A State of Mental Ruin

Thus begins the first post to this blog. Incipit. It is intended as a sort of journal, a compilation of my thoughts and ideas, ruminations on the current state of affairs, hypothesizing, vaticinating. I feel it prudent, however, to first offer some form of benchmark, a crumb of context into the world I will be scrutinizing.

The state of affairs: enduring turmoil in the Middle East with esp. regard to Israel/Palestine, I.S.I.L. in Iraq/Syria; divisiveness among citizens in the United States on every issue (key issues being police brutality, income inequality, social liberties, privacy, torture, religion, bullying, inter alia); pervasive disregard for our habitat and mankind; meteoric technological advancement, sometimes to the detriment of the human race, etcetera.

It is that last entry which will serve as a catalyst for the rest of this post. To clarify, it is not the scientific and technological achievements that are to blame for the deterioration of the human condition; they merely exacerbate that which has existed in humans for thousands of years already. What I refer to is part and parcel the substance of every sociopolitical problem that plagues mankind.

It is the lack of reason and critical thinking.

This is nothing new.

Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil. – Plato

Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. – William Shakespeare

It is the default setting for the human psyche. It is easier to be ignorant. Everything in the universe behaves with a considerable degree of predictability; it is the nature of the universe to take the easiest path, like water. The easiest path, with regard to intellect, is to remain oblivious, to refrain from considerable exertion. Thinking extracts one from his or her comfort zone, especially if one is not attuned to it.

Laziness, therefore, contributes the largest portion towards intellectual apathy.

There are other parameters. Refer back to the comfort zone. Being forced to evaluate a concept or a fact that is not in line with one’s current worldview puts one at odds with their own status quo. Going further, humans are predisposed to agreeability, the herd mentality, at least as far as their social structure is concerned. It is human nature to fit in, to belong. One will often act subconsciously toward maintaining his or her place in the group for fear of retribution or ostracism. Aggravating the hive is not conducive; it is contrary to a state of serenity. Thus, one may inherit the views of peers in order to maintain their social stratification. This is most apparent with regard to religion and politics.

Then, through cognitive dissonance, one cannot help but hold fast to a belief, even in the face of antithetical evidence or superior reasoning. It doesn’t fit with what we know of the world, therefore there must be some flaw or trickery, so the thinking goes. Conflict is also a characteristic of human nature, so long as it falls within the us vs. them paradigm (also to draw attention to oneself, which is another topic entirely). It is easier to resist that which comes from outside the group. So, the first response towards a perceived attack on the group and its collective ideology is to assume a defensive posture against it.

This is all aggravated by unbridled emotion and self-identification with a particular ideal. By allowing emotions to replace reason, one is ruled by the visceral response. By allowing a set of ideals to define oneself, contradictory belief or information is therefore seen as being a personal attack, rather than an assault on the idea itself. This is the ego reigning with an iron fist.

Another pertinent factor to be considered: it is also in the best interest of the governing body to perpetuate a state of sciolism in the populace. An ignorant people is easier to rule or deceive. This is not to say that all governing bodies are corrupt, only that the need for an obtuse public increases in proportion to the level of corruption, as does the level of deception. 

All of these things manifest in a cultural tendency to abhor being wrong. Admitting wrong is analogous to admitting defeat. This is how inaccuracy and faulty logic remain pervasive. Combined with the tendency to self-identify with a belief, one is left with no recourse but to double down, even in the face of irrefutable proof that they are wrong. Another problem that rises from this ethos is that people would rather distribute lies to advance that which they have aligned themselves, even while knowing that they are lying. This degradation of integrity is the true breakdown of society.

This is how humans, generally speaking, repel negotiation and collaboration through which meaningful progress and results can be obtained.

So what is the solution?

The answer is a two-pronged approach: to reprogram the culture to value critical thinking, and to encourage the development of the individual to transcend the ego. Both are hallmarks of enlightenment. The biggest obstacle, however, is that ignorance cannot easily recognize ignorance in itself. One cannot know he is ignorant because the ignorance does not allow for ample introspection in order to see it. Those who are asleep are calling for the masses to wake up! It is like a dream in which the person dreams that they are awake. The other encumbrance is that the ego does not like introspection. It is the most uncomfortable thing for the ego to face, and humans inherently despise discomfort.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. -Confucius

One final addendum: promote exposure to new experiences. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions. A closed mind, however, cannot admit new ideas. A closed mind is the hallmark of a fool. Still, it does only good to expose each mind to an array of new experiences, cultures, places, ideas. Ever wonder why the most adamant proponents of some ideas never want others to experience conflicting ideas? They have little faith in the legitimacy of the idea. There lies the echoes of the seed of doubt. What are they so afraid of? Any idea of worth can stand up to scrutiny. Ideas are like a virus. And like the immune system, the mind is made stronger by exposure to more of them.

What have we to fear if our ideas are reasonable?

No one believes they are wrong at the outset, or they believe their degree of wrongness is less than those of others. Yet, if humans were to acknowledge or assume that they are likely wrong, it would serve to temper the need for being right. Do not stand idle while humanity flounders for lack of the intellectual sustenance that is reason. It is only through reason that we will be able to transcend ourselves, the fools that we are.

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