"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." These are the words of Thomas Jefferson, addressed to his Nephew Peter Carr. Jefferson goes on to tell his nephew to never accept the claims of others based on the mere merits of their position or authority: "In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it."
In this case, the esteemed statesman is speaking of religion. While I do place a very high value on my Christian faith, neither faith nor religion is the concentration of this essay. I'd like to concentrate specifically on the general lack of critical thinking skills, logical thought processes, and reasoned thought in America. Keep in mind that this is my opinion, and I don't expect to change anyone else's opinions. In fact, I don't believe that I can change anyone's mind. I leave that part up to my readers.
Why do we believe what we believe? Why does the man on the corner feel that those of a darker skin color than him ought to be relegated to a lower place in society? Why does the lady at the counter think that the world hates her? Why do the youth of today feel threatened by books that have more pages than pictures? Why are the jobless of America protesting their state by camping in the streets, instead of looking for employment in the shops that line the same streets?
Perhaps, if I may promote my own opinion, the problem lies not with the system. Perhaps the educational institutions, while partly to blame, cannot bear the full responsibility for the state of our nation. Maybe the still too-prominent racial stereotypes are not results of abstract societal influences but the fault of the families who continue to promote illogical, bigoted ideas over the dinner table. Maybe it's our fault.
Now, don't get angry with me. I'm going to try not to preach to you; this is directed as much at myself as it is at my readers. I don't blame you for anything; I just want people to think. Looking at Fox News' or CBS' websites, one would think that the bulk of American concern was summed up in the information surrounding the death of popular entertainers, the latest insults hurled by political candidates, and the crimes committed throughout the world. It seems unlikely that people care about other cultures, aside from the more prominent "news-worthy" aspects. The bigotry that appears so readily in the news may represent the desires of society, but society is made up of individuals. Are the people of America really so ready to dwell on the less important aspects of life? Here I stray dangerously close to the folly of composition, but I shall try to steer clear of the generalizing tendencies of more the accusatory types.
If the problems of society lie with its members, then why do the individuals blame the problems on the corporate? Perhaps it’s easier to do so when the other options lie in blaming one’s self or finding abstract societal influences or ideas. The great social catastrophes of human history have generally been brought about by the masses, but seldom are they blamed on the common individuals of society. Rather, the corporate leadership is nearly always to blame. The Roman Catholic Church generally bears the blame for the crusades, yet was not the killing and slaughter brought about by the actions of the knights and soldiers of the empire? Individuals. The slaughters of Stalin and his regime in his political reforms were carried out by soldiers and officers of the law. Individuals. The most notorious of human atrocities, the Jewish Holocaust. Inspired, dreamt of, and lead by one man, this terrible movement was carried out by—you guessed it—individuals. Perhaps, if I may venture to speculate, if the members of the general populace had not been so inclined to blindly follow their leaders, they would have realized the terrible magnitude of their actions.
What’s my point? Am I comparing these atrocities to the current state of human affairs? In a way I am; after all, I used them as examples. I don’t, however, propose that the racial and political situation of contemporary America is nearly as bad as the state of the other countries I named. I merely want to point out the possible dangers of blindly following a leader wherever he deems fit to lead.
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God;”
I think Jefferson had a point here that would benefit all to take note of. Extrapolating from his base message and rephrasing in my own words, question with boldness even that which is most important to your life. Society needs to learn to think for itself, to logically evaluate the statements of others and act on the results. If society is to change, to improve, or to grow towards a better and more harmonious future, then the change will have to start with the individual. Appeals to authority are easy. Following circular reasoning is fun, but sooner or later, we will become to dizzy to see straight.
What then, are we to do? I don’t have a solve-all answer to that question. I merely want the reader to think. Perhaps cultural diversity is a good thing. Accepting that others may believe something different and learning to treat others as you would like to be treated. I don’t want to digress into a mushy, completely idealistic utopian outlook, but I would like to think that individuals can learn to change. Lay aside your prejudice, take off the blindfold, and seek the truth with the homage of reason. Perhaps we can improve, one individual at a time. Perhaps, if we don’t change the world, we can rest in the comfort that we have a reasonable reason for our actions. I cannot promote any further idea without bringing up much deeper questions, but I encourage my readers to think. I encourage my readers to encourage thinking, and I hope that I will be able to live up to my own exhortations.