I’m Not Left or Right or Center, or Any Other Damn Direction — And Here’s Why

I came across this wonderful Tweet from Michael Krieger the other day, and thought I’d share:

Amen. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

But I can certainly say more 🙂

This is, in my opinion, the central problem of our day.

Self-labeling — identifying with a group, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology — is, of course, all the rage. It has become the modus operandi of college students and their professors, of news media, of celebrities, and of elected office holders. It has become dominant thinking style of our culture. You can’t go a day without someone telling you that they belong to some group, and that some other group is responsible for all their woes.

In other words, Us vs. Them thinking. Or, as I like to call it, camp thinking.

I say “thinking”, but of course, as the Tweeter above points out, it’s really the opposite of thinking. And of open-mindedness. And of communicating.

Camp thinking cripples your mind. It’s a way of directing your mind such that your membership in the chosen tribe takes precedence over your perception of the truth. It effectively tells the truth-seeking part of your mind to shush, and to accept what the group, or the guru or authority of the group, has to say on the matter. It tells you that all learning is done, all the knowledge is known, and that it is impossible for you to grow, since growing would mean advancing beyond the pre-packaged belief system of the tribe.

In addition to tying your own brain in knots, camp thinking also drives people apart. It splits them up into arbitrary categories and makes communication between them impossible. It is the reason for failed negotiations, and for failed relationships, and for endless political bickering. It is the reason for massive, widespread confusion, and feelings of alienation and helplessness, for the victim mentality, and the feeling that “the world is going to shit”. It is the motivation behind hate attacks and terrorist attacks. It is the reason bad legislation is passed and invasion ships launched and drone missiles fired.

Camp thinking, in my view, is the main thing holding humanity back and pitting us against one another in perpetual ideological squabbles and even all-out warfare.

And it’s all based on bad philosophy–specifically, the belief that you and I cannot know the same universe since we are inherently “different” beings. Therefore, all that remains to us, on this view, is to band together in tribes and grab up whatever we can for “our” type of beings, using money, warfare, and the mechanism of legal force, i.e., government.

Thus, we have plunged ourselves into a culture where Might is Right, a.k.a. if you and your identity group hold the power, you decide what is true.

That philosophy, not to put too fine a point on it, stinks.

It’s correctable with just minutes of doing something all the camp thinkers out there don’t want you doing: thinking for yourself.

Which is not to say that being a freethinker is easy–it isn’t. It means doing a ton of mental work, by yourself, of sorting out your own contradictory mishmash of ideas, of fending off a near constant barrage of bad ideas out there in the culture, and of being your own arbiter of what is true and false. It means admitting you sometimes don’t know the answer, and of seeking out the answers, aka. learning. And, frankly, of admitting you were wrong from time to time. Of experiencing that beautiful, wondrous moment so few people ever allow themselves to experience: changing your mind.

Thinking independently means learning constantly.

But there are a thousand ideologies, gurus, authorities, cults, corporations, and elected office holders out there dangling easy answers for you for to snap up. How much easier is it to simply buy what is being sold? Plus, let’s face it, it’s scary going it alone. How much more comfy and squishy it is to march in the herd, where we don’t stand out too much. And bonus, you never have to learn or be wrong or change your mind about anything! After all, someone else has done all the thinking for you.

But you and I both know that’s no way to truth, is it? Certainly not to enlightenment.

Consider politics. We’ve been told that the central problem is a perpetual battle of Left vs. Right, liberal vs. conservative, of our guys vs. their guys. Your job is just to support the right team, and force the other guys out of power. Right?

A freethinker, of course, sees the problem right off.

The problem is not which team is right, but the fact that we have limited ourselves, rather childishly, to only two ways of thinking on any given issue.

In Walden, Thoreau writes: “there as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one center.”

(If you’re trying to count how many ways that is, you’re already not thinking clearly.)

There are infinite ways, and infinite ways of thinking about things — including ways that have not yet been conceived and never will be as long as people keep locking themselves into restrictive binaries like Left and Right.

You know where that Left and Right business comes from? In the French Revolution members of the National Assembly began accumulating together (supporters of the King assembled on the right of the president, and supporters of the revolution on the left) so that each “side” wouldn’t feel drowned out by the yelling and cursing from their opposition. It was not the delegates themselves, but the press, who began to refer to these sides as Left and Right.

Firstly, how apt is it that the organization of “sides” began as a corrective measure against a hearing problem? I’m betting if you know any present-day ideological thinkers that the skills of listening and constructing a well-reasoned argument (in a reasonable tone of voice) are not really their strong suit.

But more importantly, think about this: do you really think some stodgy Eighteenth-century French politicians discovered such a magic formula about the universe, such an exhaustive measure of all human social existence, that we are now locked into using it for all eternity? These were people, keep in mind, so enlightened that they regarded public beheadings as a really swell solution to many of society’s ills.

So, when someone starts in with the “I’m a conservative/liberal” “Left vs. Right” stuff, my immediate question to them is: “Yeah, but pretend you weren’t for a second. What would you think?”

And when someone asks me how I identify politically, here’s what I say:

Listen, I’m one of those crazy kooks that believes in thinking for themselves on these matters. Being a freethinker means coming to my own conclusions about what is true and right with no reference to any political ideology.

What this means is that sometimes I find myself in agreement with so-called “liberals”, sometimes I find myself in agreement with “conservatives”. MOST of the time I find that all of them have their heads equally up all of their asses — which is where I think most sensible adults would find themselves if they gave things a couple of minutes of independent thought.

Since I don’t wall my mind off with pre-packaged belief systems I’m often able to find a perspective which transcends them both. When you find yourself in that place, you’re able to see the traditional dichotomies as, frankly, childish and reptilian.

Let them chew on that for a bit. A little long-winded, sure, but when you’re fighting a centuries-old mentality that says There Are Only Two Sides and That’s It, Bucko, you have to do some heavy lifting, okay?

Let me ask you something. When we discuss ideas, what do you think we’re after, really? And not just in the next election cycle. I mean… ultimately. Is it one side “beating” the other? Or is it the totality of humanity being of one, enlightened mind and living in harmony? I say the latter, not the former.

I’m not rosy-eyed enough to believe humanity will ever get there. But I know it’s a better end to strive for than “beating Them… the other guys, the Not Us.” Plus, I know which mentality leads to an actual conversation, and which walls my mind off to the world and others, and perpetuates hate and misunderstanding.

So, do you self-label and orient yourself to a tribe or identity-group? An Us? Do you find yourself spending a lot of time, mental energy, and ire vilifying a Them?

Consider what would it be like if, instead, you dedicated your life and mind to growing, learning, listening, changing your mind, communicating, throwing out old, bad ideas (and backwards thinking styles) which no longer serve you or society?

What would it be like if, instead of walling off your mind with tribal belonging, you oriented toward seeking out the truth as you see it?

In other words, to thinking for yourself?

I’m reaching up and reaching out. I’m reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me. And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been. We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.

Spiral out. Keep going…

— Tool, Lateralus

Richard Weir recently published his first crime/thriller novella: The Crosstown Kid, available from Musa Publishing. He has published a number of dark fiction/horror stories. He recently completed his first novel, which he describes as: “You know… your standard Fantasy-Noir-Ninja-Western.” 😮

Fiction, Philosophy, and Rampant Speculation. www.je-taylor.com

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