Nonsense

The entertainment media are so full of nonsense it is hardly worth mentioning. And it will get worse before it gets better, what with the elections soon upon us. Brace yourselves!

But one of the more offensive pieces of nonsense is the commercials that have the disclaimer: “Real people. Not actors.” I gather we are to infer from this that actors are not real people. I assume they are robots. No? In any event, when we go to the movies there should be an appropriate disclaimer at the end: “Actors. Not real people.” Now, that would make sense — or as much sense as most of what we see on the silver (and not-so-silver) screen.

Setting An Example

I thought this blurb from a “green” investment company (Green Century Capital Investment, Inc.) would be of interest to readers. It suggests that there are companies — and individuals — that are serious about saving the planet despite the fact that they cannot count on huge subsidies from the government as does Big Oil.

Deep in California’s Santa Clara Valley lies one of the most influential companies of the 21st century — Google. It has revolutionized how we find information, transformed advertising, and radically altered the way we work.

And today, recognizing the catastrophic threat posed by climate change, Google is using its influence to change how and where we get our energy.

The company has been carbon neutral since 2007, and is committed to getting 100% of its energy from clean, renewable sources.
Already Google gets more than a third of its energy from renewable sources, thanks in part to the 1.9 megawatts of solar panels on its Mountain View campus, and to its status as the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. Plus, Google’s data centers get 3.5 times more computing power out of the same amount of electricity than they did five years ago.

To that end, the company is using its resources to support the growth of the renewable energy industry. Google has invested $2 billion in renewable energy projects around the world. In addition, it recently announced “Project Sunroof,” an ambitious effort taking advantage of the company’s mapping software to make it easier for consumers to see their own solar potential.

Good news, indeed, at a time when we desperately need some!

 

What’s Real?

One of the latest signs of the decay of our civilization is not the widespread playing of video games, as such, but last year’s mega-competition in Seoul, Korea which was viewed online by 27 million people worldwide involving teams of players engaged in the complex, and violent, game of “League of Legends.”  The winners take home a large, garish trophy and $1 million in American dollars. This year’s finals are scheduled for “several cities” in Europe in October and the number of viewers is expected to be even higher.

It’s not enough that we know the watching of violent games tends to leave an impression on young minds that imitate what they see. It is not enough that we know the games engage only half the brain and leave the other half — the analytical half — undeveloped, thus shrinking language skills and making thought difficult at best. It is not enough to know that the games can (and do) become addictive. It is not enough to know that the young begin to develop a weak “reality principle,” as Freud called it, an awareness of what is real and what is not, and can become lost in a make-believe world.

Now the games have become organized to the point that there is large-scale competition for the first prize that will encourage the kids to spend even more time on the games than they already do. What we have here is the combination of two negative influences, playing electronic games and the measuring of success in dollars and cents. These trends are already in place in this culture, to be sure, but now that the games involve huge amounts of money, are watched streaming on computers around the world, and are being covered on such TV networks as ESPN, the trends will almost assuredly become unstoppable.

Indeed, John Anderson, one of the senior talking heads on ESPN recently commented on the League of Legends competition semi-finals (which was carried on ESPN3 and outdrew several major sporting events in this country). He started out by saying that he had been encouraging his son to put away the gaming devices, read a book or go outside, ride his bike, climb a tree, or even open a lemonade stand. But now he is “reconsidering his parenting skills” in light of the amounts of money involved in winning these games. To which I simply say, don’t do it John. You have the right idea and should not give in to the forces of temptation that will almost certainly lead your son into a dead-end. There’s not much future in store for someone whose only skill is manipulating a toggle switch — except, perhaps, as an operator of heavy machinery or, worse yet, drones designed to kill and maim the “enemy” as identified by his superiors, i.e., to follow orders and do what he is told. The games when played blindly will lead to real blindness to the world.

John’s instincts were sound. His son should read a book or go outside and play. Be a young man and grow in mind and body. Don’t become a slave to greed and ignorant of what is going on around him. A weak reality principle, as Freud would say, makes us susceptible to delusions and imaginings that take us further and further away from those around us and the things that are truly important in a good life. It also makes us more prone to violence.

