Prisoners of Our Own Device

As we near the end of the year, a year that may take us YEARS to evaluate, I wanted to post a summing up blog, but am hamstrung a bit by the question of definition. What do I want from my blog, and what, really, in the end is a blog, anyway? I suppose to a degree, you could say its a “public diary”. Certainly, any thing terribly personal in nature, could not be the content, unless I was some sort of literary exhibitionist (let’s not go there). I was thinking it’s part confessional, and part sermon, which is a bit ironic, as I have no real formal religious underpinnings. But when I thought about it a bit more, I think that what I am doing in this space, is trying to understand some things about myself, and if communicating these things to others is part of who I am, well– then so be it.

So what is my takeaway (so far) from this year? Is it that we are a resilient people? That doesn’t feel right; honestly, many of us haven’t reacted well at all. We seemed to have raised petty to an art form, and it’s hard to see even what we intended the result of that pettiness to be. Maybe it’s that we have gotten a needed punch in the gut, to force us to examine what’s important? You could make a case for that, but if so, has it worked? We seem to have competing interpretations of what is important; if we had some shared realization, then maybe this would be a justifiable assessment, but what would that be? There’s no consensus, and maybe it would be impossible for there to be one. How could we expect hospital workers and patients to agree with Store Owners and Church members on what we should have done or could have done better?

We are beset with so many conflicting opinions that it is difficult to have a conversation with anyone without raising the room temperature to an unbearable degree. So we seek outlets that allow us the comfort of being surrounded by people and opinions that are much like our own.

Most of my friends know that I am a so-called “conservative” (though I dislike the term, I’ll grudgingly accept it), and those that like or love me, either commend or forgive me for it, depending on their own personal views. But I’ll be the first to admit, that I find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to listen for any length of time to those who have a more “liberal bent”. And, when I ponder this, I realize that this is a large part of the problem.

There is a psychological term, “Stockholm syndrome”, that describes how prisoners will often embrace the views of, and become sympathetic to, their captors, and I’m beginning to think that, in a strange sort of a way, this is what many of us, in today’s world, have fallen victim to. Some might reasonably say, well, how can that apply– we’re not prisoners. But, aren’t we? Aren’t we all prisoners of our pre-conceptions? They have surrounded us with the warmth of familiarity, the comfort of predictability, and the promise of continuity. Think about that! Does that sound a lot like a prison to you? It does to me. We’ve sacrificed our ability to neutrally evaluate our circumstances to the assurance offered by groups that “provide to us” a world view that requires no consideration on our part. There is great comfort in allowing others to think for you, and when you’re in prison, maybe that seems like the easiest choice. When all around you, there is conflict and turmoil, maybe the one thing you can cling to, is finding someone, anyone, to agree with, all, or at least virtually all, of the time.

It seems like a poor way to live, doesn’t it? Find someone, or someones, that always agree with you, and bask in the comfort of that shared assurance. Better this, than having real (but painful) exchanges (or even exposure) to those with differing viewpoints. But what are we giving up? We’re giving up our chance to let someone else, besides our “captors”, enrich our lives. And in doing so, eliminating our ability to have useful discourse with anyone, except those that we agree with. I’m sure that many people, when reading this, might say, “Well, I know many people who this applies to, but not to me”. I think we’ve actually convince ourselves that it’s just the “other guy” that has tunnel vision. This is the crux of it, really: we’re stuck in this logic loop, the one that says “I’ve got all the REAL information, and the other poor schmuck needs to be enlightened”.

So….I’ve ruminated on what I can do about this. And I’m considering that the only way to free yourself from preconceptions, is to make an honest attempt (this is the hard part) to listen to opposing views. This can’t be the cherry-picking that many of us our used to. It’s very easy, to listen to the opposing views that are CHOSEN for you, by your captors. Okay, I’m personalizing the captor, or externalizing it, fine, but you get my point– it’s very easy to find anecdotal evidence of statements or information about the “others” that only reinforce your own points of view. This kind of “straw man” examination of opposing viewpoints is no substitute for a sober review of diverse worldviews and philosophies.

In 2021, I’m assigning myself the task, of finding, cogent, well-stated articles about all the BIG ISSUES of the day: Racism, Socialism vs. Capitalism, Police Brutality, China & Russian interference & competition with, health care, religious freedom, freedom of the press, rights of the individual, abortion, just to name a few. I already know (mostly) what “conservatives” have to say about many of this topics. But I’m going to make it my business to find rational expressions on both sides.

And I’m going to make up my own mind. And this is my offer to you (you’ll notice I didn’t say “challenge”, as that is an overworked word these days!): If you are willing to do the same, whatever your personal worldview is, and you want to have a serious “discussion” at the end of 2021 with me, I’m game. I think I’ve done what many have done, and tried too hard to get along w/ my captor (which really, is just myself), and I need to recover my ability to rationally seek the truth. That will be harder, I think, than finding comforting and reassuring words that will relieve me of having to formulate opinions on my own.

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