My first impression of the Honors Dorm at the University of Oklahoma was the large common room, filled with couches. The couches themselves didn’t look particularly comfortable (but at times, could be) but they were almost always covered with students, talking. I had been a relatively introverted teenager in high school, so the concept of just sitting around and talking was alien to me in many ways. Indeed, it was several weeks before I wandered downstairs one night and joined my fellow students.
Over the next four years, those couches became a common haunt for me. I shed eventually my introverted skin and ‘the Goz’ emerged, a freshman nickname that I still carry with me as a badge of pride. It’s almost too obvious to say that I ‘found’ my true self on those couches, but it’s no less true for being so evident. I began the journey in that room -usually sitting on one of those couches- to become the man I am today. Trite, I know.
Still, those couches were (ARE!) important to me today because they represent something that I feel is sorely lacking in America today. On any given day at any hour of the night and day, someone was talking about something on those couches. Something important, something worthwhile. It was college, so the topics varied from the arts to politics, from science to religion, from sports to computers. Stop by any time and join in and you were guaranteed to either have the opportunity to learn something and share your knowledge with others.
Sometimes, debates occurred with differing opinions competing for validity, but very rarely was there any vitriol. The participants adamantly felt that their side was correct, but there was always a decorum and the discussion was based upon factual points and almost never sheer hyperbole. It seemed everyone joined the conversation, the discussion, the argument with a sense of intellectual honesty and a desire to expand their knowledge. Perhaps this was a simple byproduct of the collegiate atmosphere, but it was nonetheless something wonderful and -to me- timeless. I like to think of this ‘desire of know’ as honest seeking.
To me, honest seeking is looking at the world with a solid –but never rigid– framework of knowledge, experience and perspective. Of looking at an issue and evaluating it on its merits, taking fact and opinion and parsing the truth of the issue (to you). You view your life as a chance to learn and to take what you’ve learned and apply that to the world around you. To me, this process never stops. You never stop learning and the things you learn are not perpetually correct by default.
Unfortunately, our society no longer values the importance of learning and knowledge. Equally distressing is our willingness to forgo truth in favor of spin and hyperbole. At the recent Republican Nation Convention, vice president-elect Paul Ryan gave a rousing speech that was so filled with factual inaccuracies that even Fox News, arguably the staunchest mouthpiece of Conservative America, commented on it:
“to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.” – Sally Kohn, Fox.News
Amazingly for a Fox contributor, Sally went on to criticize Ryan about this saying “[e]lections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care.” I agree wholeheartedly with Sally. The problem is that while there are many other news agencies pointing out Ryan’s wild exaggerations and outright lies, they are also praising the effectiveness of his speech. How exactly is misrepresenting the truth effective? How does that lend itself to an honest and probing examination of the issues our nation faces?
This is just a small example of a larger paradigm shift where hyperbole and opinion are replacing facts and information. It is especially evident in politics and during the recent election cycle, but we see it every day in our daily lives as well. People seem to no longer care if what their mind is digesting is healthy for them or not. They seem to no longer care about whether something they hear is true or not. They just care whether it agrees with their world-view or not.
They have stopped searching for answers because they have found a comfy-cozy place in their mind where everything exists just as they like it and nothing challenges them to much. Let’s call it the “Goldilock Reality“. They believe that Obama is a Kenyan Communist out to kill their grannies and take away their guns and that the worst drought since the Dust Bowl is caused not by the record breaking industrialization of our world but by extremely flatulent polar bears. Why? Because thinking otherwise challenges their beliefs and expectations, requires them to accept that they might be wrong and that a painful course correction might be necessary. People shy away from things that inconvenience them or that they don’t understand or cannot accept.
This is true of everyone, even liberal-minded people. For example, HBO’s Bill Maher is constantly waging a one-man war against religion. While I understand (and agree with) the points he makes about the negative aspects of organized religion, his blanket condemnation of all aspects of religion and spirituality go far past the realm of intellectual disagreement and into an absolutist hatred of faith. He no longer even tries to understand what people believe or why they believe it and instead simply labels them as idiots. How is this any different than global warming debunkers? Or Birthers? The clearest answer to that is because Obama’s birth and global warming are both verifiable with recorded facts. Yet, the definition of faith is a belief in the unknowable. It’s like love. We know it exists, even though we can’t prove it. All of these still stem from the same place: a lack of acceptance and understanding. These things disagree with their critics worldviews and politics and they are not intellectually honest enough to want to understand and accept.
The worst thing about all of this is that our society as a whole has this mentality, not just our pundits and politicos. Americans devalue education. They avoid the informative in favor of the entertaining. It’s sad when a show like PBS’s Nova and a genius like Neil Degrasse Tyson loses to absolute pablum like X-Factor and a preening douchebag like Simon Cowell. Case in point: although the RNC’s televised vitriol boiled my blood, I still think it is important for people to know what the Republicans were saying. Yet, the RNC lost out in ratings to Here Comes Little Honey Boo Boo (I refuse to even link it), a show about an inbred redneck child-monster. While I understand that the in-bred, redneck demographic is shared by both shows, I’m still somewhat sad to see such an important event lose to what can only be considered an insult to humanity.
We don’t care about the truth. We don’t care about learning and expanding our minds. We don’t care about exploration or enlightenment or improvement. We are comfy in our chairs, eating our porridge. We are complacent and careless and one day, there will be a bear that comes home. On that day, we’ll wish we’d done a little more honest seeking.
I know this is a serious blog entry. I promise to discuss lighter fair in the future, but I think it’s important I said this. Not only because I feel it is woefully lacking in our society, but also to establish a challenge to myself as well as to any readers. If you ever read something you disagree with on my blog, let me know. Here’s the catch though: you must back it up with verifiable facts. Fox.com is not a valid resource for facts, so don’t even plop that link in your comment. I want to learn, I want to re-evaluate and revise my opinions if they are wrong. I encourage your comments and criticisms.
Here’s hoping I hear from you and hoping you’ll visit me again.