Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You're probably wrong

I'm pretty certain that no one goes through life with the idea that they are close-minded. We all think that we are open to evidence and that our positions are all reasonable and correct. The mind-boggling array of opinions held by the whole of humanity suggests otherwise. And yet I'm comfortable with most of my views. Obviously I wouldn't believe something to be true that I actually thought was false. This is natural; not only that, it's the only functional way to go through life without falling into the trap of solipsism. So I hold my beliefs in an open mind and trade them out when new data is presented.

It has come to my attention that I am not very good at this. Over the past few weeks I have read several books and articles that have changed my perceptions, sometimes subtly, sometimes in larger ways. In doing this, I have noticed myself resisting the new ideas because they did not fit comfortably in the narrative of facts in my head.

Politics are a terrible cesspool of stagnant ideas and stubborn beliefs precisely because of the problem of being close-minded. I was listening to NPR yesterday (I know I promised to stop, and for the most part I have, but I do peek back in from time to time) and there was a story about the economy. The story posited that, although the Left and Right disagreed on many things about the economy, they did agree about some basic things. The eventual ends of Medicare and Social Security, due to insufficient funds and too many users, was mentioned as a point of agreement between both liberal and conservative economists. I'm not going to link to the story or even provide many details about it because they aren't important. The point of this story is that I immediately reacted negatively to the very idea. It didn't fit my narrative about our economy. I don't know if the story accurately portrayed two valid views on the economy or not. I'm not an expert, nor am I terribly interested in researching the health of Medicare right now. I have no right to just dismiss the entire premise out of hand. It was pretty shocking to see this behavior in myself and it makes me wonder how many of my other beliefs and opinions I have formed with blind eyes.

The problem is that I don't know how to proceed without making these assumptions. It's a joke but it's true that stereotypes are a real time-saver. I prejudge nearly every single person I meet based on their clothing and language and posture. I filter every news story through my set of assumptions. I imagine that we all do. Just because we can't agree on basic facts doesn't mean that everybody's right. It just means that most of us are wrong.

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