Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Place To Land

To get people to change their minds, they have to have a place to land. Just as our compulsively story-making brains will not easily tolerate not having a narrative about the events  of our experience, we are not easily capable of saying "I am leaving this point of view but I don't know what I will believe instead." There are some things close to it that happen, where we strongly suspect our position is untenable and are casting about for alternatives, or we find there is a community (identifiable or implied) that is undecided or in flux. 

Yet that is also a community of sorts, even if it is only people far away or long dead who we identify with. It sometimes takes a bit of emotional flexibility to examine what the group is we are identifying with, as it can be uncomfortable. Young people who set out to study all the world's religions in an effort to choose one imagine themselves as entirely free agents, entirely unmoved by anything except what they discover along the way, but this is never the case. In fact it is dangerous to believe that, because it means you are already congratulating yourself on a lie, and are setting up to be arrogant when you come to some sort of answer, whatever it is. You have made many assumptions and you identify with an ill-defined group of seekers and "open-minded" people.

Sometimes our conclusion will be "It is impossible to know the (full) answer" or "I don't think the answer is that important after all." These look like non-answers at first, but they are actually well-worn staircases leading to large groups in rooms upstairs, who believe that because they are not in any of the rooms on the first floor, they are not actually in any room at all. They enjoy the camaraderie of those rooms.

This accounts for the disorientation after great tragic events, like wars or revolutions, when people find that what the previously believed must be false, yet don't have a place to land. They do not remain unattached forever.  They do not always choose wisely, either.  When people leave The God That Failed they can go many places.

I have said that leaving liberalism is not an intellectual journey, it is a personal journey because of what one must confront about oneself. But leaving either conservatism or liberalism, or leaving a religion or a branch of one, or a school of thought or other identifier is a social journey.  Even if we are introverts and quite satisfied with our own company we have a group we believe we belong to and want to hold up the side for. CS Lewis is great companion for me, in that if I believe I am on the same side of a question as he is, then there must be a host of other serious Christians who are approximately with this as well, even if I cannot see any at the moment. We will not walk into the void hoping to find a group of like-minded humans unless we are forced to. We at least have an expectation that a particular path leads to a village.

When in doubt we are likely to default to a group - a denomination, an ethnic group, a region.  Or, as i used to write years ago, to a Tribe, such as the Arts & Humanities Tribe. We seldom recognise these defaults, and usually have elaborate rationalisations why our position on an issue is held for good intellectual reasons.  I wonder if that is ever true.


Grim said...

An argument I often forward, which I inherited from somewhere I can't recall to credit it properly, is that a good reason to study ancient or medieval or early modern philosophy is that it offers you a place to stand when criticizing the world you inhabit. If you really want to fundamentally reconsider the world, you need distance and perspective, and the ability to see that there are in fact alternatives to ideas or institutions presented as obvious or unavoidable. You are on to something similar here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

CS Lewis "On the Reading of Old Books" in his introduction to a new edition on Athanasius is your likely ultimate source. He wasn't the first, but he said it very well.