I wrote last week about the value of obtaining reliable statistical data as a resource for thinking. I added the qualification that one must understand where the data comes from and one must assess what is actually being measured by it. But of course, statistical data has never been the only source of available information. Take the example of political discourse. We hear about values-based information, decisions made as a “matter of principle,” information that is based in loyalty to a particular ideological perspective. While people may believe that their values, principles, and ideologies are “true,” their veracity is always difficult to determine. In the absence of proof for their foundational beliefs, such people rely on the affirmation that their beliefs about the world should be true. Perhaps such beliefs could be seen as matters of “faith.”
Beliefs based in faith are extremely difficult to challenge and almost impossible to discredit, because the very attempt communicates disloyalty to the purported source of the information. (The source might be seen as God or some beloved charismatic figure.) One example of this dynamic can be seen in the basis of libertarian doctrine. Much of the detail about this belief system appears to come from the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. The idea of super benefit being fair compensation for superior creativity may make for good fiction, but the way a novel turns out cannot produce the same quality of useful data as properly constructed research might. I say this with the humility of a novelist. My novel expresses a particular point of view that may invite people to look at life and its possibilities differently, but in no way can it be seen as a source of reliable data. It has value for what it is, but using it like research data would be completely inappropriate.
The main defense against challenges to current libertarian philosophy usually takes the form of a statement like: “Well, if our politicians ever had the nerve to try it honestly and completely, they would discover that an economic system based in free-market deserving would certainly work!” While it is true that libertarian economics has never been tried fully, that does not serve as a reliable indicator of its legitimacy. Some data does exist indicating that the limited experiments in libertarian economics have been disastrous, and from that I conclude that it would be unconscionable to subject the entire economy to such a radical experiment. (Now, just in case you’re wondering, that last statement is my opinion, and it should not be used as fact just because I said it. If you take the time to evaluate available economic data, you can then think it through to your own conclusion.)
One the consequences of any ideologically based information is that it tends to be one-sided and selective. Such information is chosen to defend an established position rather than offer new understanding or perspective that can facilitate the process towards more comprehensive truth. I don’t believe that any of us are capable of filtering all ideology out of our thinking. We all select the data we will utilize, albeit unconsciously. To borrow a phrase, the goal here is progress, not perfection. As individuals, perhaps we need to take more care in scrutinizing and validating the information that is available, and perhaps we can be more courageous in the process of further illuminating reality. But as individuals we can take the process just so far before unavoidably we become overshadowed by our preconceived ideas or even our prejudices. So let’s consider how healthy community can help facilitate healthy thinking.
Adding the participation of a community to the thinking process must be done with great care. Sometimes communities enforce ideology and will attempt to discredit the brave individual who dares point at “the Emperor’s new clothes.” There is plenty of that going on today in the arenas of religion and politics. But communities also are capable of providing a much broader set of perspectives from which to produce and evaluate information. If the objective of the community is courageous exploration to illuminate truth rather than the preservation or enforcement of ideology, then community can support healthy thinking.
You may have noticed that I end each of my blog posts with some version of “This is how I see it; what do you think?” I rely on other perspectives to help me evaluate my sources of information and to help me think more clearly. It is obvious that I write from a particular perspective, one that I believe is useful. But I know that it is not the only perspective, nor is it the only useful one.
Finally, the healthy sharing of perspectives does not determine who is right and who is wrong. In this post, I am referring to sharing that is a different kind of act of faith. It is not about faith in a particular ideological position. Rather it embodies faith in a process that can evaluate available information and use it to fill out our understanding of reality. In short, this process invites us to experience and embrace deeper and more comprehensive truth. I think it is a good plan.
(OK, here it comes:) “This is how I see it, what do you think?
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
My post next week will address how we can obtain and utilize information from the realms of personal experience, the emotions, intuition, and spirit in the service of a healthy thinking process.