Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We should question everything.


Tons of reasons, really. For one thing, there’s a lot of bullshit floating around out there. And not just the obvious bullshit, like stuff coming out of the government or corporate advertising or churches. Don’t get me wrong, those places are industrialized factories for the stuff, but bullshit starts at home with you and me. The individual is an important source of bullshit in society. My advice on the matter would be, “Don’t believe everything you think and feel.” If you cannot possibly question something, there might be a problem.

Another reason is because asking “Why?” can lead to a search for answers which will reinforce an idea that is true. The truth cannot be blunted by an abrasive critique, it is merely sharpened to a fine point.

Sometimes one can judge the veracity of an idea by the hostility exhibited by those unwilling or unable to provide an answer. I came up with this notion in high school when I would ask my science teachers a question they couldn’t answer, and they would politely say, “I don’t know, I’ll look into it.” When I asked a religion teacher something, like, “If everything needs a cause, and that cause is God, and God is something, why doesn’t God need a cause?” I would get a puzzled stare and usually some condescending or tangential drivel. They rarely if ever said, “I don’t know,” and unlike the science teachers, they never came back the next day with an answer.

It’s important to identify people who can admit they don’t know. An intellectually honest person can do it, and an intellectually driven person will take that as a challenge to find an answer. The problem is, just because someone is too intellectually lazy to do anything but insult you doesn’t mean their stance is wrong, it merely means they take it on faith.

The problem for the questioner is that they must then take on the role of self-educator, and this is one way of turning someone off to an idea. Learning about something independently strips it of both the enthusiasm and the deeper understanding that a mentor can provide as supplemental to texts and other common media.

Socrates organized his entire teaching philosophy around this idea. He knew it was not enough to read every single written work; there would still be volumes of knowledge left untapped to the well-read pupil, not to mention countless misunderstandings that needed explanation.

What’s more, we must always question what we read and hear, whether it’s a politician’s speech, a newspaper article, a commercial, a sermon, a story told by a good friend, etc. Even this is not enough, because we must then further question our very thoughts and memories, which are just as open to error as anything else.

Rene Descartes is famous for questioning his very being, and in fact said, “If you would be a real seeker of truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” I imagine this is what drove him to prove something as simple as his very existence. Even the most elementary, time honored, and emotionally invested ideas must be open to inquiry.

Also, one must keep perspective. It is not a good idea to simply abandon something you have a negative disposition towards in favor of unquestioningly accepting an alternative. If one needs an example of this, look no further than politics or corporations or religion. Don’t like the Democrats? Doesn’t mean you’ll like Republicans. Don’t like Coke? Doesn’t mean you’ll like Pepsi. Hate Christianity? Well, you may love Islam…

Don’t get me wrong, some people might actually want to vote Republican, or drink Pepsi, or be Muslim… I don’t know who, but there’s a lot of dumb people out there. It’s not for me to tell them how stupid they can be.

But I will ask them questions.

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