Unwilling To Keep An Open Mind
“I do not believe that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use” -Galileo
When I was a kid, I believed in Santa Claus. He was a superhero to me; a fat, jolly old guy who brought my sisters and I presents and who had created this magical festival full of music, lights and anticipation that I didn’t fully understand but to which I really, really looked forward to every year.
He could even fly.
When I was really young, I knew Jesus was involved somehow but I thought maybe he and Santa Claus might be cousins or something.
Later, after I got over being crushed after somebody told me that there was no Santa Claus, I confirmed it for myself and promptly changed my opinion about his existence. I did the same thing about the Easter Bunny too although that wasn’t as big a deal. The Easter Bunny was kind of a lesser superhero in my eyes.
People often told me that Jesus didn’t exist either and when they did, I also looked for information that would prove whether he did or didn’t but never found anything to undermine what I believed. Apparently The Christ has more staying power than either an elf or a bunny.
Changing my opinion because I had learned something new was a pattern that was to become part of my life. I wasn’t unique in that regard; many others did much the same thing. Opinions were formed and later revised or replaced with different opinions as new or more information became known.
I had learned that it was less important to let my opinions define me than it was to let me and what I learned define my opinions
It’s like it was back in Galileo’s time when most of the educated world thought the sun revolved around the earth. It turns out that this opinion was wrong and reluctantly, even the Christian Church changed its opinion. Similarly, there were changes in the opinion that the earth was flat and if you sailed far enough, you’d fall off; that kings, even the stupid ones, ruled by divine right and that alchemy could turn base metals into gold.
We’ve believed lots of things through the centuries but as our knowledge base changed, so did our opinions.
We don’t seem very willing to do that anymore.
In fact, today we go out of our way to avoid information that might contradict what we already believe. It’s called ‘confirmation bias’; a term that means we only seek information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs in order to support our current opinions rather than being open to whatever real information is available and considering it objectively.
You see it every day on social media and increasingly in the mainstream media as well.
When it was becoming clear during last fall’s election campaign, that the attack in Benghazi might have something to do with the Obama Administration dropping the ball in terms of security most of the American mainstream media simply stopped reporting on it until after the election. They had a predilection to seeing President Obama reelected and refused to report things that might interfere with his chances. Most of the President’s reelection supporters agreed with that decision because it didn’t challenge what they wanted to believe about him. In other words, they put their biased opinion ahead of learning the truth that cost four Americans their lives.
When it became obvious that Theresa Spence was not on a hunger strike and that, in fact, the woman was a train wreck – those who had supported her lashed out at her critics rather than change their mind about her. Instead, they rationalized and made excuses for her. Idle No More allowed itself to be undermined by her antics and politicians and media pundits allowed their credibility to be diminished rather than letting the facts alter their opinions.
The examples are endless because these days we don’t just refuse to learn from evolving knowledge or the truth, we either ignore it or do everything we can to discredit it. Even the Supreme Court of Canada in a recent freedom of speech decision placed limits on the truth if it made some feel uncomfortable or victimized in some way.
We cling to our opinions like a fat kid clings to the last available Mars Bar.
I believe it is because we invest so much of ourselves in our opinions, we lack the self-confidence to reconsider and change them as new information becomes available to us.
The great dichotomy to me is that we live in an era when all of the world’s knowledge is available at our fingertips but it is knowledge that contradicts our opinions we most fear. We’re are even prepared to trade away our own credibility in order to hold on to our opinions rather than change them based on new factual information.
Despite the fact that it has repeatedly failed us, people continue to turn to government for solutions rather than considering new and better avenues to improve our society. How often have we voted for a political leader because they promised change only to end up with the same thing we voted against once they were elected? How often have we reelected a political leader and his/or her party after it has become more than obvious that they lied to us, mismanaged our affairs and were corrupt?
We learn nothing and acknowledge less.
From his first appearance on the national political stage, one of the big kicks against Stephen Harper was that he would reopen the abortion debate and take away a woman’s right to choose. The fact that, after six years in office. he has not done so or even that he voted against a private member’s bill by one of his own caucus to examine when life begins, has not changed the opinion of those who believed he would six years ago.
Consider global warming.
There is now a significant body of scientific evidence to suggest that a) climate change is a naturally occurring phenomena caused more by solar flares than whatever humanity does and b) many of the leading proponents of global warming and sustainable energy have now reversed their position but this has done little to change the minds of true believers. Even the now scientifcally proven fact that the average global temperature hasn’t changed in more than a decade as verified by the United Nations is insufficient to cause them to reconsider their position.
Instead they continue to demand programs to fix what may, in fact, not be broken and beyond our ability to affect.
We believe what we believe and increasingly we are like those who condemned the great thinkers of history like Galileo and Da Vinci who was so criticized for some of his ideas that he taught himself to write them out upside down and backwards to protect himself from persecution.
In the end, it makes us intransigent and closed minded.
We reject anything that challenges our beliefs and embrace that which reinforces them – no matter how extreme. The gun ownership debate is a prime example. It has evolved into a senseless argument between gun owners who see any kind of gun control as the threat of government on the liberty of the people and those opposed to gun ownership that see it as the root cause of all evil and gun owners as homicidal lunatics.
Neither is right but because both sides refuse to consider reasoned opinions that contradict their own thinking, mutually agreeable solutions to the original issue are virtually unobtainable. Instead, the same intolerance by one side for the other escalates in much the same way that Protestants and Catholics pursued intolerance against each other throughout history.
Christians of different denominations worshipped the same God but accused each other of heresy and when they took their turns in power, tried, convicted and burned their opponents at the stake simply for worshiping that God in a different manner.
We see that today as madness – just as those at some point in the future will see us as out of our minds on many of the issues we argue about today.
Mark Twain said once, “The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.”
The insanity lies within us for believing that our opinions not only are correct but should never change or evolve based on being open to new information as it becomes available.. Our unwillingness to listen to each other rather than to shout, criticize and condemn each other is undermining our ability to learn, to consider and to grow both as individuals and as a society.
Look around you. Are we more or less tolerant today? Is society smarter or dumbing down? Are we more or less willing to accept that we are living beyond our means and slowly driving our societies into debt that is already beginning to undermine our prosperity?
When we encounter someone with whom we disagree do we debate the facts or do we engage in personal attacks to support our opinions? Are all who support a liberal agenda really stupid socialists and those who support the conservative one really nothing more than fascists? Are we more united or more polarized?
Is the world or even our city safer or more dangerous?
We threw off the shackles of religious intolerance during the Reformation, of slavery and the repression of civil liberties for many in our society in the 20th Century and over time we became a free people. Because of our own intransigence, we have voluntarily picked up those same shackles and now chain ourselves with them once again.
It is not government that enslaves us, it is we ourselves through our unwillingness to search and embrace new evolving truths, to reconsider our opinions from time to time and to think objectively. We are slaves to ideology, to our own opinions and to our fear of being wrong.
That is oppression more complete than that of any totalitarian regime for it is self-imposed and in the end, it will defeat us just as surely as it has defeated so many in the past.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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