11 August 2023

Closed and open minds

There is a certain type of person who never asks questions because he already knows all the answers.  He is usually, though not always, to be found among the ranks of the ideological far right or left, or among the devoutly religious.  He is good at preaching, but bad at listening.  He never deigns to look at any website or other source which deviates from his own belief system, for he knows he has nothing to learn from such benighted fools (and, perhaps, fears a sort of mental contamination).  He makes frequent use of epithets ending in -ist or -phobe.  Curiously enough, he is usually far more passionate about what he is against than about what he is for.

He who has no doubts can never learn anything new, can never become more than what he already is.  He who refuses to ever read or listen to opposing views is doomed to live in a bubble, seeing everything outside it murkily through his own reflection.

Rejection of rigid orthodoxy does not mean one must entertain every absurdity that comes along, or must refrain from ever coming to a definitive conclusion about some question.  It does mean being open to at least the possibility that new evidence may someday show that one's conclusions are mistaken.  I myself have often been confronted with new and intriguing ideas which I ultimately rejected because a rational analysis of the available evidence did not support them.  I have also sometimes abandoned ideas in which I had believed fervently for years, when the growing weight of new experience and knowledge led me to accept that they were not valid.  This is usually an unpleasant process.  It is also a vital prerequisite for the attainment of true knowledge and understanding.

Keep this in mind when evaluating any ideology or group.  Are they willing to entertain a variety of viewpoints?  Can they acknowledge that they might not know the answer to a question, or that it is possible for them to be wrong occasionally?  Do they treat at least some of their adversaries with respect, however grudging?  Do they put the greater part of their energy into supporting their own ideas rather than into attacking those they oppose?  Do they make you feel that you would be free to speak out against them if they were in power?  These questions hold much of the key to evaluating their merit.


Blogger Jack said...

The questions you pose in your last paragraph are great ones. We do need to evaluate people like this before deciding whether to support them. What you said about asking ourselves what it would be like if they were in power is an important consideration. Even if they aren't actively chasing power, we should consider what it would be like if their worldview and approach became more widely accepted.

11 August, 2023 05:33  
Blogger NickM said...

I have also sometimes abandoned ideas in which I had believed fervently for years, when the growing weight of new experience and knowledge led me to accept that they were not valid.

I would be very interested to hear some examples.

I'm trying to think of some of my own. Although to be fair most of the stuff I can think of personally is a case of me changing not the belief but my reasons for holding it. Mainly these come down to things like replacing a principle like "equality" with "freedom". My view on gay marriage come under that category. Whether that makes any practical difference is another issue though I don't think it does - much.

11 August, 2023 06:37  
Blogger NickM said...

Here's a big change of mind I've had. I do a lot of graphics work. I was very skeptical about AI image stuff. Then I tried it. I was just playing for a bit and now I'm seeing so many uses. I've only used free services so far but I will be buying. It's bloody brilliant. OK, it's very handy for mundane stuff like removing backgrounds but there is a Hell of a lot more. I've tried Hotpot AI and Runway ML. Go on. Give it a go! I'm almost glad I have limited access because I could see myself doing nothing else for days on end.

11 August, 2023 07:40  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I knew a few people like this, they are frustrating to be around.

11 August, 2023 10:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: Thanks! There are a lot of people and belief systems that seem harmless only because they don't have any power. I remember an "aging hippie" type I once knew, who was all very love-and-peace-talking most of the time, but during one conversation I found out he supported the Khmer Rouge forcing people out of the cities in Cambodia to work on the land. He would have been absolutely purple with fury if anybody had tried to do the same to him.

It's also important, I think, that a group is able to treat at least some of its opponents with respect. That's part of overcoming the extreme polarization which is damaging the country and turning normal people off of politics. Groups that demonize and dehumanize everybody who disagrees with them are exactly what we don't need.

NickM: I would be very interested to hear some examples.

When I was at university I was strongly against Israel. This was due to having heard only one side of the story. My views on that conflict changed as I gained a broader range of knowledge.

I used to be convinced extraterrestrial intelligence must exist, based on the usual silly superficialities -- "there are billions and billions of blah blah, therefore aliens" -- but eventually I got down into the real nuts and bolts of the question, more detailed study of biology and astronomy, and realized it's actually very unlikely.

In my late 20s and early 30s I went through a period of taking Ayn Rand seriously. I imagine many intellectually-curious people do. Eventually I realized I was being swayed by the air of certainty, vehemence, and outrage that pervades her writing (many people today still express their views in very vehement language, as if they expect this to be persuasive), and I started thinking more in terms of the practical real-world consequences of ideas, as opposed to theory.

Actually, many of the times I've changed my views on things came down to that. Most of the world's really bad thinkers build airy-fairy castles of pure abstract theory, piling syllogism upon syllogism, and that kind of thing used to impress me. Eventually I realized that such dissociated theory isn't useful or worthwhile, that politics and society aren't algebra, and that what matters is the actual practical results when ideas are applied in the real world.

Mary K: I think we all do. There's not much to be done about it -- the best one can do is prevent them from taking over.

12 August, 2023 00:00  
Blogger NickM said...

I know a few libertarians for whom Ayn Rand is a prophet. I honestly can't agree with that though partially that is because she was such a terrible writer. Superficial, of me, I know but John Galt's speech in "Atlas Shrugged" (I think?) goes on for ever. I think I simply don't like dressing up a political manifesto in a novel works. I just don't like it. A novel can explore moral, philosophical and political issues but it has to do it organically and in a naturalistic fashion.

As to your "ageing hippie"... I have met the sort. Scratch them and you'll frequently discover viewpoints that are astonishing. I went to school with a real "right on" Swede who was in favour of sterilizing kids who got poor grades at school. I pointed out that would include his twin brother. He was, like, "It still must be done for the greater good..." I don't think he ever said that to his brother, mind. I only mention the Swedish nationality because Sweden has some form on the eugenics front...

12 August, 2023 06:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

She was a godawful writer. But "prophet" is the correct term, since Atlas Shrugged is treated almost like divine revelation by some of these people.

Then there's this, which in ideologically-nearby circles has a similar status -- and similar flaws.

12 August, 2023 12:10  
Blogger Martha said...

I have rarely - if ever - run across anyone who is completely open minded. I think we're all a little rigid in some ways or with some of our beliefs. But...I do believe that there are people who are at least willing to entertain something different or curious enough to keep growing in knowledge, which helps to expand the mind. The more we learn, the more we grow. I'm always willing to listen to what others say until they become hostile or until I realize that they refuse to allow me the same. Those are definitely the preachers who will never change their opinions, thoughts or beliefs and I don't see a point in engaging in any conversation with them. There's only so much energy and time I have per day and I like to invest it in something worthwhile.

13 August, 2023 08:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Certainly no one is totally free of prejudice or pig-headedness. But there are people who seem to actually take pride in never exposing themselves to different ideas, or believe that even looking at a book or website that comes from a different perspective will contaminate them in some way (the latter is especially common with dogmatic religionists). I don't understand it.

14 August, 2023 01:04  

Post a Comment

<< Home