If there’s one thing I really cannot stand (I only say that for effect, the List of Things I Can’t Stand is at least 30 items long), it’s people entering a serious debate with two conditions already met: a) they have no idea what they’re talking about, and b) they have every intention of keeping it that way.
I’ve been on the internet for a while now, so every fiber of my being begs me to listen to common sense and reason whenever I think about getting into a debate on said internet. You know what kind of people are out there, my rational mind says. These people avoid books like a fat kid avoids… uhm… like an old lady… hmm. Well you know what I’m saying. But I avoid such silly things as rationality, hoping against hope that there’s a chance I can enter into rational debates over controversial subjects. Armed with nothing but facts, logic, common sense and evidence, I descend into the belly of the beast, ready to politely discuss a variety of real-world issues.
Let’s back up a bit. I love reading. I love learning. It often doesn’t matter what the subject is so long as I can consume some information I haven’t already acquired. I don’t even have to make use of it, I just want to know things. That’s one of the reasons the internet is so darn cool. I can learn something new by looking it up, talking to someone else, reading a thread or viewing a comments section. On the internet you’re up against the combined knowledge of every single person on the planet with an internet connection. Talk about feeling inadequate.
But along with a desire to learn comes the inevitable satisfaction and, to some degree, security that knowledge brings. It’s difficult to explain, but once I know something, I feel good that I know it, and I feel like I’m immune to being led astray or drawn to lies. All things considered, lies are plentiful in this world, perpetuated by greed, stereotypes and personal interest. It’s a dangerous world we live in, primarily because humanity can be so incredibly derp, and ignorance can be quite dangerous.
However, ignorance is not the problem. Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance, but there is no cure for willful ignorance, and the latter is truly the problem, the thing that bothers me the most. One of the problems with this mentality is that it prevents us from moving forward. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, if people refuse to be open to new ideas, we ain’t getting anywhere.
I think that one of the issues might be personal involvement in said issues. If someone has been personally affected in some way related to it, whether it’s physically or emotionally, they’ll be less likely to change. I find this a lot when it comes to religious and political debates. Theists who have some emotional attachment to their faith don’t want to consider the possibility that their god doesn’t exist; atheists who have been scolded by strangers, or even loved ones, for their beliefs (or lack thereof) don’t want to consider that being religious is perfectly fine; people who hear horror stories about other belief systems in other countries that anger or frighten them don’t want to believe that these things aren’t true; families who have been hit by disasters related to political issues don’t want to consider candidates from parties that aren’t their own.
The list goes on and on. Emotional investment in issues, especially feelings like fear and hate, can be powerful motivators to believe certain things. Unfortunately it makes humankind easily manipulable, and we get to the point where people can get others to believe whatever they’d like them to, especially if it helps their cause.
But this is the part that confuses me. There’s an easy answer to just about everything, a solution to constantly living in fear and delusion: learning. As an outsider looking in, I think it’s ridiculous and ever so obvious when I see high profile speakers, the media, et all, trying to convince people about things to be afraid of, things to hate, things that are so ridiculously untrue that anyone with a lick of common sense should see right through. That’s the security that I gain by bothering to keep an open mind and pursuing knowledge instead of hearsay. I don’t understand why more people wouldn’t want that. Surely it can’t be comforting, can it? It can’t make one feel safer to feel so much emotion over nonexistent problems? (And I won’t call you Shirley.)
Learning should be cooler than it is. It really should. It’s fun to learn new things, and I find that there’s less to panic about when I know what’s going on. Facts denounce stereotypes and combat irrationality, they invite curiosity and promote critical thinking. I can go all day hearing about the gay agenda, Muslim terrorists, socialists and communists and the fall of civilization itself, but I like the fact that I’m not buying into that. I think it’s something to be proud of.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some random issue spread like wildfire that was mostly speculation and assumptions. I didn’t know what to believe, but it sure sounded scary. I took a trip to the bookstore or to my friendly neighborhood search engine, and within a few hours I knew enough to believe that, in most cases, what most people were trying to say was complete and utter nonsense. On top of that, I knew enough to tell other people, hey, what you’re hearing is wrong.
All I’m saying is that knowledge has a track record of being pretty awesome. The more I learn, the better I feel about things and the less fearful I am about the state of the world (though there are notable exceptions). Go read a book. Go browse Wikipedia and get lost in the hyperlinks. Go to a library. Do something. Learning is a beautiful thing, and it should be cooler than it is.