When John Donne said, "No man is an island.." he might as truthfully have said, "No man wants to be an island." We are social, tribal creatures. We group ourselves by nature. We justify our beliefs by finding others who believe as we do.

If you knew what I know is a basic unspoken premise behind many arguments, debates, and much proselytyzing. You would agree with me if only you had my knowledge. This is as true for those trying to hawk their favorite author or rock band as it is for those shilling for their theological or political persuasion.

This derives from the mistaken, but common, assumption that truth, beauty, and genius are absolute and self-evident. It also plays off the egotistical assumption that I know all the relevant facts.

Marcel DuChamp goes to the store, buys and old wooden winerack, signs his name to it, and voila! A stroke of genius. Or is it? Jackson Pollock reproduces in enamel what looks to me like a piece of granite I can find at any nearby beach and it hangs in the National Gallery of Art1. Is this beautiful, is it truth, does it portend genius?

Each of the following is true:

But only true within a limited set of facts, with a certain number of unagreed upon and unspoken assumptions, and/or by using definitions that others may deride as ignorant, stupid, insane, or just plain evil.

It may be that I've read Atlas Shrugged, know everything there is to know about Ayn Rand, capitalism, macroeconomics and still think Libertarians are a bunch of misguided morons.

For our ideas of truth, beauty, and genius are not universal. They have more to do with cultural conditioning, self-aggrandizing ego, and subjective personal taste than with any objective, absolute standard.

1 Number 1, 1950 http://www.nga.gov/feature/pollock/painting1.html