Saturday, November 1, 2008

Choosing To Be Blind

God am I ready for the election to be over with already. Unfortunately politics won’t go away just because the election is over but the hostility and divisiveness has reached a fevered pitch that has become tiresome and counterproductive. I am by nature an optimist but some of what I have encountered during this election season has indicated the potential of a grim prospect for our future.

Oh sure, for me personally things are good and seem to only be getting better but this is about more than just me and mine. All of humanity is connected. That’s not some meaningless and lofty platitude; it is a matter of true fact. Religious fundamentalists and blind adherents to any form of ideology miss this completely and their very sense of identity and existence demand it’s negation but nonetheless, we really are all one. For any of us to gain at someone else’s loss is a non-sustainable mode of living. It’s not a zero sum game but that flies in the face of a ‘greed is good’ philosophy and this constant idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is no “them”. It’s all “us” and we are in trouble if we fail to recognize this and act accordingly.

Election season arrives and we all choose sides. For a good number of us, our sides were chosen for us long before we had any say so in the matter and we completely missed the point where we might have decided the issue for ourselves but that’s how it goes. It’s much easier to just go with the flow and buy into whatever group think pervades your environment. Why not just be honest and admit that for most Americans, this is how it is. How many of us could actually admit to falling into this category?

Throughout my debates and discussions I’ve noticed one particularly troubling phenomenon that for me goes a long way towards explaining why things are the way they are. Before going any further I need to point out that I don’t know who might be reading this and what I’m saying may or may not apply to you but it most certainly does not apply to everyone who is laying eyes on this. Okay? Just bear with me, that disclaimer felt like a necessary thing to do.

I’ve been struck by how alarmingly common it is for otherwise intelligent people to be so attached to their point of view that they are absolutely closed off and unwilling to acknowledge or confront facts that conflict with their pre-determined beliefs, however compelling and obvious those facts may be.

I can hear the various reactions to that statement now. “Well gee Ben, no shit. You’re just now figuring this out?” or maybe “Well gee Ben, don’t you think this might be the pot calling the kettle black and that’s why you are so attached to your point of view?”

That’s fair enough but allow me to explain. Yes, I know we all think we are right and the other guy is wrong and we all have a tendency to filter information so that it conforms to what we already believe. I won’t dispute that and I’m probably just as guilty as the next guy. And yes, I’m somewhat confident and steadfast when it comes to conclusions I’ve reached on the various political issues at hand.

But here’s the difference that I’ll claim when it comes to my own perspective: I am willing to consider and take fully into account new information and another point of view, even if it happens to be contrary to my way of thinking. I’m willing to be proven wrong and if I am wrong, I’ll change my point of view so that it aligns with reality as opposed to clinging rigidly to some long held but misguided position. I’m not going to shut someone off and discount anything they may present simply because they are a conservative or a liberal or whatever other label that I may have some personal aversion to. I have learned so much more from people that I disagree with than those who already think just like me and I would have missed out on a wealth of knowledge had I closed myself to anyone who might challenge or offend me on some level.

I’m not saying any of this to sound self-righteous, even if it does. I’m saying it because I’ve been truly amazed at the unashamed closed-mindedness of some otherwise intelligent and reasonable people that I have butted heads with when discussing politics. I have been told point blank “there is nothing anyone can say that is going to change my position or beliefs on this/these issues”. Really? How fucking sad and pathetic. Think about the implications of that kind of a statement. And even in some cases where it wasn’t explicitly said to me, that same point was made clear enough.

Now it’s true that there are some philosophical arguments that people can debate all day long and there is really no right or wrong, or no way to factually prove a right or wrong. But some of this stuff really is black and white. Some of it just pure fact versus fantasy and if otherwise smart people would rather cling to fantasy than confront fact and base their decisions according to reality…well people, we are on the fast track to self-destruction and I am absolutely convinced that that kind of blind and willing ignorance and refusal to change is largely responsible for the various debacles which we are now in.

I’m not talking about religion here or the moral implications of legal abortion, etc. You can’t really prove anything on those kinds of issues and we can argue idiotically over those things until we are blue in the face and never reach any kind of conclusion. But other disputes can be solved by virtue of empirical data. Take the issue of the Community Reinvestment Act which I made a point on recently. The right wing media and others have repeatedly made the claim that that was the cause of the subprime mortgage crisis. But when we look at the actual real life data that claim just is simply not true. It can be proven untrue with facts and figures that aren’t subject to interpretation. Any reasonable human being should be able to see the data and acknowledge the erroneous nature of that claim. But I have been firsthand witness to the attitude of “no, I won’t look at the data because you aren’t going to change my mind, and that’s how it is goddamnit”. And this wasn’t coming from some backwoods, trailer park, snake handling inbred.

There are dozens of other examples like this that I have encountered and I’ve seen bizarre rationalization and explaining away of simple cut and dry facts when they conflict with someone’s cherished opinions. In a sense, for way too many people, factual data is completely irrelevant. This is a given for some percentage of the population but for most of us, it shouldn’t be. When your mind is completely closed off to opposing information you are incapable of learning anything new and are essentially stuck in an ideological rut. Perhaps my own naivety is to blame but I’ve been stunned at how common this is when discussing the election. The utter inability or unwillingness to accept reality, admit when one is wrong, and change when reality calls for it is a threat to freedom and human progress.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben
Well Obama did it. Although I don't think much will change. Bush has left too much mess and continues to do so.
Although I like the idea of a black US Pres. I do think with people like Oprah saying things like 'The colour purple rules': Oprah Winfrey hails Obama's success.' won't help.
The American people need to get involved in the day to day running of their country. Now that BO is in they’ll just go back to their TV’s thinking everything will be ‘better’.
Sorry for you. And us too; without USA as a half decent world citizen we all suffer.
Tony

Anonymous said...

The proof of intentions will be if immediately the new administration prosecutes the old for war crimes etc. Forget the money things etc. If US does this the rest of the world will rally and help. It will be interesting!
Tony

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ben- just had to
Tony

susana said...

Greetings Ben,
Come play on my farm.
I have dug a huge hole and after watching the ostriches for some time, I too have learnt to stick my head in and have some reprieve from the visuals flashing around on the screen.
There are worms to look, and when you look really closely, each grain of sand has a story to tell.
And since burying my head, the levels of peace and joy have increased incrementally.
So as unaware as I might appear as to what the other creatures on the farm are doing, I am just in tune with breathing, and listening to my heart.
Should I make the hole a bit bigger for your arrival?

Ben There said...

Hey Tony -

This is a happy day for this country and really for the whole world. We will see how real the change is. The real work is still ahead and the challenge is enormous. Personally I think the world just became a better place, even if only slightly. A black president! Unbelievable.

Susana - I have to say, you make a pretty good point there. I try to retreat and drown everything out but my breath and the beat of my heart at least once a day. It should be mandatory for all human beings as far as I'm concerned.

Candycane said...

This is my first visit to your blog in a while, funny how i see some things i have pointed out. Part of that is from our discussions though, very helpful. For the first time since voting for Clinton I am proud of who I voted for and that I did it w/ intelligence...

Ben There said...

Hey Candice,

I'm glad that you feel good about your vote and happy if I help shed any light for you. We probably need to keep reasonable expectations with Obama though. I am convinced that between the two choices, we picked the right guy. It was also very nice to see everyone cheering and crying and carrying on the way we all did.

Candycane said...

exactly-- he is just ONE man and he has quite the journey ahead of him, but like you said, it is good to see American moral UP!!