Monday, February 07, 2011

To borrow (and alter) Bertrand Russell: "Most people would rather die than think--in fact they do." *

Growing up in my family, one learned to grow a thick skin and a sharp tongue if you had any intentions of engaging in "conversations" with Dad or other siblings. We didn't talk so much as we debated. Loudly. Dinnertime was like a political talk show, the kind where there is no moderator and everyone tries to make their point before the commercial break interrupts the individual monologues. The person with the loudest voice and the most persuasive argument won, though sometimes at the cost of a cold dinner. (The quieter siblings, I suspect, made use of our rhetorical chaos to grab seconds and the best bits!)

It was accepted that you would not form an opinion unless you had facts to support said opinion. Decisions should be based on logical progressions. It was a point of contention that I chose to study both Latin (3 years) and French (4 years) in high school. Being dead, Latin was impractical, and French was spoken by such a small portion of the world's population that my studies were derided as being useless. Spanish would have been the logical choice. (Of course, in retrospect, the fact that I now speak Portuguese, probably spoken by fewer people than even French, is just poetic justice.) My argument was that French was beautiful, and beauty is by definition, subjective and thus not subject to the strict laws of logic and reason. My opinion failed miserably on both counts.

Being forced to learn logic and critical thinking through this trial by fire was a good thing, however much I may have hated it at the time. It's served me well over the years. Over the past few months, I have had a series of conversations with various individuals in which I found myself channeling my father as I insisted, "Show me the facts!" or "Don't talk to me about X until you've found legitimate proof to support your position."

I love being contrarian and I love it when people have well-thought-out and nuanced perspectives on things (whether or not we agree). Conversely, I despise any form of intellectual laziness and become something of an evangelist to win people suffering from this disease over to the light.

Personally, I believe that the internet has a lot to do with the propagation of this disease. People often use the internet as their main source of news, even though journalism gets more slipshod every day as sensationalism and party alliances trump spelling, fact checking and TRUTH. And if one strays away from the strictly news sites, it can be hard to separate the useful data from the wacko rants. The world wide web offers the perfect platform for crazies to share their, uh, unique views. Just so you know, clicking on the first two or three Google search terms is not statistically proven to provide the most reliable material.

And if you do click on those first few links, there's a good chance you'll be directed to someone who's willing to do your thinking for you. Just accept what they have to say at face value, become an unquestioning disciple and swallow the blue pill. There will always be someone willing to tell you what you should believe. Beware.

In my completely unhumble opinion, handing the keys of your mind over to someone else is a sin. And if you're not of the camp who believes in sin, then let's call it merely stupid. Because if you let someone else tell you what to think, you're letting them tell you not only what to do, but who to be. And what happens if they're wrong?

* This quote actually uses the word "Christian" in place of my "people." I agree with him, but as I didn't want this post to be specifically Christian in nature, I hope he will forgive me from the afterlife.


Anonymous said...

As I read this aloud, I kept hearing a chuckle next to me. Glad all those dinner "talks" have served you well. - Mom

anne said...

Christian fits well in the quote, but I take your point.
I suspected your dinners were as described. How hard, but what fun :)
yes, we spent some portion of EACH class I just took (5 in all) discussing the "don't let the internet think for you" bit and the danger of just "googling" for info and ASSuming it to be correct.
One suspicions that your pop intentionally caused you all to learn to argue, out of some deeper understanding of what one needs in life, and the importance of a well founded opinion. Although perhaps he is just....that way, and it was all accidental, your learning to survive verbally!
miss "talking" w/you.