Quote of the Week: Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –John F. Kennedy
When I saw this quote of Kennedy’s recently, obviously the first thing I thought about was the Trump trainwreck – er, sorry; “campaign,” I think we are calling it now. However, I realized that as a Thinker-American (we are a small but vibrant community), it is just too easy to pick on the intellectually weak. Furthermore, none of the trumpenproletariat are likely to be reading this and to be pushed to test their synapses for electrical power. I realized that my picking on Trump would be simply another voice in the echo chamber; and echo chambers are themselves a part of the problem that has let the bottom-feeders of our polity out into the air to claim legitimacy. Instead, it is more fruitful to test my own political faith and my claims to intellect, as well as those reading this blog, by reminding all of us (myself most definitely included) that in politics, and in so many other areas, we participate in too many activities that reinforce beliefs and emotions, without adding data or requiring thought. Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters yell at each other without even stopping to listen, as if they were Democrats and Republicans (and that latter pairing itself is more incapable of working together or listening to each other than in the past). They each then go back to their echo chambers, hear the same combination of facts, arguments, and opinions, and go back reinforced to refuse to listen once again to the other side. Supporters of the various Republican candidates do the same to each other. This nation has no real political discourse between opponents.
The internet has helped mightily to create and reinforce these echo chambers. Individual claims become “facts” on the internet to those readers who do not take the time to test claims that fit nicely into their view of the world. Figures and charts and other seemingly legitimate data are coddled together without real research from vetted sources or any attempt at peer review before publishing. On the other hand, facts that do not fit are simply, conveniently, discarded. We use an impossibly rigid system of looking at facts and arguments from the other side (that creates a virtually impenetrable barrier); but take as already given, vetted, and proven the slightest claim or remotely “fact-esque” opinion that agrees with our own. In doing so, we claim to be “thinking”; but we are really only engaging in the comfort of opinion without risking the discomfort of thought.
The next time you hear an opponent – even one with the obvious logical and factual flaws of Trump – argue their side, check your own motivations to dismiss them, and your own factual basis. And the next time you hear someone on your side present their stump speech, check your motivations to agree, and the factual basis of your own argument. Then re-check them. Then do it again. Think about why your politics are “better” than those of someone else; and think about why your opponents may also have a legitimate viewpoint worthy of consideration.
Are you ready to believe six impossible things before breakfast? (Just ask Alice.) Then you may be ready for the discomfort of thought. If not, then leave your echo chamber, lock the door behind you, drink some more coffee, and try to do it by the close of business.
Headline image via Google Image Search.