May 5, 2016

Finding Good Ideas Amidst the Bad Ones

good idea
So there I was watching a YouTube video by some pro-Ayn Rand libertarian person I'd never heard of and disagreeing with nearly everything he said. But I wasn't just disagreeing; I was calling him names in my head. "What a moron!" It was as if my mind was rebelling against the content to which I was exposing it. "He sounds like he's been brainwashed." It was a long video, well over an hour long. The speaker seemed to shift from topic to topic without a coherent line connecting them. "Great, now he's promoting Donald Trump! This just keeps getting better and better."

Why was I subjecting myself to this? That is a fair question. As regular readers will know, I have written here many times about the value of exposing ourselves to diverse opinions and viewpoints. This is exactly what I have been doing. In fact, I have made it a part of my regular routine. My focus lately has been on secular conservative and/or libertarian perspectives different from my own. I have watched quite a few objectionable YouTube videos in the process.

I was glad that I endured this particular video, though, as it contained a real gem. And while it is probably fair to say that I found 99% to be of little value, the 1% made it worthwhile. The content I refer to as a gem had next to nothing to do with the rest of the video, and it may not even be important to mention. After all, it lasted only a few seconds.

To paraphrase, the gist of it was that we who call ourselves freethinkers must place truth ahead of friendship. Lying to our friends by withholding or concealing our opinions out of fear that they might take offense to our views on their religious beliefs or that expressing our honest views might damage the relationship is insulting to them. But more than that, it suggests that we value ourselves so little that we think we can do no better than to have friends to whom we must lie.

Admittedly, this was not a new idea. I have even written similar things myself. And yet, hearing it put this way had an immediate impact and prompted me to start thinking more than I have in awhile about all the various ways I have been lying to friends. It does not matter that my lies are lies of omission (e.g., not disclosing that I am an atheist unless asked directly, suppressing my criticism of political correctness, social justice warriorism, and other ideologically-driven narratives currently wreaking havoc on the left). Unfortunately, it is true that some of these lies may be necessary to maintain my job; however, I know that this is not true of all of them. I haven't been fair to some of my friends or to myself.

But since the point of this post is not to engage in public self-flagellation, it is time I get to the actual point. The point of describing this recent experience is to offer an example of the value of exposing ourselves to diverse viewpoints, including those with which we disagree. Had I not watched this particular video, I would not have encountered this gem when I did. It would have been easy to let my outrage get the best of me, turn off the clip, and retreat to my "safe space." Had I done so, I would not have had the opportunity to be impacted by the video. I would have missed out.

The fact that I found something of value buried amidst the sort of thing I would not have usually watched makes me want to keep pushing myself. It makes me suspect that there may be other good ideas out there waiting to be discovered amidst the bad ideas. And most of all, it makes me want to remain cognizant of the price we pay for dealing with bad ideas by suppressing them.
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