Well, apparently writing about philosophy has me thinking even more about philosophy. It got me thinking of a problem a friend of mine has with me: why I always seem to be sitting on the fence in terms of issues. In this specific case with this friend, why I can’t seem to come out on a concrete position on atheism and veganism.
When I was younger and much more ignorant and arrogant, I recall a specific instance in high school where I fervently opposed the ideological position of a particular political party in Canada. I said something along the lines of “anyone who supports this party is an idiot and they should die.” Immediately after those words came out of my mouth, I felt instant regret as I didn’t really mean what I said. I still feel terrible to this day of having said that, as it was targeted at a really nice human being who just happened to have a different opinion than mine.
What happened? I let ideology take hold of my thoughts and actions, allowing it to make a visceral, amygdala hijack type of response rather than a logical and rational response.
Charlie Munger talked about the dangers of ideology in the speech above.
If you care to read it rather than listen to it:
Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind. You see it a lot with T.V. preachers (many have minds made of cabbage) but it can also happen with political ideology. When you’re young it’s easy to drift into loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of this ideology. It’s a big danger. In my mind, I have a little example I use whenever I think about ideology. The example is these Scandinavia canoeists who succeeded in taming all the rapids of Scandinavia and they thought they would tackle the whirlpools of the Aron (sp) Rapids here in the United States. The death rate was 100%. A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into, and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology. I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak. This business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very, very important thing in life.
With this in mind, let’s move onto the atheist vegan friend.
This friend is a mildly “activist” vegan. He found veganism a few years ago. Before he was a vegan, he became a mildly “activist” atheist. We would go back and forth on the merits of religion since we both shared common grounds on being non-believers of any particular religion, but I would never cede and claim myself an atheist. That would annoy him.
Now, he’s less interested in talking about atheism and more interested in animal activism. And we talk about veganism, animal rights, etc whenever we get together. Again, while I share a lot of common ground with the whole notion of veganism and animal rights, I won’t cede that I am a vegan or an animal activist. That annoys him.
I find the danger with submitting to a particular ideology dangerous, like Munger stated above. Once you start shouting the orthodoxy amongst other hardcore supporters, you are vulnerable and susceptible to becoming comfortable and less critical. It’s easy to say “I’m an atheist, thus all religions are wrong and I don’t have to think about that anymore” or “I’m a vegan and animal activist, thus all meat eating is wrong.”
I am highly suspicious of any attempts at the monopolization of ideas and morality because when you claim something as the only truth, you are in a way saying you know everything there is to know on that subject, and I find that highly dubious (as I pointed out in the post on philosophy).
A little while ago day, this friend asked me to watch Cowspiracy on Netflix. I did. When I told him about some of my criticisms of the documentary – of which I thought were very valid, but for the sake of brevity won’t go into all the details here – he got really defensive. I was a little surprised as this is someone who is intelligent, very rational and logical, and tends to approach things critically, as evidenced by his atheism and veganism.
I suspected that he was slipping into confirmation bias through his commitment to his self-imposed ideology of veganism and animal activism. If true, it’s a rather strange thing to witness.
And this is the reason I am so uneasy about submitting to a particular position and proclaiming an ideology. Like Munger, I want to know the subject inside and out, front and backwards, before I claim such a strong position. And to be brutally honest, I don’t know enough about most topics to do this. And I’m fine with that, as I’d rather be cautious and continue probing the problem rather than rushing to a potentially flawed position.
I really do genuinely think a lot of the arguments and positions on atheism, veganism, and animal rights that my friend poses are strong and possibly very true. I think my problem lies in submitting to a particular ideology, without fully contemplating and settling the uneasy questions that are difficult to answer. I found this article on an ex-vegan who made parallels to cults very interesting. I found the comment section even more fascinating, as the vegans and non-vegans troll it out against each other, ironically with the vegans confirming the author’s entire thesis.
Perhaps this is just a quirk of our personalities: his more upfront and activist and mine more passive. Perhaps my passiveness biases my outlook on how someone who isn’t passive may approach a particular problem and solution. Or perhaps I just don’t care to the same degree on these topics than he does.
Still, I think we need to be on guard of slipping into ideology as its seduction can lead to the deterioration of critical thinking. You only need to take a quick glance at any page in history to see how destructive blind adherence to ideology can be. And the slippery slope towards blind adherence begins with the slow chanting of the orthodoxy.
If I could summarize it all in a graphically disturbing way: I want to avoid at all costs circle jerking inside an echo chamber.