The Opening of the American Voters’ Mind

I am not going to tell you who I voted for. I am not going to advise you on how you should vote. The answer to the former is likely of little interest to you, and the latter is none of my business. We each have our own mind, our own will, and our own perceptions. We each have in us the ability to seek the truth and make the right choice. I am no lover of politics – perhaps there is no truth to be found therein. However, the problem in our ever-political social environment is what others have called “The Closing of the American Mind”* or “The Coddling of the American Mind.”* Many of us have lost our ability to have an “open mind” – perhaps due to our education, or upbringing, or just laziness.

Having an open-mind means considering contrasting opinions, being willing to have our minds changed, and refusing to castigate those that arrive at different opinions. Instead, we increasingly see the other side as bigots, Godless, or just stupid. We are told “This time is different;” “The stakes are too high;” and “They are too wrong.” That same belief has driven many before us. It drove the atrocities of the Soviet and French Revolution and Nazi Germany. This election may be unique in many ways, but human nature has not changed. Our proclivity towards exaggeration, tribal division, envy, anger, and pride remain the same.

Norman Rockwell

I have been shocked to see people I once respected hop on every social media bandwagon and become judge and jury to their fellow humans.  This is not entirely their fault as “the facts” are hard to comeby in our modern climate.  I have myself been too quick to assume news as fact.  But we must be more conscious in seeking out opposing viewpoints – they are always there – and get the full picture before we jump to outrage. 

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

We are often told the “other side” is driven by vile motivations or ignorance. The truth is this, all people have similar motivations, and we are all plagued by ignorance.  We tend to believe our “enemies” are motivated by bigotry or power and we by love and compassion. The truth is more complicated. We are not as angelic as we would like to believe and they are not as devilish.  

The Contempt of Labels

In the last few years we have seen such division in our nation and the world.  Much of this division is caused by a true conflict of ideas – Atheist vs Theist, Capitalist vs Socialist, Republican vs Democrat.  However, I maintain that it is often the label itself which creates the wedge between us.

The Boy’s King Arthur, Newell Convers Wyeth

Let’s imagine, for example, an open-minded young college student who takes an interest in socialism. He studies it privately. He seeks out opposing viewpoints. He interviews those who have lived under socialism. He researches its history and present-day operation.  He does not fear putting socialism under close scrutiny because he is seeking truth, not a label.  He remains humble and open to having his mind changed as new information is discovered.  

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”

George Eliot, Middlemarch

By contrast, what we frequently see is a rush to label and denounce.  Take the compassionate and suggestable young man who hears of the goodness of socialism from his one-sided professor.  “Socialism is about equality and fairness.”  Of course he supports equality and fairness, he would be wicked not to.  After a few more episodes of indoctrination, he announces on Facebook that he is a Socialist.  He joins groups and organizations promoting Socialism – building an echo-chamber around him.  He avoids the opinions of the opposition – “They are greedy, they are not compassionate”.  He becomes dogmatic and unwilling to admit to any of the downsides to his new tribe.  He defends or ignores dictators and historical atrocities for fear it would poke holes in his ideology, which is safe and comfortable and filled with friends and supporters fighting a common enemy – an evil one.  To lose that ideology, after it has become his identity and he has pronounced it to the world, would require an immense amount of humility and introspection – traits he traded in for comfort and safety.  

“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.”

CS Lewis

The world is infinitely complicated – and so are we. There is such a shallowness in today’s perspective of identity politics and ideology. There are so many facets to our nature and thinking to examine in life.  The more we dig, the deeper and more interesting we and others become. If, instead, I define myself by my political ideology – first and foremost – then when someone I love disagrees with my politics, I must shun or vilify them. When information or actual life experience contradicts my viewpoint, I refuse to integrate it.  Once a political, social, or radical philosophy becomes our identity, the chance of changing course is unlikely – for an entire identity is a traumatic thing to lose.

“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

And so it is in 2020 as we approach our presidential election.  We pick our labels and we stick to them. We build our ideological walls around us and view outsiders as a threat and anything that contradicts our own viewpoint as “hateful” or “ignorant”.  

“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.”

Arthur C. Brooks

I have seen good Christian women, friends who previously I could not imagine saying a hurtful word, now labeling an entire voting block as racist and cowards. I have seen journalists say that anyone who votes for — is just plain stupid. This is insane and illiberal. These declarations simplify life to black and white- because that is what ideology does. But it is a lie. Life is complex and multifaceted, with various factors and motivations affecting people’s decisions.

