Why Does Subjectivity Matter?
A lot of people think that subjectivity doesn’t matter - that the way to be is to consult a specific authority that is always right. Whether that authority be a higher power, nature, or science, these people believe that something has all the answers, and that subjective perspectives at best submit to this universal law, and at worst, completely useless. But is that really true? Does subjectivity not matter? If subjectivity doesn’t matter, this has a lot of consequences; it means that minority opinions are not important, since the “universal law” already explains their issues perfectly. It also implies that this prevailing narrative is, at least in some sense, more correct than any others. But is this really true? Can such a narrative really exist?
First, it should be understood what subjectivity basically is. Subjectivity is produced from subjects. But what is a subject itself in the first place? In simple terms, a subject is an object that is “subject” to social forces. For example, a person is a subject, because people are understood through social interactions; but different kinds of people, such as women and black people, are also subjects as well. Notice how the subjects can combine and interact with each other to produce new subjects. Indeed, a subject can be as abstract as an observer or be as specific as a 43 year old Hispanic lesbian cat lady. The important thing is that a subject is produced by its context. The arrangement of knowledge that a subject produces is known as “subjectivity”. In other words, its the way that the subject understands their perspective on reality.
If there really is just “one way” the world works, it means that subjectivity doesn’t reflect otherwise inaccessible, important information that can’t be explained in that one way - for example, if we believe that the one way is God and Christianity, it means that, if we explore Christianity to its limit, every single possible experience that everyone and everything has could be explained under it - every other explanation would be under God. We can attempt to produce this by continuing to produce important theological literature through hard work. But the problem is, since the people producing the works are subjects themselves, the knowledge of Christianity as it exists is subjective itself. This means that the way we understand Christianity is limited by our own subjectivity as, well, subjects. This is obvious when we look at the common modern person looking at Christianity and having many misconceptions of it - whatever this “one way” of Christianity is, it’s obviously imperfectly produced by it’s subjects.
Similarly, other religions, Western science, philosophy and even all of the knowledge of humanity, is subjective. Scholars cannot remove themselves from being subjects, nor can workers, nor the homeless, nor can any human being. Something is cutting us out of our social cloth to become subjects - these complex abstract social machines that produce class and other types of difference. But even if we cannot know the “one way” the world works, can we still attempt to approach it?
To understand why, let’s observe an interesting property of subjects I brought up earlier. Notice how subjects can be “added together”, such as with “hispanic” and “cat lady”, among other things. There is a subject for “hispanic” and “cat lady” separately, but these things can come together to produce a new kind of unique subject entirely. This property is called intersectionality.
Since subjects can be intersected together, each person is not just cut by being a human, but by their race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, ect. the list goes on - into an infinite number of possible subjects that could potentially be analyzed. By adding more types of subjects, we describe a subject with more and more detail. Just think - if we combined all of these subjects together on one person, we would be able to analyze that person’s unique subjectivity with this “one way” the world works! Subjectivity is not needed!
But to try to reach this point, we would have to intersect a lot more than that. In fact, we would have to intersect every aspect of that person to even come close. That’s because everyone has unique experiences and interactions that shape them in ways that make them completely unpredictable. To reach this point, we have to approach the limit of intersectionality; approaching a means to describe someone in every possible way.
But none of these intersections alone capture what this limit is really like - a subject that is paradoxically infinitely alienated from other subjects. As the subject approaches infinite intersections, questions like, “Did [x] intersection interact with [y] intersection to produce [z] result?” become more common, revealing an increasing ambiguity of the nature of each intersection. As more description is added to the subject, the subject becomes more ambiguous, and the details become less and less meaningful. As we go further, we exhaust all possible intersections that can be described in our current mode of expression, be it an English written description, or a diagram, leading us to intersect known properties with what can be known about other modes of expression, such as dreams, paintings or memories, increasing ambiguity further.
At its limit, the subject is a subject that cannot be captured through detail - all possible detail has been consumed to reach this point. Regardless of our starting point, regardless of our method, we will still reach a point of infinite ambiguity. In other words, this subject cannot be described in a single specific way the world works, because there are always aspects of the subject that cannot be described in a particular mode as the subject approaches this limit, and this failure applies to all subjects.
Rather, instead of simply one way of the world working, each subjectivity produces important information about how the world works. Doesn’t it make more sense that the knowledge of nature is stored a little bit in everyone rather than being concentrated around specific social bodies of power, like God, science or philosophy, composed from a Western cultural current? It’s thanks to the subjective contributions of many innovative and talented individuals that we even have the knowledge for these bodies to even be built upon. It’s the subjective that actually constructs these phenomenon as we actually interact with them. It’s thanks to subjectivity that we’re able to learn so much about the world beyond ourselves.
People who are convinced of a universal law are usually afraid of the consequences of a subjective experience. “If all subjectivity is valid, then what stops us from saying from someone’s perspective that reality isn’t real?”. But these people are confused - subjectivity doesn’t imply that reality isn’t real. Subjectivity emerges from reality interacting with parts of itself. What is produced is an infinite number of perspectives of the subject of reality. Understanding how you and other people’s perspectives are constructed helps you have a better understanding of the intersubjective experiences that we all have interacting with the world around us.