There was something else, very different, that I was going to write about today. But yesterday morning, I got up early… at three in the morning, to watch the debate between Romney and Obama. It wasn’t broadcast here on Israeli TV. In fact, It wasn’t even the first thing in the news, on the morning news show. But thanks to the internet, I was able to watch it in real time, as it was taking place, and listen to the pundits discuss what happened immediately after. Little by little, the whole world is connecting, and what was once as far away as another planet, is now part of the global village. I am constantly amazed. But we take such things for granted. We’ve all had such experiences. What I would like to discuss today, is something else. I would like to share with you some thoughts on free thinking… on independent thought.
You know, for generations, the free thinker has been typified as a person who does not accept the dictates of the church. But that is the way with language. So often, it accommodates the thinking and the communication of the majority of the population, and often it reflects common prejudices. Sometimes, common expressions are adopted as oxymorons, until someone rebels. They puts a list together and then it is spread around on the internet… and we all get a good laugh. It should be noted, in the same context, that in ancient Athens, 90% of the population had no voice in governing the society, and though this society gave us that beautiful ideal of democracy, slavery too, was completely accepted by that society.
As a species, we are a herd animal. We like to be in the press of humanity. We long for harmony and security, and being within the group. And we know instinctively, that the best place to be is somewhere in the middle. The leaders are usually teased and scraped and tested, and the weak are abused… but in the middle it is safe. However, we can identify with the leaders, and within one of the many sub units of society, if we feel the need, we can be the head of a family, or a group of some sort… In any case, there is always a price for sticking out. However, there are many paradoxes attached to the human condition. And though there is a great advantage in our going along with conventions, keeping up with the Jonses, and staying within the framework supported by our neighbors, there are also some sublime pleasures in the freedom of thought.
From a completely logical point of view, a free thinker is a non-conformist. But not conforming to the fashion of the day does not mean that we have to rebel or argue with everything universally accepted, or everything that is in fashion. Or whatever our friends choose to do with their lives. Personal responsibility is not for everybody. It means more work. It means examining what we believe, and checking out ideas and concepts that are accepted by everyone around us, at times. But it is also a key to freedom. And a sense of harmony and balance that can lead to true bliss. Of course, there is also bliss when in the stadium, cheering on your favorite hockey or football team with thousands of others, knowing that everyone around you is chanting and hoping for the same thing, and feeling a sense of commitment and identification with all those wearing the shirt of right color, and hating the umpire when he decides against the play of your man out there on the field. There is joy, together with your mates, when your representatives have won the game. And there is consolation, and a sweet sadness in going over the plays, the mistakes, the unfairness of the judges, and of life itself when the game has been lost.
Life is very different, when one has chosen the path of freedom. There is much less certainty, and less security. There are mistakes all the time, and it isn’t always someone else’s fault… not the judge, nor the system. You can’t always count on what worked yesterday. You can’t count on someone because he’s on your side. Often, you can’t even count on logic. Because, there is logic that works well within one system, but doesn’t in another. Often you find yourself completely alone, or unloved, or even responsible for the unhappiness of others. Your friends are not always with you, ‘through thick or thin’. You know that things in life are relative. So, no matter how much you value certain principles, you occasionally find yourself in such a situation where one value cancels the absolute nature of another. For instance, you believe in truth. You can’t think of any justification for lying. But then, one find day, you find yourself in a situation where telling the truth will cause the death of another human being. Let’s make it easier; the death of a friend. Well, it’s not so simple. You believe in truth and life. One of these has to take precedence and the other has to defer… for the moment. And such quandaries don’t happen just once in a blue moon.
Such an awareness, could easily lead you down the path to hell, where everything is relative… and on each occasion you just do what ‘seems right’ at the time. But, if you are a person of principles, you have to take just a few (and one wants to be very careful about amassing such principles), and adopt these as principles that are more valuable than your very own life. For these few principles, you would be willing to face martyrdom.
Politics is a lot like football, as I described it above. For most people, you have your team, and you want them to win. Sometimes, even if your guy is a little crooked or inept at the job he’s doing. When it comes to politics, the free thinker is often outside the game. He has to choose the ‘lesser of the two evils’ or to abstain. He might find it very tempting to vote against one of the candidates, rather than for a candidate. But sometimes, there is no choice. If he feels that both candidate are immoral or evil, or inept clowns [and I am in no way referring to the candidates for the presidency of the US], he cannot vote for either one. Being a free thinker is very often difficult… but it has its rewards.