Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Who Let the Dogma Out?

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.


Blogger knowwhereman said...

It may be "reflexive" for youth to resist many things that seem right or sensible later on. But this is the time in life when we are allowed (even required) to indulge ourselves in untraditional and impulsive thinking. It's not so much the conclusions that youth make but the process that young people are developing within themselves to question, rebel, reject, reassess and take a stand on something even if it's "wrong".
We must do this as teens and in our twenties. We need to do some of this always. But by age 40 we had better learned to pick our fights well and something real about ourselves and the world around us. If not, we're living in a fog. Experience may not guarantee wisdom but it sure as hell seems to be one of the best ways to get there.

"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 “God said it.” “It’s simply the right way!” “Anything other than this is immoral (or just plain wrong.)”

Dogma is great because it frees a person from the effort of thinking.
Sadly, this is the popular choice today. If lots of people believe something, or if the TV or radio talk show people say it, or if a political or religious leader says it, this gives us the opportunity to take a pass on using our precious brains and instead throw our belief and consent behind what this just-newly-crowned "master"
has said. The problem in doing this is that the person we choose to blindly follow usually has an agenda they're not telling us, and by becoming a mindless sheep to a wayward shepherd we've given them a victory, become their pawn and deprived ourselves of learning the truth about the matter if we'd made the effort to look. People love dogma because they don't have to think and they believe there's safety in numbers if many people already believe something.

Not every dogma is wrong. The process of thinking does not guarantee a valid or "right" conclusion. Try as one might, we just aren't allowed to stop using our heads and hearts as long as we walk the earth. Being alive means using your brain and your emotional
energy to find real answers, to help real people, and to learn real
lessons about ourselves. We aren't the same person we were twenty years ago. We're not even the same person we were twenty minutes ago. Nor should we be.
We're all caught up in this river of life. Everything is caught up in the current, literally and figuratively. A person has no choice but to keep his head up, eyes and heart open, nose above the water line to keep from drowning in dogma and non-thinking,
and enjoy the ride.

"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."

It would be great to say Father knows best. Sometimes he does. But sometimes he doesn't. Did Father become a drone for some non-thinking dogma and just act to pass it along? Or was Father someone who used his head and heart and learned from life experience? How can you tell the difference? If Father was a different person at 40 than what he was at 20, this is a man worth listening to. He may not have all the right answers, but at least he seems to be trying.

No one has all the answers at 20, so if their thinking hasn't changed by 40 then Father has something lacking. But no one has all the answers at 40 either, so the process goes on. It would be great to say Father knows best,
but that would be "dogma" wouldn't it?

The problem today is we have an overabundance of dogma and severe
shortage of listening and thinking.
If you think, you might disagree.
If you disagree, then your patriotism (or your eternal reward)
is likely to be questioned. Media
is being consolidated into a handful of agenda-filled, party-line, corporate-speaking dirty hands, so we won't be learning too much from them. China already has internet restrictions with the assistance of American collaborators, so the question is when will this spread to other countries seeking to control thinking? That would make the internet pretty much irrelevant.
How can anyone put real faith in a dogma or learn anything new if all the means of learning anything are restricted and controlled? Hopefully, people will continue to gain wisdom from "life experience".
But life experience today is so tied into shared media experience
that they are becoming hard to separate. If you don't believe that, try doing without your computer, ipod, television, radio,
cellphone and fax machine for a year and then try to carry on a meaningful conversation with someone.

We'll know THEY have won when people in their 40s sound just like people in their 20s. And people in their 80s will sound just like people in their 20s. And when that happens, the only place you'll find a head seeking
truth and a heart filled with honest emotion is in a museum.
Father is son and son is grand-dad.
The body will get older but the mind never changes.

Who lets the dogma out? (woof! woof! woof! woof!). The answer is manifest.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Larry Hertzog said...

What he said! :)

11:53 AM  

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