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The Art of Comparison
February 28, 2021 at 7:30 pm - 10:30 pm EST
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Certainty and clarity are incredibly rare phenomena. In a wide variety of contexts we are all forced to make do without clear objective guides for understanding concepts.
In the absence of objective information we compare ourselves to others in order to form our own self-concepts, engage in self-evaluation and develop self-esteem. Without this act of comparison we do not know who we are or how to feel about ourselves.
In the absence of objective information we compare people to each other in order to create functional concepts of who they are and make decisions about how to act in our relationships with them. Our foundational social concepts – gender, status, normality, conformity, intelligence, etc. – all inherently involve comparison. Without these comparisons we struggle to create meaningful relationships or understand unspoken social rules.
In the absence of objective information we compare ideas to each other to determine what we believe to be true about the world around us. Concepts like “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, “true” and “false”, “us” and “them” implicitly rely on comparison. Without these concepts we struggle to choose between ideas or navigate the world.
If we are not careful, we can make important mistakes in the acts of comparison we may not even notice ourselves engaged in. There are logical elements that must be present in a comparison for it to be functional. Even when these logical elements are present and structured correctly, our comparisons can be lopsided, unfair or misleading when our critical analysis is not equally applied to each subject of the comparison.
If we are artful, we can lovingly craft the comparisons we make so that they carry great meaning and convey valuable insights about ourselves, others, ideas, and the world. In this salon we will explore questions like:
- What are the most loadbearing comparisons in our own models of ourselves, others, ideas, and the world, and how can we ensure they are made artfully?
- What does it take for a comparison to be meaningful, useful, and honest?
- How can we hold ourselves to the standard of being meaningful, useful and honest in the comparisons we make throughout our own intellectual lives?
- Are there familiar comparisons in social, political, and intellectual contexts which fail to live up to the standard of being meaningful, useful and honest?
- How is comparison built into human psychology, for better and for worse?
- Is comparison really the “thief of joy” or can it be harnessed as a tool for compassion and connection?
– ii Salon Host Maybe Gray
Good to read or watch pre-Salon:
- How to Write a Comparative Analysis – this writing resource from the Harvard College Writing Center provides strategies for comparing in an academic context but helpfully outlines the key elements of comparison that ought to be considered when making comparisons in any context.
- An example to try on for yourself: how might you go about comparing The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by T S Eliot and Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley? Here is an attempt of my own
- Two Vices: Prufrock and Ozymandias on How Not to Be Virtuous
- Illogical Comparisons as explained here by Alex Heimbach are comparisons that fail at the level of logical or grammatical construction. What it takes for a comparison to make sense is revealing of what it takes for a comparison to be actually useful.
- Secularism: A ‘work in progress’ or an ideological obfuscation? – a lecture by Andrew Gow which highlights the ways in which unfair comparison underly mainstream understandings of religiousity and secularism Transcript of above video
- Social Comparison – this article by Stephen Garcia and Arnor Halldorsson discusses the psychology of social comparison and its role in the development of our self-concept and self-esteem as individuals. The article explains upward versus downward social comparison as well as pitfalls that result from uncareful social comparison like the Frog Pond effect and the Dunning-Kruger effect
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