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Thursday, June 27, 2013

At my dumbest

Looking back over my life, I find that I've always been at my stupidest when I accept others' opinions at face value.

When I was young, I just accepted what others said; it's a form of mental laziness I'm still prone to on occasion. I just assume that someone knows what he's talking about without bothering to think critically. A sober little voice in back of my head says, hey, wait a sec, that's not right. But I don't bother to listen to it, I just go along. (I sometimes wonder if this has something to do with ADD: while someone is talking, I'm thinking about something else I find more interesting, and so don't focus.)

As a teen-ager, I just assumed that there was something to modern art I couldn't quite grasp. Jasper Johns was a genius? Okay, whatever you say. I didn't really get those random splotches, but figured that must be my fault.

While I was in high school, I heard frequently that Citizen Kane was a great movie. I never questioned that statement, even though I had actually been forced to sit through it once. (Two hours of pure boredom.)

Consciously removing yourself from other peoples' reality distortion fields can aid in this process. ("I call bs" is one of the better expressions to emerge recently.) If you need your job, then keep your mouth shut at work. But that doesn't mean you have to internalize the bull that your boss spouts.

Received wisdom is not wisdom at all. It's only wisdom when you come by it yourself.

If I were young, I might believe today that our diversity is our strength. (Does anybody actually believe that? If it were the case, it would make us unique among all civilizations in recorded history. The strongest, most cohesive societies have always been ethno-states.)

There was an expression which got a lot of play a few years ago: that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Friedrich Nietzsche, who originated the phrase -- in German -- was not dumb; but those who endlessly repeated it in mindless fashion were. Personally, I don't plan to have my arm hacked off in an effort to strengthen myself. And even from just a psychological standpoint, I generally find that positive feedback at least makes me feel stronger than negative feedback does.

There's another common expression, "The truth shall set you free." (This expression is actually from Verse 8:32 of the Gospel of John -- the real John, not the pretender who writes this blog.) The truth can certainly liberate you from propaganda like "Our diversity is our strength" and hackneyed cliches like the one in the paragraph above.

I can't begin to count the number of times I've initially taken someone's word about a third person: how so-and-so is a really good person, or some such. Too often it turned out that so-and-so was someone who merely advertised his goodness. (Those who do this are inevitably the worst people.)

How often have I been told that so-and-so is really smart? I'd think, wow, then get to know him and find out that he's just a ninny who got good grades but has no common sense. Or he's someone who affects the mannerisms of smart people but really doesn't have a clue.

How many times did I hear, after some sort of mini-disaster, "Well, it's for the best," or, "Every cloud has a silver lining." And I would just accept it without thinking. But in fact it was usually for the worst, with no offsetting benefit. Example: you're driving along the highway and you run into a tree. That's definitely a cloud. But where's the silver lining? The stainless steel carburetor that comes into view after the hood crumples?

(Two other occasions, not really germane to the point of this post, when I'm also at my stupidest. First, whenever I'm feeling egotistical about something. For some reason, when in that frame of mind -- as pleasant as it is -- I'm far more prone to dumb mistakes. Maybe because there's something about pride that makes one careless. Second, if I take a nap in the middle of the day; after I wake up, if I'm around people, I inevitably make some sort of social mistake; I can't explain this, but it always seems to happen. Of course, I'm also error-prone when I'm tired; I guess what I'm saying is I'm dumb when tired, but also when rested.)

But the main point here is: don't let 'em brainwash you.

Except, I mean, for this blog. Whatever it tells you, believe.


bluffcreek1967 said...

Yeah, I agree John. I've often went along mentally with things people have said but, later, after I've had some time to think it over, I've thought, 'What the hell was that? Why did I nod my head in agreement?"

Sometimes also I just acknowledge what people say without necessarily agreeing with it wholeheartedly. If I start to pick apart every little stupid thing people utter, I'd probably find myself in continuous arguments. I've learned, as I'm sure you have too, to pick my verbal battles wisely.

The thing that annoys me the most is how bad seemingly everyone is in actually listening to others. People talk over each other, and I've witnessed for years how many of us don't listen to others. There's a great Bible verse that says, "Let everyone be quick to hear, and slow to speak." I try to live by that one, although I admit I too often fail in this area.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
You're right, a lot of it is just not wanting to be argumentative. We can't get into sparring matches all the time, life would be impossible. But I don't blame myself for that. What I was referring to in this post was the fact that in the past I've actually mentally ACCEPTED what others said, through sheer intellectual laziness.

"A stitch in time saves nine." What? OK, well, whatever "a stitch in time" is, I'm sure it must be true then.

Jonathan Leaf said...

All much agreed.
By the way, regarding Nietzsche: he made the remark, "The which does not kill us makes us stronger" in His The Birth of Man. He was then recovering from a bout with tertiary syphilis and with the madness that it had engendered. Was the remark truthful -- or merely a fatuous attempt at boosting his own self-shattered confidence and lifting himself out of his deflated mental state? I would guess the latter.

John Craig said...

Jon --
Interesting story. I agree with your analysis of Nietzsche's motivation.

W O D said...

I have moari aquaintainces and they constantly go on about their culture and their ancestors. Years ago I was very interested in the history and thought they were somehow a wise and noble race especially compared to us primitive whites etc. because we are told white man was bad.

Anyway my moari friends brought themselves up, mum and dad weren't interested.

John Craig said...

W O D --
That's a perfect example of the kind of brainwashing we tend to accept when we're young.

Steven said...

'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger' is definitely bullshit. What doesn't kill you sometimes makes you weaker, physically or psychologically. I wrote this on Facebook a while a go. That's the kind of ray of sunshine I am.

I think that modern art (the type where they stick a mundane object in front of you and call it art) is over intellectualized, pretentious bullshit which people seem to take seriously because other people are taking it seriously and because a specialist says its important. Its beyond ridiculous how shit and stupid some of it is.

Then there is the type which may look nice but anybody could do it- splashes of paint on a canvas or a couple of strips of colour. That's fine as long as you accept it for what it is and not read too much into it.

I have a bias towards art that is beautiful and impressive, so if somebody insists modern art is art, I'll just say yeah fine but its no where near as good as a Vermeer.

Plus it may in fact be a sad reflection on the civilization that produced it as art if often related to the philosophy or spirit of the time. Overly abstract and ugly tells me something is wrong or something missing.

Thanks for the heads up on citizen Kane.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Agreed on all counts. I've written similar sentiments about modern art several times in this blog.