritz's contribution on the grounds that Fritz had earlier, in another forum, said something that Marilyn and some others found offensive. Therefore, Marilyn now tells Fritz, he has nothing whatsoever to tell her. She adds that Ann, Liz, Fred, Bob and Greg should feel worried if an offender such as Fritz speaks up in their defense.
If you wonder what became of the Subject -- the discussion of it didn't survive the first round. Marilyn felt it was more important to discuss the people who had discussed it, and later the people who disagreed with her approach.
Marilyn is a true personalist. If we are like her, what counts to us is *persons* -- not something as impersonal as facts. Once we have identified our trusted persons, we feel confident these will provide us with all the information needed to judge every other person (and to judge whatever that person may say). As for those whom we have put on our "distrusted" list, they cannot know anything.
They certainly cannot know better than us.
A true personalist makes decisions with the help of a very simple algorithm. If anyone tells him something that contradicts what he already knows or believes, the true personalist will not waste time trying to resolve the contradiction but will instead ask himself: "Have I heard anything from this person before that would justify making him distrusted?"
But what if the contradictory information comes from a *trusted* person? This poses a problem. Here is the solution: "If he contradicts me, this in itself is reason enough to make him distrusted". Da capo al fine. In this way, the true personalist never has to deal with the issues, only with persons.
An impersonalist such as myself wishes sometimes I could remove names from all the messages shaping our devotee lives. What would it be like if we had to look at these messages as if we had never seen them before?
"Depend on Krsna and use your intelligence" -- sender unknown.
"Men's brains weigh twice as much as women's" -- sender unknown.
"Slow down, sharp curves coming" -- sender unknown.
Having no sender name after the message would make life complicated. We could not fall back on our prior judgment of the sender's trustworthiness. We would have no choice but to check the message against facts. Facts, those messy and stubborn things.
Checking what we hear against facts requires, first, a notion that facts are at all relevant. Second, it requires an unhumble conviction that we are at least somewhat capable of assessing them. Third, it is a lot of hard work. And it won't work all times. Sometimes we will just be left with lots of unsure inferences, lots of inconclusive evidence, and a big headache.
Maybe that's why someone said that the impersonal path requires great intelligence but is very hard to practice.
I won't tell who said that.