On Questioning Opinions

One of the hardest opinions to question is your own.  But all opinions, mine included, are often questionable, or at least should be.  I am frequently suspicious of “true believers” in the camps of republicans and democrats (though not just them in particular).  Among these believers are those who see all democrats as communists, and those who see all republicans as fascists.

Isn’t it, in a sort of ironic way, the continuation of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr?  Am I then comfortable with other political ideologies that wear hats like “libertarian” and “anarchist”?  That isn’t necessarily so.  You could, in a silly way, distill the two of them down to the common denominator that no law should require us to wear motorcycle helmets.

Socrates questioned attitudes and positions of authority to his undoing.  Jesus met with a similar fate when suggesting a commitment to a peacefulness rather than compliance to the rules of the status quo.  To this day, his followers seem driven to enforce compliance, and to be committed to rules rather than the intent of the rules.  The perpetuation of the mythology of an enforced commitment is seen all around us.  While that myth is a driving force behind many established orders, there is no such thing as an enforced commitment.

Few governments or other institutions have been able to get out from under it.  People are not readily committed to their own state speed laws: enforcers have to be out there taking names, and sending violators to the principal’s office.  In other words, you have to behave properly when someone with the will, the ability, and the authority to punish you is watching.

Jiddu Krishnamurti Suggested people learn to think for themselves rather than to just be herded like mindless sheep.  He admonished his own followers for trying to make rules out of what he was teaching.  He was of the opinion that all ideologies are idiotic.  There has been some confederacy with that kind of thinking in the intellectual (and even the academic) world.  Even among some who lacked the credentials of our fine institutions of higher learning (ex: Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln) you can find significant pathways away from the mindset of accepting things just because “…it has been said”.

It is common for fearful people to easily see comparisons of dogma different from their own as dangerous; perhaps even evil.  They look for such data and actually want to find as much “information” as possible to reinforce their own belief systems (which I often see as belief disorders).  A lot of people are easily re-directed (or misdirected) whenever they think the sky is falling.  H.L. Mencken saw this as operative in the business of practical politics.

Historic precedence of this kind of behavior is easy enough to find.  It is, to some degree, for that reason I hold to the premise that what people believe is not always consistent with what is true.

If I’m listening to a song on the radio, that means I must be tuned in to the station that’s playing it.  This doesn’t mean the other songs I’m not hearing–the ones being played on stations I’m not tuned to are not equally real and available.  It just means I have not arranged to receive their signal.  Even if I never tune in to hear them, the information they are broadcasting still might be heard clearly by any who do.  It’s one thing to decide what you like.  But it’s something else entirely to presume the only truth in the universe is coming through only from the little band you’re tuned to, thus the only one you’re willing to hear.

But saying that doesn’t mean you’ll be in any hurry to change channels, will it?  Even if I tell you something wonderful and amazing is just a few bandwidths over.  The more you like what you are already hearing, the less likely you’ll be convinced to try some other station no matter how much I suggest it might be worth your time, and an intelligent decision to just try it.  Such as things are, emotionally driven beliefs do not seem to change easily even in the face of overwhelming logic.  Why?  Other writers have done a much better job at answering that question than I ever have or will, so I refer you to them.

There are some excellent books on the subject; some more recently published than others.  People who are unwilling to consider that some of their own  “thinking” might not be valid, may be uncomfortable attempting to read the following books.  In spite of that probability or even likelihood, please consider this limited and certainly incomplete list as a bibliography well worth pursuing.  But, also consider the list to represent the contents of a wonderful toolbox for deconstructing the fences that prohibit the very freedom of your mind.  Strangely enough, people who often give a lot of lip-service to the ideology of “freedom” might not agree with me, but here they are:

Allegory of the Cave, The Republic –Plato

Letters from the Earth –Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)

The True Believer –Eric Hoffer

Beyond Freedom and Dignity –B. F. Skinner

ON BEING CERTAIN: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not –Robert A. Burton

Breaking the Spell — Daniel C. Dennett

People of the Lie – M. Scott Peck

Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure–Daniel Quinn

Human Understanding (The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts) — Stephen Toulmin

Dreams of a Final Theory –Steven Weinberg

Rhetoric & Human Consciousness –Craig R. Smith

(and, for the absolute fun of it all:)

The Cartoon History of the Universe –Larry Gonick

“Then there was Homo Democratus and Homo Republicus.  Both lacked a prehensile brain and therefore neither ever accomplished grasping ideas.  Evidently, they were island dwellers, and did not mix well socially.  It is said that they would position themselves on the left and on the right of the isle and oppose each other beyond the point where cooperation could’ve done any good…Yet many people today still practice some of their archaic social and religious rituals.”  -( see ‘Humor’ category of this journal- “The Discovery of Fire”)

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by little d on February 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks Van. “The facts remain only so, for so long as they remain only…”

    “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know
    the whole truth; to know the worst, and to deal with it.”
    – Patrick Henry


  2. Posted by brett on September 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Finding a new station can be exhilarating. But then, for me, there are different stations at different times. No station plays all the best songs.


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