Someone’s Been Peeking

Just when I thought that only a few close friends were reading my blog I picked up a copy of this week’s Sierra Magazine and discovered a review of a book by Andrew Hoffman which restates what I have been saying for years. He must have been peeking at my blog! Right? Hoffman’s book, titled How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, maintains that folks who cling to the illusion that climate change is…..an illusion…. are conditioned by their deepest biases and find it very difficult, if not impossible, to abandon them, even if they are shown that they are dead wrong. As the review notes,

“Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, first lays out the psychological and social biases people bring to the climate discussion and then suggests techniques for making that conversation more productive. (A combination of empathy and clever framing is the key.)”

Leaving aside for the moment the vague aspect of the concept of “framing,” let’s consider the notion that folks cling to their belief systems like a fragile raft in a river of uncertainty and refuse to let go simply because someone points out that they are headed for a waterfall. This is what I have noted in a number of blogs over the years. Lately I have suggested that fear is the basis for those values we hold most dear. Climate change deniers fear letting go of the raft more than they do the coming maelstrom. I still believe this is the case and that Professor Hoffman hasn’t dug deep enough. It is fear that is the glue that holds those values and beliefs together.

In the case of climate change, we are told that in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in June it was determined that

“Americans’ views on whether the planet is heating up have barely changed since 2006 despite growing scientific consensus and an increasing number of climate-related disasters.”

This is alarming, to be sure. But if we accept the fact that beliefs and values are what constitutes the person we can accept the fact that they will not be abandoned readily. In fact, those “climate-related disasters” must come close to home and be repeated, I expect, before most people will accept the fact that they have been living in a dream world. They must actually see and hear the waterfall. As I say, I suspect it will be fear of a greater magnitude than they have experienced thus far, since they can easily regard those climate-related disasters as someone else’s problem. This is the same rationalization folks use when they refuse to use their seat belts or wear helmets when riding their motor cycles —  because they can’t imagine that they themselves would ever have an accident. Some people simply need to be hit over the head. Twice.

This brings us to Professor Hoffman’s notion that it is possible to have a “productive” conversation, that the values and beliefs of climate change doubters can be changed by “empathy and clever framing.” I seriously doubt it: this is where I part company with Professor Hoffman. I’m not sure what he means by “framing,” though I suppose it may be the way we put things to those who deny. But no matter how empathetic we appear or how we state our case, those of us who know that climate change is a serious problem will never persuade those who disagree with us by any sort of rhetorical trickery. As I say, those beliefs and values are grounded in fear and it will take a major emotional shock to dislodge them. What might get the process started, perhaps, is the increasing number of weather disasters close to home coupled with steadily rising cost of food in the stores and a ban on watering accompanied by the rising cost of water to drink and even to flush the toilet — not to mention such things as debilitating diseases in the person’s immediate circle of family and friends coupled with rising health costs. But even these measures may not be enough to dissuade the chronically closed-minded. It’s small wonder that very few have changed their minds since 2006. It’s just very sad.

Selfies

If there are still doubters out there who insist that this is not the most narcissistic age ever, they should consider the “selfie.” As we all know, and which the always reliable Wikipedia affirms, a “selfie”

” is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken [seemingly endlessly] with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often [seemingly endlessly] shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer.”

Indeed, according to the statistics I just made up, 93.7% of the information on social media is about the person himself or herself. Issues are largely ignored and other people only enter into the discussion if they happen to have some important relationship to the person posting the information. It’s all about “ME.”

