Meeting Your Enemies

One of the biggest tragedies of life is that most of our ideas about the world come from things we read and hear, instead of what we ourselves directly experience.   When this is combined with modern social media, we can get stuck in a filter bubble, where our digital systems look at our past search history and likes, and slowly separate us from information which disagrees with our viewpoints.  Quite easily we can end up in cultural and ideological bubble realities.

A great example of this is in the video below.  We find a young woman who used to be a feminist.  She decided she’d create a documentary exposing the nasty woman-hating which takes places within men’s rights groups across the nation.  To her surprise, she finds out that these men have no hatred of women and actually support women’s rights; they only feel that many men are suffering as well and more should be done for them.  They also brought up a lot of struggles men go through, issues which she wasn’t even aware of.  As she records hundreds of hours of video footage from something like fifty men-rights leaders, she finds her bubble collapsing.  The information she’d been getting from her far-left extreme feminist websites and blogs, particularly information pertaining to men, was way off the mark.

What I really want to point out to you all is Cassie’s resistance and inner dialog in the face of the information these men were giving her.  Notice that her mind was twisting everything they were saying.  She had been a die-hard feminist for ten years, and these men were challenging her most deeply held and cherished beliefs.  I mean, think about it for a second.  This is a woman who felt so passionately about this topic that she felt it her life purpose to spend years of her life producing a documentary exposing this issue.  Her ideological lens couldn’t handle or accept the information she was hearing.  After all, these men were the “enemy”.  She wasn’t respectfully listening to them, she was lying in anticipation, waiting to expose them and their women-hating.  It wasn’t until she was spending countless hours editing her documentary, watching their footage over and over, carefully transcribing and analyzing their words, and then carefully fact-checking what they were saying that she realized her own bias and prejudice.  It took years for her to escape her bubble.

And while we’re speaking on meeting the enemy, here is another video I love.  We have a lesbian feminist who decides she’ll cross-dress as a man and hang out with us for half a year.  She held all sorts of strange ideas about men.  After spending six months with us as a “man”, she realizes she didn’t understand us at all.  She comes to find out that we’re not mean or violent, that we’re extremely kind to one another, and that life as a man is far different than what she had imagined.

She concludes that women have no idea what life is like for men.  Even after trying to be a man for six months she feels there’s a lot she doesn’t understand and may never be able to understand.  I bet it would be.  I can’t imagine what it’d be like to put on a dress and make-up and then spend six months as a woman.  It’d be an insane adjustment.  I have a lot of respect for her.  She concludes that men deserve respect and should be treated kindly and that we all need to do our best to try to understand one another.  It’s a good message.

I haven’t written this post to pick on feminists; I’m just using them as an example.  This same dynamic happens with politics and many other areas of life.  Those on the left and right just as easily end up in bubbles.  I experience this all the time.  When I go to the university I’m surrounded by faculty who are very far-left, and then I go the gym and I’m around guys who are all extremely conservative, and then I’m around family who are also conservative.  It’s really sad seeing how each group talks about the other, and neither side understands one another.  Both sides say the exact same things about the other.   Both sides think the other side is intolerant, both sides say the other side won’t look at the facts, both sides think the other is morally compromised, etc.  That’s probably another post in itself.

While it is true we have quick access to all kinds of information with our computers and devices, that doesn’t mean that any of it is accurate or reliable.  From what I see, no matter what you think about some topic, there are all kinds of websites, blogs, youtube channels, facebook pages, and other sources ready to give you a slew of information justifying and rationalizing anything you want.  They’re ready to pull you into their side, to demonize others outside their group, to give you some sort of purpose fighting for their cause, etc.  And this sort of thing is like the evolution and the spread of viruses.  That’s why we say that things on the internet go “viral”.  Whatever websites and articles are effective in creating this dynamic in people are the very ones which are pushed up to the top of Facebook, Youtube, and other sites.  And then before long, people all over get sucked into their respective bubble realities with their own set of facts, causes, enemies, etc., and are all fighting with one another, each thinking they’re right and the others are wrong.  It isn’t until you step out of your bubble, get off your computer, and actually meet your enemies that you realize that you don’t know them at all.

That is something I’ve learned as a physicist.  The scientific way of thinking basically says that unless you’ve carefully examined something, looking solely at the observed facts, without bias, you have no idea what you’re talking about.  And even then you’re probably wrong because reality rarely fits within simple models and frameworks.  Also, the easiest thing to do is fool yourself.  These days, unless I’m an expert at something, and that’s specifically my field, when people ask my opinion on it I tend to say, “I don’t know.”

I’ve read all kinds of books on many different topics, whether it be history, economics, politics, neuroscience, psychology, etc., and in most areas other than physics, I know just enough to know that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’m aware enough to know that the subject is really complicated and that I haven’t put in the work necessary to have a strong opinion on it.  But unless you’ve worked really hard to become an expert in a particular field, you may not even understand that idea.  You don’t know what I mean when I say, “put in the work”.  That doesn’t mean reading a few articles online.  It doesn’t mean you’ve watched a documentary on Netflix.  It doesn’t mean you’ve read through a single book you picked up in the bookstore.  I’m talking about a process that takes years, examining things from every angle.  It takes time and a lot of effort.  And even if you wanted to, you can’t master more than a few subjects within a lifetime.  In everything else, you’re going to be dabbling and probably just repeating information you’ve heard from others, likely not deeply understanding what you’re talking about.

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