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It's Hard To Be Humble When You're Perfect Dept.


The Attack on Truth - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The strategy of willful ignorance is not to fight theory with theory and statistic with statistic. It is instead to say, "I refuse to believe this," and then filibuster in the court of public opinion. It is not crackpot theories that are doing us in. It is the spread of the tactics of those who disrespect truth.

... The real enemy is not ignorance, doubt, or even disbelief. It is false knowledge. When we profess to know something even in the face of absent or contradicting evidence, that is when we stop looking for the truth.

I'll have some things to say about the political implications of this stuff in another post, because first I want to single out something else.

This right here — this business of avoiding false knowledge — is what Zen masters mean when they talk about "beginner's mind". It's nothing more than the personal, spiritual parallel to the concept of scientific knowledge being perpetually provisional.

False knowledge of ourselves is as problematic as false knowledge of the rest of the world, although we go about appreciating each of those things in markedly different ways. The highest form of false knowledge, in Zen terms, is the idea that you're this thing that exists in a static way apart from the rest of the universe.

The most common response to this is something along the lines of, "Well, that's all well and good, but how does that help me when I'm stuck behind a red light with a screaming kid in the backseat?" Put like that, no, it doesn't help you, because framing the whole thing that way is a reflection of one's own lack of recognition of the real nature of the problem. The problem isn't that you're stuck in a car, etc., it's that you've spent a lifetime conditioning yourself, and being conditioned, to recognize such things as an affront to your sacrosanct untouchable self. The more you practice seeing this "you" as being nothing more than a batch of convenient fictions you carry around as a way to deal with a world full of people programmed to behave in the same way, the easier it becomes to not let these things throw you off.

I get smacked in the face with this sort of thing all the time. The only difference between me and the other guy, I guess, is that I recognize it a little more quickly for what it is. The other day, while sitting here typing, my wife asked me to put on coffee, and I felt for a second like I was being badgered into doing something. I suspect it was because I'd been trying for minutes on end to figure out how to word a particular sentence, and her request threw off my concentration. I got annoyed, and then stopped: I'd spent enough time practicing seeing those things as nothing more than thoughts, and learning not to confuse them with reality, that they quickly dissipated on their own. And then I got up and put on coffee.

Now for the really hard part. Many people read this and assume all this is a call to action to turn one's self into a doormat, or (worse) to demand of other people that they turn themselves into doormats.

The second one is something I've pounded on plenty of times before — you can't ever make anyone else into a spiritual or enlightened being. The only person you ever have any real responsibility over is yourself. That leads back into the first issue, which is that the point of all this isn't to engender passivity, but rather to work a little more diligently than usual to see past the way our egos love to make things all about us even when they're not. If there is a real problem, it becomes easier to see when we're not cluttering up our brains with stupid games about who and what we are.


Tags: Buddhism Zen philosophy psychology


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2015/06/09 10:00.

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