www.whyville.net Apr 20, 2008 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

(Don't) Think Outside the Box

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I am here dear Whyvillians to propose something to you which will turn your world upside down. In fact, let's just take what you've been taught, chop it up and throw it in a blender and press puree - I promise to retrieve the contents later (and I hope they'll taste delicious). So, I ask that you take my hand young grasshopper, and keep an open mind as we set off on a brief journey of self-discovery. Oh, and if you bring popcorn your admission is free.

Now, to quote a very knowledgeable Whyvillian, "It is ridiculously, deceptively easy to conform to the opinion of someone you respect." Other Whyvillians have long touted the value of "being yourself" and "thinking for yourself." Whenever I am exposed to such advice, I am always led to question how it is possible to exist as anyone else. Furthermore, epithets of independence run rampant in the Times - I challenge you to find a week where an article about self-identity and exploration is not published. I get it: conformity sucks and no one wants our generation to turn into a bunch of mindless clones. And trust me, I'd like to stick it to man as much as anybody, but when I hear any of these things, I am always tempted to roll my eyes and recall the words of Charles Lindblom who once said, "classical nineteenth-century liberalism is my prison. It is not the most inhumane of prisons; its cells are by far larger than those of any other prison I know. Indeed, its construction is such that inmates often succeed in persuading themselves that they are wholly free."

That's right my friends, you and I are prisoners to our belief systems - no matter what we do we are in some way influenced by bias and our own personal background and upbringing. Are you going to do an assignment for school this evening? Chances are, you believe there is a "best" way to go about doing it. Believe we should eat meat? Or do you believe that UFOs exist? Bias. Sure, you're entitled to believe these things. Heck, you are entitled to believe that global warming is a giant scam - and I will disagree, I will even go so far as to argue with you but I will begin by conceding that you have a right to believe it.

But wait just a gosh-darn minute there. I think we're going to have to open the blender soon, because believing that everyone is entitled to their opinion is bias on my part. I live in a society that preaches the right to free speech and freedom of religion (or lack therefore), and I know can point to three examples off the top of my head where forcing beliefs onto people didn't turn out too well - colonialism, residential schools and WWII. But, what is this belief fundamentally based on? It's based on the view that all humans are equal - and I will be the first to admit I don't subscribe to this particular belief.

Ever read "To Kill a Mockingbird"? Atticus tells the court that not men are created equal - some men are smarter, some men are richer, and so on. Jefferson believed that equality among humans was a self-evident truth, but what if it's not so evident? Is a serial killer created equal to a nun? Perhaps we mean equality between races or genders as a hole (though, in a society that marginalized women and blacks, this idea is difficult to accept), and even this wholist approach is difficult to accept, because if we were to some how take everyone from a certain race and add them up, and then compare them to another race, there is no proof that the two races would be equal. Does that mean we should reject principles of human equality? I will not pretend to have political views that in any way resemble those of Karl Marx, but even I am scared of the possibility of a world where not everyone is entitled to the basic right to life.

Perhaps that example seemed a little confusing to some people - I certainly feel as though we are opening a can of worms, but no one is doing any fishing. How about this - I'm assuming we can all agree that, rationally there is no justification for genocide. How do we know this? We just accept it. But why don't we just accept other things that people are always bashing on? Cynics are always going on about how there is no basis for religion, so why doesn't we accept that? Or what about ghosts? There is no proof that ghosts exist. What about aliens? Possible, but no concrete proof. Yet there are still people who believe in these things, don't they? And now my friends it is time we open the blender.

It is impossible to think entirely "for yourself". It is impossible to shake the beliefs that we have been conditioned with since birth. I'm not saying this in the way that once upon a time, people believed the sun revolved around the earth way. I am saying it is literally impossible to escape our beliefs because even if we accept that we have a belief system, all of our ideas are somehow based off an authority or a preceding thought which is somehow compelled by an authority. The idea of "being original"? It originates from a source higher than you or I. In fact, being original is quite a paradox (that means, it something and its opposite all at once). On the one hand, you are unique simply by future of being you - even if you had a clone who dressed and talked like you, each of you would still have original personalities. On the other hand, is it truly possible to be entirely unique in a society of big box stores and global culture? It's okay to like the same things as your friends - I promise you're still entirely yourself.

Besides, is it such a bad thing to accept something? Take for example, the idea of a subatomic particle - should you reject this notion simply because it's taught to you by your physics teacher? Or maybe you should reject the ideas of outer space, and the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Hey! If you're religious you should reject religion, but it's just one giant appeal to authority where everyone is made to conform. Sounds seal to reject both science and religion, simply because we can know nothing if we don't accept things based on faith, doesn't it? The result would be mere mindless rebellion, and then you become a rebel without a cause.

That's all for now, I suppose. Sit back, pour yourself a smoothie and accept the idea, that sometimes being unique doesn't mean going against the crowd. And that's okay, by me.



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