The need for openness
There’s an excellent quote by Isaac Asimov: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
We’re in a day where democracy is seen to be the epitome of civilization – and yet we struggle with how to do it. How do we honour the humanity of each person – even their right to think what they will – and yet to discern truths that can stand for all of us, giving each person the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ as it were? In many ways, this is the challenge of the legal system. Truth, at least in part, has to do with determining right from wrong, and fair and just ways of relating.
It was said recently, after the Alberta election, that ‘city folk’ did not have the common sense of those living in rural areas. (A witty response to that Alberta election comment quoted Steven Pinker saying that common sense is anything but common…) Might it be that certain ‘common’ things and certain things that have ‘sense’ about them are actually determined, at least in part, by location? Certainly we trust our neighbour differently depending on how well we know them; and we know our neighbour through interactions that may include leisure time or working together. To me, it’s a gross generalization to make a statement about common sense and urban versus rural interpretations of that.
So how do we determine what is correct and what is false? How do we determine right and wrong? How do we determine what is sensible and nonsensical?
It seems to me that there is a general need for openness. Yes, we have certain standards set by certain institutions – we trust what accredited university professors who have published their research in established journals say! But we also must be open to the traditions out of which stem so many of our cultural sensibilities and ‘basic assumptions’ (eg. we all know that it’s wrong to kill another person).
The need for openness requires giving another person the respect due simply by virtue of their being another person. So: “I’m a person; my experience makes sense to me; I have worth, and therefore so do my ideas.” The need for openness also requires seeking the good of all, which will keep in check ideas that begin to tread on the basic humanity of others. This needs to influence how we build a democratic society, as well.