We all naturally feel enhanced and maybe even vindicated when some else displays thoughts and ideas similar to our own. I’ve certainly enjoyed that heady feeling a time or two. On the flip side, it is amazingly easy to dismiss those who disagree with our opinions as being just plain stupid. That line of reasoning is on display constantly. The net result of being certain of one’s own rightness is an inability to learn from others. We can’t claim to learn from those with which we agree, because there can be nothing new in consistent agreement, unless it is some new way to diminish the voice of any “disagreers”. Intellectually, it is one thing to defeat or deflect an idea by persuading its supporters by sound reasoning. It is quite another to do so by calumny. Unfortunately, the latter approach is such easier and decidedly more gratifying to the ego.
Gravitating to like-minded people is probably unavoidable and not necessarily harmful. The problem arises when we choose to avoid the possible pain of a conflicting opinion by demonizing anyone who expresses a different thought, idea, or belief. Famously, Voltaire is attributed as having said that he might not agree with what you say but he would defend to the death your right to say it. I don’t hear much of that freedom of expression promoted by today’s “opinionators”. Too many make it their life’s work to deny others the right to an audience for their opinions or alternatively to express contempt for those that differ with them. Such can never be the basis for a democratic society. Sadly, that is where we now are.
Smart means thinks and believes like me. Stupid means the very opposite. This is the mindset of most of us most of the time. The result of such thinking is amply demonstrated in much of our human interactions. That is especially true in the realms of religion and politics, two aspects of our cultural background which are intimately intertwined.
Nothing is as stifling to growth and progress as believing that we already have all the answers, especially if those answers involve returning to a former state or condition. If moving backward were progress, the arrow of time, as the physicists like to say, would point in that direction. But it doesn’t; growth, improvement, and transformation always involve moving forward and embracing something new which invariably causes discomfort initially. This angst over change is always played out in a differentiation between generations. The older generation at any point in time agonizes over the strangeness inherent in change while younger people tend to embrace newness as an adventure to be absorbed and capitalized upon. A major part of the aversion to change which older folks experience is, I believe, driven by the inevitable changes in the physical body. These changes are often painful and debilitating, and who enjoys that. For most, the body was better in the past, and given our association with the body, a better body equates to a better time in our personal history. To notice and declare that fact is no great epiphany, certainly.