It must be nice to pick a political “team” and then never again bother to question whether your team’s beliefs might be fundamentally flawed.
It must be nice to do a shallow scan of everything you encounter and look for anything you disagree with — so you can use that as an excuse to disregard everything else a person might be trying to say. It must be convenient to know you don’t have to bother considering anything you don’t already believe is true.
American society is still pretty good at doing things and making things. We have better tools and technology than ever for molding physical objects into what we want them to be. (Those are an extension of open inquiry by previous generations.) But we are failing on a deeper level — and we are heading toward a devastating collapse — because we have become intellectually shallow and morally arrogant.
We are rushing over a cliff as fast as we can — and everybody can point a finger at someone else to blame.
When I was young and arrogant myself, I knew everything. My beliefs were absolutely certain — and they were based on what other people had told me to believe. I didn’t realize that, of course. It just didn’t seem to occur to me for a long time that I had happened to be born into the one social, political and religious group which had perfect knowledge about everything.
Eventually, I saw the errors of my shoddy thinking and blind faith in others, so I wanted to share what I had learned with others. For awhile, I made the same mistake again, just from a different point of view. I again believed I had all truth. I just had to get other people to accept what I’d found.
Then I moved into a more reasonable phase. I just wanted to get others to think clearly about what they believed — about why they believed things and where those ideas came from. I wanted them to understand that we should all question where we can from and that we should all think for ourselves.
That didn’t work any better than any of my previous attempts.
Today, I’m just numb to the intellectual blindness and arrogance of most people. That doesn’t mean I consider all those who disagree with me to be blind and arrogant, though. There are a rare few among those who I disagree with who I’ve had respect for, because they’ve attempted to explore truth in a more humble way. And there are those among my would-be allies who are some of the most intellectually blind and arrogant I’ve known.
The last couple of generations of Americans — roughly speaking — have increasingly been taught that everybody’s “truth” is equally valid, so everybody’s thoughts and ideas — no matter how stupid — are supposed to be valued. People have grown up being praised for terrible and shallow thoughts — instead of being pushed to think more deeply and rationally — so they never bothered to learn how to be intellectually humble or to approach issues with a genuine desire to learn.
This has created a culture in which almost everyone has an opinion about almost everything, but the vast majority of opinions about any issue are shallow and stupid. (Oh, no. I’m not supposed to say that. Everybody’s ideas are equal, right?)
It’s a waste of time trying to share something insightful with most people — such as posting a thoughtful article on social media — because they have one of several different reactions.
The dirty little secret is that almost nobody reads the article.
Most people who see it are indifferent to learning what someone else has to say about an issue, because they already know what they believe. They have joined a political or social team somewhere along the way — and that group has already made it clear what “we” think. So these people have an opinion that someone else has given them and they have no interest in anything they might not have already considered.
Another group of people see the headline and click “share” without bothering to read the article. They agree with the headline and they want to promote the point of view they already agree with, so they mindlessly share.
Yet another group see the general subject matter of the article and proceed to post comments explaining what they already think, especially if they disagree with the headline. They don’t bother to read the article and if they skim it, it’s only to find something they disagree with — so they can dismiss the whole thing. They’re most interested in explaining why someone is wrong, even if they haven’t read what the person wrote.
Almost everybody has decided what he believes, so people no longer read for nuance or substance they might not have thought about. It’s a very shallow existence, but it’s all most people know today when it comes to controversial topics.
I used to be angry about this trend. I used to think I could shame people into seeing the shallowness of living this way. (It was desperation.) But that didn’t work. Nobody cares.
Ideas control the world. If you have given your thoughts and beliefs over to someone else without understanding the ideas which underlie what you’ve accepted, you are being used by an idea which you don’t understand — and you don’t even know that.
Are you one of those people? How many times in your life have you decided that some of your most important beliefs were wrong? How often have you had to go through serious intellectual change because you’ve realized you had been completely mistaken about things you were taught or things you had concluded on your own?
The fewer times this has happened to you, the more likely you’re one of those people. If you’ve gone through the painful process of changing your ideas multiple times — about things of major important to you — there’s a better chance that you’re thinking for yourself.
American society used to be a caldron of ideas and genuine debate. Many people read deeply and then debated in highly rational ways. Today, it’s a bunch of shallow and arrogant children yelling insults at one another.
We’re willingly going over a cliff blindly — and I’ve become numb to my fear about where it’s taking us, because I have absolutely no idea how to convince an entire society to start taking ideas seriously again.