THE BAN ON THINKING

I do philosophy. By philosophy, I mean thinking about the meaningfulness of the relationship of the things in this world. It is a very important thing to do, and we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. We all think about what it is that makes our lives meaningful. We all want to make the world a better place, and we all want to do the right thing. Granted we all have to provide for ourselves and our families, and we all want to enjoy our lives. Yet we are all very serious about wanting our lives to mean something. We pray. We read about various civic and political events. We consider politics, and we vote. In all of that, we are doing philosophy. We are thinking about the meaningfulness of our relation to the people and things of our world.

Lately, however, I have discerned a certain avoidance of, and even hostility to, that kind of thinking. Instead of honest discourse and give-and-take discussion, our conversations on the issues of the day have become shouting matches, or, likely much worse, complete silence. For instance, I was talking to a neighbor of mine who had made it clear that his view of things was decidedly right-wing. Another, like-minded neighbor, came along, and the first man said to the second, “Don’t talk politics with him. He is a liberal.” I probably laughed at the comment, but I cringe now thinking about it. That is, in fact, the case. We simply do not discuss the issues of the day with those we meet. We take our positions, however we arrive at them, and then we build walls around them to prevent any challenge.

This disease of the avoidance of thought seems to have become standard practice among our politicians. Recently, presumed presidential candidate Scott Walker took a trip to Israel. We have no information about that trip other than that he was there for a few days and apparently got a guided tour of Jerusalem. He returned from that trip and announced that, apparently as the result of his guided tour, he had developed an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He was actually questioned about the problem, and he actually spoke about the problem, and someone actually wrote down what he was saying and published it in a newspaper. Where he got these opinions, I have no idea. However, I have been to Israel, and I have talked with many people at length about the problems facing Israel and the Palestinians. I think I am beginning to understand that complex and centuries-old struggle. The only one thing I am absolutely sure of is that a tour of Jerusalem is not sufficient to qualify me as an expert on the subject.

That, however, seems to be the state of things today. If you are a public official, you do not think about the subject at hand. In fact, you avoid thinking at all costs. Instead, you check with your party boss or your campaign director. You identify the party message. Then you sing that message at the top of your voice, and, if you speak at all about opposing views, you ridicule.

We are in trouble, big trouble. Our physical and political infrastructure is crumbling, and we are creating ever widening gaps in the various sectors of our country. Bigotry — racial, religious, political, financial — is becoming the order of the day. I put it all to a refusal to think, to a ban on thinking, to the mindless building of barricades against any sector of the country opposed to our own. We need to think. Most of all, we need to listen, really listen, and try to understand opposing views. If we do not think, if we do not listen, we will face the alternative. The opposite of thinking is not ignorance. The opposite of thinking is violence. We all deserve better than that.

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