I’ve been thinking about the "Leap Before You Look" entry and all the inane babble that struggles to pass itself off as intelligent thought. That got me to attempt some actual intelligent thought. Having failed, I decided to post this latest entry.
I’ve been thinking about the quote attributed to Winston Churchill, “If you are not a liberal in your twenties, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative in your forties, you have no brain." (Close enough.) Though I don’t see this as Democrat vs. Republican (since I am neither) or even specifically political, I do see a lot of truth in that statement. I’ve often wondered why that is.
Not too long ago, I found myself in a lively political/philosophical discussion with a very bright guy in his mid-twenties. Despite the fact that we agreed on almost nothing I have to give him credit for the simple fact that, instead of just reacting to me, he actually listened. He found himself perplexed to hear me espousing views that, most often, he’d heard from the mouths of traditional conservatives (to him read, “right-wing zealots") without the rhetoric. It stopped him in his tracks from time to time and he found himself saying, “yes, but when you put it that way….”
I found him not ready to agree but, perhaps, ready to hear snippets of thinking that, until now, seemed wholly unacceptable to him. It was in listening to him that I had flashes of my own younger desires to reject “blind establishment” thinking. He kept fighting (himself mostly) the ideas by exclaiming, “but most of the people who say what you’re saying are ultra-religious-right-wing moralists!” It was difficult for him to hear the same conclusion derived from a different point of view. It was difficult because now it might have to be considered. (Remember, he was listening.)
I explained to him that there were as many headcases arguing his
conclusions as mine. But should we throw the baby out with the dogma, so to speak?
It was around that point in the conversation that I began to believe that I understood some of the mechanics behind the Churchill quote. It’s almost reflexive when we’re younger to resist what appears to be narrow-minded thinking. (After all, they make the rules, they tell us what we can and cannot do.) And since we do resist, we tend to reject the “rules” that appear to result from stupid thinking. But if there was any insight in my “Leap Before You Look” entry -- if, indeed, most of the “thinking” we reject isn’t thinking at all but simply backward rationalizations then, perhaps, throwing out the rules could prove to be a mistake.
Despite common non-think, one can oppose same-sex marriage without being homophobic. One can believe in traditional roles in marriage without being a chauvinist, etc. Because many homophobes and chauvinists put forward similar ideas doesn’t make those ideas wrong (or right, for that matter.) Let’s take all that backward rationalization and re-label it DOGMA. We feel and/or believe in something that we haven't really thought our way into but we have to justify/rationalize our position. So we dress it up and take it out to dinner in as much “finery” as we can conjure. “God said it.” “It’s simply the right way!” “Anything other than this is immoral (or just plain wrong.)”
In our twenties, it makes a lot of sense to walk away from this kind of non-think. The problem is, the non-think might not invalidate the “conclusions.” Even worse, in the very act of rebelling against mindless dogma we aren’t doing any real thinking of our own. We’re simply rebelling, opposing the end result, then rationalizing our own dogma to support our
conclusions. And so it goes. Ad nauseum.
For some, growing older opens the door (if we can get past our own dogma) and affords the opportunity to learn from experience. We might actually come to the conclusion that, despite mindless rhetoric, there are very good reasons for some of the rules we were once so anxious to abandon. Some of the "old school thinking" might stink of dust and decay but the ideas, the rules themselves -- are you sitting down – might actually have some validity.
For example and probably not the best one -- when, as a youngster, you might be told “don’t date a married person, it’s a sin, against God, the Church and our society." That’s simple enough to reject (if you’re not particularly haunted by images of burning for eternity.) Remember, you're young and required to question authority (as you should, always.) And "society" is wrong about so much, anyway. It’s natural to expect, if not demand, a rational answer when something that’s being denied us seems so mindlessly unfair. (Ever notice how concerned “liberal thinkers” are with the concept of “fair?”) “Sin, schmin,” you think, “it’s two consenting adults, etc.”
By the time we’re forty, however, we’ve had the opportunity to have had our hearts broken a few dozen times, broken a few dozen others and maybe even broken up a home or two in the process (and, perhaps, had an irate spouse come after us with a gun.) At that point we just might find “don’t date a married person” makes a good whack of common sense.
I wonder, if we didn’t surround all our backwards non-think with so much mumbo jumbo dogma, if it would still take us late into our forties before we had an honest shot at knowing what was right in front of us all along.
In the end, perhaps Father did
know best. Maybe he just didn't explain it too well.