“We must never forget that human motives are generally far more complicated than we are apt to suppose, and that we can very rarely accurately describe the motives of another.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Firm in Truth – While Seeking and Understanding

Does that mean we don’t stand firm in anything and just toss with “every wind of doctrine”? As a Christian, of course, I say no, we must find the truth and feel safe therein. If we feel angry or fearful, we are not in truth.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  John 8:32

But none of us have arrived at ultimate truth; we are all still seeking.  We all benefit from different perspectives and from seeing others in their humanity, despite their differences.  If we are right on an issue then opposing views won’t harm us because our truth will stand firm against their falsehood.  However, if we are wrong then it would be nice to find out rather than continue believing and living out a lie.  

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The experience we have on earth is subjective.  A child raised on the streets of India will not see the same world as the daughter of a president.  Does that mean there is no bridging the gap or that there is no “real” truth to be found?  No.  We are all having subjective experiences with objective truth.  A feather falls  differently than a stone.  The quest is to discover the force that works on both of them – gravity.  The truth is law, despite our unique experiences with it.  We must allow our experience, our suffering, our passions to inform our view, but not close our view. 

However, when we are confident we have found an aspect of truth, a moral principle that we should stand firm defending, we do not allow opposition or changing culture to sway us. There is truth to be found, when we find it, we hold it precious. 

“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”  

G.K. Chesteron

However, we also refuse to stereotype our opposition. We are eternal beings having a worldly experience, let’s not allow passing disputes to affect our eternal souls. Let us save space for humility, for places we can say – “I disagree, but I will listen with an open-mind and respect my eternal brother or sister.” When we are respectful of others we are more likely to open their minds to the truths we have discovered.

Open-Minded Voting

Norman Rockwell

So how do we decide who to vote for?  We decide with an open-mind.  

Often when I listen to a fiery sermon, I go away thinking – “I wish Susie could have heard that. Maybe she would clue in to her judgmentalness!” But the fact is this: the sermon was meant for me. I hope instead of considering how others need to drop their anger, stop stereotyping, or closing their minds, we can see how we ourselves need to change. I know I am as guilty as anyone.

We cannot gain truth if we refuse to seek it, in whatever “dark” corner it may dwell. Let’s consider unconsidered reasons why the “other side” may support their candidate. Let’s see the humanity in their choice. Let’s look beyond those things we have previously focused on to discover what policies may entice people.  We should not fear such questions – it is a much greater risk to stay angry or ignorant than to let go of some self-imposed label or misperception. Perhaps we will not change our vote, but we will lighten our load.

 The world will keep spinning no matter who wins this election- but it will only be bearable to live here if we can seek to understand those that interpret that spinning in a different way. 

-Ally

(We greatly appreciate you sharing this with anyone you feel would benefit. To my wonderful international readers, please forgive the American-focus, I hope you may glean things for your own benefit as well – as political division is universal.)

Quotes on Open-Mindedness

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

Isaac Asimov

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

Albert Einstein

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.

Frank Zappa

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

Dostoyevsky

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Charles Darwin

It is never too late to give up your prejudices

Henry David Thoreau

Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

Resources:

The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom  https://www.amazon.com/Closing-American-Mind-Education-Impoverished/dp/1451683200/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+closing+of+the+american+mind&qid=1603977935&sr=8-1

The Codding of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failture, Greg Lukianoff and Johnathon Haidt, https://www.amazon.com/Coddling-American-Mind-Intentions-Generation/dp/0735224919/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1VSE73RQZ6R34&dchild=1&keywords=the+coddling+of+the+american+mind&qid=1603977999&sprefix=The+coddling+o%2Caps%2C183&sr=8-3

A Great Book By Arthur Brooks. Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt https://www.amazon.com/dp/0062883755/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_OTVMFbCFMZHAK

Arthur Brooks on Loving your Political Enemies. https://youtu.be/w4Wun752OHg

4 thoughts on “The Opening of the American Voters’ Mind

  1. Every time you start a sentence with ‘I’m no lover of politics …’, a great political insight is about to follow.

    “We tend to believe our “enemies” are motivated by bigotry or power and we by love and compassion. The truth is more complicated.”

    Great stuff Ally.

    Good luck to you and all of your fellow citizens this coming week. This moment is of tremendous import and not just for US citizens. We foreigners peer in anxiously from afar hoping things go well. My main hope for you lies in a smooth transition, with no violence, even more so than with a particular winner.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great line: “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

    Also, great stuff Allyson!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A beautifully crafted and inspirational piece, Ally.

    It seems to me that our world is in an overt battle between Truth and Power. If Power is the only currency you value, then Truth has to be abandoned. Politicians, for example, routinely lie because often the Truth does not serve their purpose. Now, so does the media, the bureaucracies, and institutions of all kinds.

    My challenge (and not only mine) is to overcome the desire to meet Power with more Power; that is, to use the same deceitful weapons against my opponents as they use against me, only better. Jesus managed it (“turn the other cheek”), but ordinary mortals like me will always struggle with it.

    Like

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