When outrageous statements pollute the airwaves, the most common reactions are to either shun them or to use the sort of vocabulary I just did and condemn them as utter nonsense and a menace to society.
NO! And there couldn’t be a more resounding no than that!
Both of these reactions are wrong because they stem from a single – so it appears – innate biological wiring in our brains that puts us at the centre of the universe, leads us to believe that we have acquired the entirety of knowledge available to our species and that our intelligence is the benchmark against which all statements made by anyone other than ourselves must be measured. I am afraid that to think this way is to delude oneself in the most ridiculous fashion.
If we try to fight this impulse that so strongly encourages us to believe that our opinion is naturally right and that any opinion irreconcilable with ours must be wrong and judge someone else’s opinion based on the assumption that our intelligence might well not surpass theirs and that they dispose of an experience just as vast as ours (albeit different), the result of our judgement may be very different.
I can already hear the many angry voices of those who are indignant at the idea that every statement has its place in society. No, they say: some things should not be said and can therefore not be said!
Fie, I say!
No one man posses the truth, nor does any group of people hold the property of wisdom. Have we not reached the apex of arrogance then, if we let one group of people forbid another to voice their opinion – as uninformed as it may be?
And yet again, I can hear the outraged voices of the self-proclaimed intellectuals who cannot fathom the idea that their own opinions – after all the fruit of a long thought process and weighing up facts – might not deserve to stand as the sole truth, able to shut up any statement to the contrary.
And what a ghastly thought that there should be but one current of thought, an official doctrine that in no way makes me a better man in letting me see what is right but that belittles my capacity to think for myself and does the job for me. It troubles me deeply to note that this is where we are heading. What good does the public outrage and grievous commemoration of the burning of books do if in today’s society the mere voicing of a politically incorrect opinion, not the printing of it can lead to something more resembling a witch-hunt from the middle ages than a civilised and enlightened debate. All too often people forget that just because a period of time has preceded theirs which was called the “enlightenment”, this does not mean that they themselves are enlightened.
“Sapere Aude!” is something each one of us has to do for himself. No one can do the job for us and results may vary.
What seems to me to be the most pressing issue in this context is that people need to let go of their narcissistic view that any opinion they hold is superior to any other opinion, a view which seems to be hard-wired into our brains. The minute we understand that any opinion is only the outcome of an evaluation of the facts available to us combined with our personal experiences and that those variables are different for anyone out there, we might yet realise that engaging in conversation and debate with “lunatics” and “nut-jobs” might be more productive than casting them off as such. More productive in the way that it gives us an actual chance of having our opinion be heard by them with the possibility that they may change theirs. More productive as well because we, ourselves, might learn something from these people we deem to be inferior to ourselves – if not on the subject at hand at least on the thought process that leads to a person’s opinions and on what represents the breeding ground for radicalism.
So shut up with your telling people to shut up, listen, reflect, try to understand and if presented with new information: have the courage to change your opinion, even if it becomes more aligned with that of a person whom ten minutes ago you considered unworthy of a single second of your time!
And for fuck’s sake: don’t be afraid to voice your disagreement!