Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Are Them, They Are Us

It does not matter, ultimately, what I say, or how correct I believe my beliefs to be. It does not matter what facts I have considered, what obfuscations I have overcome, what logic I have applied; though I can say I have done all those things, considered, weighed, rejected, and analyzed until my conclusions became clear to me, those conclusions are mine. Whatever clarity I believe I have brought to the world, it is subject to my predilections and the mental framework in which I operate. I can only hope, in outlining and explaining my point of view, that I can convince others of the correctness on my conclusions. As a scientist, I know that even though I subject myself and my hypotheses to rigorous standards, my conclusions may seem correct on the surface, but may ultimately be flawed. Such is the way of learning and growth of knowledge.

And so it goes. I may exhort you to see my point of view, but ultimately, you will apply your own set of standards and mental constructs to what I have to say, and may accept or reject my premises, en toto or in part, as you see fit. Whatever the case, it is only through the objective exchange of ideas and the opening of minds to new concepts that we advance as a species and a society. To hold on to the dead weight of discredited knowledge, or to cling desperately to belief and reject that which is rational and provable, is to put a brake upon the forward progress we enjoy.

This is not to cast aside personal belief as some ill-formed panacea of the mind, though; sometimes it is only belief that carries us forward toward the truth. Belief is a construct that shores up our mental bulwarks when we are placed in situations where our knowledge is inadequate, or where the rational may prove more damaging to the psyche. It may sometimes allow us to endure terrible pain, or horrible loss, or impending death with stoic dignity rather than irrational fear and dread.

Knowledge and belief can work in concert, if given the opportunity; for either to cast aside the other is to lose sight of the grander view of the universe we inhabit, an nigh-infinite palette of wonder and awe, of which we have only scratched the surface in the search for knowledge. Belief can take us forward in search of knowledge, and strengthen our resolve when sometimes it may falter. They are aspects of the same thing -- our curiosity and our unquenchable desire for answers.

Where they are brought into conflict, especially in America, is where one is used as a substitute for the other, and where one group would legislate the other away. Our founders knew that there was trouble brewing, and also knew that if they did not prepare the ground properly, their new nation, conceived in liberty, would fall once more into tyranny. As such, they outlined quite specifically what liberty and freedom meant as far as our nation was concerned: each to their own, but no one above another, all in the interest of mutual freedom and the greater good. We would be a pluralistic society, where each person held inalienable rights, and those rights were only altered where it was necessary to ensure that the greater good was advanced.

The hardest part of living in such a nation is that you are forced to encounter those things which are anathema to your beliefs and/or knowledge. There, standing before you, will be the example of something that goes contrary to everything you know and everything you feel, a thing which may raise your ire and cause you to clench your teeth and your fists. Whatever it may be, it has as much right to be as you do. That is a hard thing to swallow. For freedom to be true, however, we must accept the good with the bad; we can only defeat ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry by allowing them into the light, and surrounding them knowledge, understanding, and tolerance.

In many cases, there may be no mutual understanding, cooperation, or compromise. Such is the way of things. If so, we must make our way through each day, together, as best we can, do the best that we know how to do, and hope that we can alter the course of humanity enough to offset the irrational and intemperate. It is hard work, perhaps not as hard as facing down a volley of lead fired by men intent on taking your freedom by force, but still hard nonetheless, and it is a constant of our nation. The founders only set the initial course -- it is we who sail our ship toward the dawn.

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