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Reality without virtue

11 Aug 2015

The polarisation of positivist-constructivist ontologies on the nature of physical reality is matched by similarly divergent views on human nature. Some people react instinctively to others from an adversarial, sceptical, judgemental and expedient perspective (and are happy to be called realists). Others respond in good faith in empathic, sincere, inquiring and principled ways (and are happy to be called idealists). These perspectives are largely irreconcilable, with realists viewing idealists as naïve and weak and idealists viewing realists as cynical and tough.

It is a great irony in the 21st century that ubiquitous technologies that universally empower people by facilitating access to virtually limitless information are also transforming individual perceptions of reality and challenging long-standing moral precepts on the attributes of a "good" society. The globalisation of free-market economic ideology (with the liberation of individual "animal spirits") has accelerated the displacement of (idealist) intrinsic value with (realist) monetary value, inevitably eroding long-standing social and cultural norms.

The information revolution has arguably had its most profound impact at the personal level. A growing crescendo of information "noise" challenges the individual's capacity to interpret and make sense of reality, disrupting existing processes for creating and sharing knowledge. A natural human response to the immediacy, intensity, complexity and quantity of largely undifferentiated information is the creation of filters that prioritize those issues that are of direct and immediate personal relevance while excluding more complex, detached and abstract ideas

In Australia the dominant media constantly derides as unrealistic and anachronistic the expression of intrinsic virtues and higher national aspirations, and the loss of the rare public champions for moral reasoning (such as the late former PM Malcolm Fraser) is highly regrettable. Whether it is public discourse on asylum seekers, gender equity, indigenous recognition or racism, the prevailing perspective is a pessimistic and utilitarian realism.

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