The Unexamined Life
By Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail
In my previous essay "The Debunker: A Pseudo-Skeptic By Any Other Name", I examined the philosophy and tactics of 'the debunker', reasoning that an underlying insecurity caused the debunker to commit fiercely to dogmatic beliefs. I noted that the true skeptical attitude of questioning everything did not apply to debunkers, and that they were, therefore, pseudo-skeptics. And while the 'alternative community' may see such essays as the truth finally told, I'm not about to start making friends by leaving their thought processes unexamined. The plain fact is that most of the support for alternative ideas originates in similar insecurities as those that the drive the debunker - most importantly, over the need for a stable and fulfilling world-view.
The obvious difference is that the debunker is satisfied with the current paradigm, while the alternative thinker - for whatever diverse reason - has become disillusioned with current explanations of the world. At the root of the current alternative movement lies dissatisfaction with both organised religion and modern physicalist science. Why is this? I think it is because both have withdrawn from treating the human condition - organised religion preaches 'thou shalt' and physicalist science spreads the gospel of materialism. There is no longer any exploration of the individual, by the individual, and to a free-thinking and inquisitive soul, that proves to be unacceptable.
There's nothing wrong with looking for new paths, if the current one you are treading is not taking you where you want to go. Problems arise, however, when the alternative thinker steps on to another path just for the sake of change. Because there are a lot of dead ends and dangerous paths out there...there's even a goat track or three. The main path has plenty of other folk travelling on it to keep you company, and it's built on quite solid foundations - although the occasional rainstorm may uncover a pot-hole here and there (and a decent rain storm may wash out the bridge ahead). But it is nice to go exploring every now and then, so it's hard to deny the inquisitive that pleasure. Just tread warily, and realise that you're heading wherever the path wants to take you.
Jumping from the main path is a growing trend, and in view of my statements above, it may be pertinent to ask about these other tracks. There's a lot of people currently who travel on the "Lost Civilisation" path, and are quite adamant that it is solid underfoot. It looks to be a nice path, and it's very interesting. But I wonder how many people have asked where it is heading. Does it end in a glowing city of gold, or does it terminate at a dead end - or worse, a swamp of quicksand? There's even a good chance it simply rejoins the main path just around the corner. The other question the treader of the LC path should ask, is "why am I treading this path"? Is it to reach the goal (whatever that may be), is it simply to walk on a different track to everyone else, or is it because this path has a lot more scenery?
I've raised the Lost Civilisation hypothesis here as a popular and handy analogy, but I'm not meaning to single it out. It can be applied to any mode of thought - parapsychology, magick, religion etc (and there's no exemption for the current paradigm either). And I definitely am not saying that these are all false paths. The point is simply to get alternative thinkers to question their motives and reasons, to allow for a more honest appraisal of their current beliefs. If you don't care about an honest appraisal, and are happy to travel the path of your choice and imagine your own city of gold at the end - fine, far be it from me to stop you. Just don't convince anyone else to go along with you for company.
So, the "Hall of Records" is found, it's full of great gizmos - there's mini-pyramids which keep your knives and razors sharp, sonic drills which allow us to engrave our own trophies with ease, and really big light-bulbs using snakes as filaments. There's also a book which traces the history of Atlantis, till its destruction in 15,500 BCE (what, you thought Plato had it right?). It all causes quite a stir in the media - and goodness, hasn't Dr Hawass made some good mileage out of it all...Leno, Time magazine and eventually Jerry Springer ("Look What I Was Hiding In My Toilet!"). In fact, people are talking about it for...oh, weeks. Then, after the necessary textbook revisions and marketing campaigns, life returns to normal (as normal as it gets with a 10 foot long light bulb in your lounge anyhow). Politicians keep lying, you still work 40 hours a week for minimum pay, and your loved ones continue to grow old and die. Are you satisfied? Is your life now complete, are your spiritual needs fulfilled? Was the Lost Civilisation path worth the walk? Maybe so, but I wonder on what level...
Another point to question about the path you are treading is the moral foundation on which it is built. That's not just the underlying ideology, but also the assumptions that are made by that thought process. It is crucial, if we are to evolve, that we continually question the assumptions we are making. As Robert Bolt put it: "A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind". It determines how we act and react, how we think and conceptualise, and what we assume. For example, most people at this moment eat the meat of animals (myself included) without much thought at all. There's very little shock value in this fact, it's just the way things are. But if one simple idea is accepted - that animals have a human-like consciousness and associated functions such as moral judgement etc. - it changes 'what we are' to something of quite monstrous character. What this suggests, is that while we may think our actions quite acceptable in the context of our beliefs, from outside that particular belief system that may not be the case. And who can say truly that their system is the correct one? Or as Bertrand Russell once put it, "I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong".
But not to commit to your beliefs is paradoxical, isn't it? Yes and no - I guess it comes down to the seemingly natural tendency to dogmatic thinking. It's amazing that we still commit so fiercely to what we believe is right, when we have all suffered through numerous occasions of being proved utterly wrong. Perhaps, in order to simplify the world, we attempt to categorise things to one end of the spectrum or another - black and white, right and wrong, debunkers vs. alternative thinkers. If we honestly appraise any argument though, we'll find that there are many shades in between that are simply ignored or even subsumed into either pole. How refreshing it would be to see these polar opposites debating with phrases such as "good point", and "I'd like to hear more detail on this". This is a position that alternative thinkers especially need to adopt, as the very nature of the subject suggests a low percentage of factuality. Search freely and without embarrassment through whichever resources you must, but always take a good measure of skepticism and honesty along with you.
So, at the core of both the debunker and the alternative thinkers' beliefs, we find a tendency to dogmatic thought as a shelter from insecurity. Only a short jump from the frying pan to the fire isn't it? Perhaps it is time we embraced our insecurity, acknowledged it, and moved on from that basis. It is, in reality, a true part of being a human being. Live by your belief system by all means, but don't forget to question both the system and your own motives for believing what you do. I'm sure any omnipotent god worth his salt would be ashamed of a creation that didn't exercise critical thinking. Keep searching for the answers, and fulfill your needs as a human and attempt to do so for others (without treading on them). Lastly, don't dismiss 'doubt' because of the negative connotations associated with that word. In the most ironic way, doubt is one of the few things that we can trust.