I despair, I fear, of ever communicating a thought to anyone who does not already agree with me. Is the point of discourse the sharing of reasoned, rational viewpoints, seasoned by experience and tempered with reflection, or is it the discussion of triviality, the weather, what Movie Star #35 is doing in his latest contrived vehicle, or what his tacked-on love interest is wearing in it? Why is the human mind concerned so with the mundane, with the doings of those whom we have never met, and whose lives would remain unknown to us without the artificial force-feeding of mass media? With what we cannot change, nor even, sometimes, comprehend? I, myself, am frequently guilty of transgressions in this area, mostly because I am obliged to communicate in a friendly fashion with those who would not be interested in deeper thought than is provided by the score of a football game.

What is fit to discuss, to the rational mind, and what is futile? In many cases, the criteria one applies in the barroom may also be applied to more general arenas of verbal interaction. Politics, religion, and nasty boils in nether regions should all be shied from, if one wishes to retain the goodwill and interest of one's audience. Why, though, are these things taboo? What prevents the free interchange of ideas on controversial or unpopular subjects?

Perhaps an examination of each in turn, with the exception of skin eruptions where the sun declines to illuminate, will provide, if not an answer, then at least a beginning for further inquiry, which is the real point of these essays, not to dictate thought, but encourage it.

I discuss politics, I admit with chagrin, for emotional reasons, rather than the more sublime ground I should wish to claim. The discussion of the actions of a collective is the most fruitless sort, reflecting, I suppose, the nature and action of collective effort thereby. But that is another essay. Whatever my opinions, the fact is that the discussion of politics is a highly subjective area of discussion, and the minds of most are closed except where their views are concerned. Obvious? Yes, but why? Because people always think they're right? Possibly. Because the opinions of others cannot possibly be as valid as the cherished plinths of our own political thought, or, more frequently, our parents' (whose views many parrot, without reflection or consideration)? This clawlike hand of the past, indeed, lingers well past its worth as the foundation of political philosophy, to be expanded and improved upon as time provides experience, and adversity, with luck, wisdom.

In the past, I, myself, have succumbed to the vapidity of yammering out the thoughts of others, without attempting to reason out a rational stand of my own. Many years has it taken to bring me to the idea that minds are made, not necessarily for the thinking of great thoughts, for who, truly, is a fit judge of their verity or profundity, but at least of original ones. I do not mean by this that all thoughts one thinks must never have been thought before at all, but that one's thoughts must be one's own, rather than the toeing of a party line.

To tackle undaunted the trickier slopes of religion, what bears discussion? Except from a historical viewpoint, religion is of no moment whatever in the lives of anyone I observe, excepting Muslims, as few I observe practice the teachings thereof, and then even Muslims conveniently edit their scriptures from time to time. Those who preach over their beers deserve the attention the circumstances merit. Likewise, those who do not follow the creed of their professed prophets deserve their commensurate respect. How can revealed religion be practiced by one who has given the matter any thought? I lack the answer. Likewise spiritualism, or astrology, or any of the other nostrums taken by those disillusioned with organized religion to balm their lack of purpose or sense of worth without a higher authority to appeal to. Two of the women I myself have been attached to in the past practiced this brand of mental self-mutilation, to the point of casting spells and appealing to woodland spirits and gods! Women, indeed, seem far more susceptible to taking this primrose path to self-validation, whereas men seem to lean towards the more orthodox, to them, methods of keeping away reasoned thought and the acceptance of responsibility for one's own values offered by the local church.

"How," the reader asks, "can you claim to know that these things are not the truth? What gives you the right to make these judgments? Doesn't your own philosophy state that people's right to their own choices and opinions is sacred?" To which I answer, yes, that is my view on personal choice, and no, I don't claim to know for a fact that all of the things I railed against previously are untrue, nor do I pass judgment on people for their beliefs. I merely believe in probability over possibility, since it is possible there is a god, just as it is possible there are many gods, and woodland sprites, and demons in hell, but, in the absence of verifiable, repeatable evidence to support any of these things, they are all very improbable. The statement of Ayer, "...I require of an empirical hypothesis, not indeed that it be conclusively verifiable, but that some possible sense-experience should be relevant to its truth or falsehood. If a putative proposition fails to satisfy this principle, and is not a tautology, then I hold it is metaphysical, and that, being metaphysical, it is neither true nor false, but literally senseless," is the best expression of the principle I hold true in this area, which is why I have taken the liberty of including so long a quote. Faith, where it is not applied to the concrete, such as believing in the honesty of one's friends, is the absence of reason, and the unwillingness to think. However, people who have faith in any of these things I have spoken of may not, in themselves, be unreasonable, or thoughtless, and I do not brand them as such. My own failings are too obvious for any judgment of mine to hold sway, and, to return for a moment to politics, this holds true for many others, as well, though they have the recourse of coercion to fall back on to implement their will.

What, then, is worth discussion? That each must decide within the realm of context and company, but, generally, the discovery of your fellow-beings shining parts is, to my mind, worthwhile. Finding those things in people where they excel, and, where they do not, encouraging their thought, and showing those things in you that are brightest, while exploring where you can improve. Accepting differences, and extolling virtue, are the places where intercourse attains its highest calling of quality.

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Patrick B. Yancey's picture
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Patrick B. Yancey  is not sure exactly what is going on most of the time, and is completely oblivious for the rest of it.