I wrote the first four parts of this series a year ago, but something I recently read in How to Think brought the subject to mind again so here is another way to separate the internet’s wheat from its chaff:
Rule #5 – Does the website engage with the best arguments of its opposition?
In a chapter of How to Think titled Repulsions, Alan Jacobs warns that animus toward our opposition “disables our ethical and our practical judgment.” We have such an emotional investment in believing that they are wrong that we harp on their weakest arguments and ridicule their most loony representatives.
If you want to find the truth, then the most dangerous place for you to be is in a group that already agrees with you.
This is particularly true if membership in that group is based on shared thinking, such as the sort of church where you must all recite the same creed, the faculty of a school where there are written or unwritten expectations for what you will teach or publish, or a political party whose “platform” you must support.
The reason is obvious, isn’t it? As Alan Jacobs says in his book, How to Think,
…the pressures imposed on us by Inner Rings [of people who control such groups] make genuine thinking almost impossible by making belonging contingent on conformity.
He continues with the solution:
What hope could there be for someone who is such a devoted member of the infamous Westborough Baptist Church (“God Hates Fags”) that she tweets missives such as this one:
Thank God for AIDS! You won’t repent of your rebellion that brought His wrath on you in this incurable scourge, so expect more & worse!
And what if that evangelist for hate had been steeped in it since infancy, being the granddaughter of the church’s founder?
In How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, author Alan Jacobs tells the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, whose social-media campaign to spread Westborough Baptist’s message ultimately backfired in a spectacular way.
Some of us struggle to be sure of our facts, to make sure they all fit together, and to figure everything out. Others are able to simply receive what life has to offer. Actor-turned-painter Jim Carrey is in the latter category. Here is his painting, Jesus Electric, followed by his commentary on it in a short documentary about his paintings.
Mary enters the house and looks into the living room. A familiar appearance greets her from her husband’s chair. She thinks, “My husband is sitting in the living room,” and then walks into the den. But Mary misidentified the man in the chair. [Perhaps she only saw the back of his head.] It’s not her husband, but his brother, whom she had no reason to think was even in the country. However, her husband was seated along the opposite wall of the living room, out of Mary’s sight, dozing in a different chair.
Would you say that Mary knew her husband was in the living room or, because she was mistaken about the evidence, was she merely lucky?
Only eight posts ago, I lamented that the more important our decisions are, the less thought we seem to put into them. We only invest enough thought to find what makes us feel good, I said, and I wished we would apply more rational thought to our big choices.
Maybe I was asking too much.
Philosopher L.A. Paul says that when it comes to truly life-changing decisions — ones that transform the way you think or your mode of being — there’s no way we can be entirely rational, because on the other side of those decisions we will be so profoundly changed that our present selves can have no idea what our future selves will think.
A friend recently encouraged me to recall the times I perceived the hand of God on my life.