Or consider the “self-esteem”movement about which I have blogged previously (seemingly endlessly) which has taken over our schools and which parents have swallowed hook, line, and sinker — despite the fact that all the evidence (which I didn’t make up) suggests that the self-esteem movement actually LOWERS a child’s self-confidence, their sense of who they really are in relation to others around them. But it raises their idea of how accomplished and bright they are and in recent studies of students around the world (which again I did not make up), despite the fact that test scores show that our students trail much of the rest of the world in subjects like language and mathematics, the students themselves are convinced they are the best and brightest. They have the highest sense of self-importance in the world. This is narcissism that borders on self-delusion. And, as we know too well, it has led to the sense of entitlement that pervades this culture in which a growing number of people expect to be handed things because they have a nice smile or are pleasant to be around. Or, simply because they can still breathe in and out. In addition, as Christopher Lasch has pointed out, narcissism can readily lead to violence as those who expect to be handed everything on a platter find their desires thwarted.

In the light of this, it was refreshing recently to read about James Harrison, a professional football player, who returned two very large trophies his sons received for merely participating in an activity. It was not only refreshing because it wasn’t another story about a professional athlete beating his wife or sweetheart, but about a professional football player who is practicing good parenting skills. As Harrison himself said about the awards:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” wrote the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker on Sunday in an Instagram post to his 180,000 followers. “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they earn a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned, and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

Is it possible that this professional athlete knows more about child rearing than the so-called “experts” who dare to give parents and educators misleading advice? Imagine, thinking that praise should be earned and not simply passed out until it means nothing! Harrison just uses his common sense and gut feelings to do the thing he knows is right. I can’t help but believe that we would be much better off if parents and teachers followed Harrison’s lead than they are in raising and teaching their kids “by the book.”

A Tragic Tiger?

Aristotle wrote the book on tragedy. Well, actually, he wrote a short treatise he called “Poetics” in which he sought to define and describe tragic drama. In that treatise he described the tragic hero in careful terms. The hero must fall from great heights — like Oedipus who was a King of Thebes who ended up blind and poor. Indeed, it was probably Sophocles’ play that Aristotle had in mind as the paradigm of Greek tragedy. But the hero must fall due to a “tragic flaw,” what the Greeks termed “hubris,” or overweening pride. Not pride as such — that was OK. After all, every Greek should take pride in the fact that he is a Greek and not a barbarian — a term they invented to describe people whose language they couldn’t understand and which sounded to their ears like the bleating of sheep.

In these regards, one might argue that Tiger Woods is a tragic hero in Aristotle’s scheme. He fell from great heights — from the #1 player in the world to something around #286 at present, playing badly, unable to make the cut at the last three major tournaments. His tragic flaw may well be his overweening pride, indeed his conceit. He still thinks he can regain the #1 spot in the world and refuses to allow that there are better players out there. To listen to him is to hear the words of a deluded man who still thinks he is the man he was years ago. It just ain’t so.

Tiger’s demise may be sad, but it is not tragic. It’s pathos, as the Greeks would say, not tragedy. Not to Aristotle’s way of thinking. The philosopher was convinced that in addition to the features mentioned above the hero must be a noble man. Now he may have been thinking of Kings, like Oedipus, but scholars usually insist that his word “noble” must be taken in a much broader sense. But no matter how much we broaden it — even if we broaden it enough to drive a bus through it — by no stretch of the imagination can Tiger Woods be regarded as a noble man. He is anything but. He is a spoiled, self-centered, delusional athlete whose best days are behind him and who, like many athletes, simply will not admit that a new day has dawned.

Thus, Tiger Woods is not a tragic hero. Indeed, one might argue that he is not a hero in any sense of that term. He is simply a sad case of a man who was spoiled by his parents, became convinced he could walk on water — because that’s what he was told over and over — and discovered that even when frozen the water was too thin to hold his weight.

Fear Itself

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young hero tells his friend “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Now, I know that “philosophy” in Shakespeare’s day meant “natural philosophy,” or science, as we would say today. None the less, as a professor of philosophy for forty-one years, I always balked at this statement. I dismissed it as the faulty insight of a poet, not to be taken seriously. But as I have grown older, and “crawl toward death,” as Shakespeare would have it, I realize that, like so many things the poet said, it is a profound truth. There is much more to life than can be found in philosophy, or in reasoning about life and drawing conclusions from syllogisms, no matter how valid. There is mystery and there is passion which refuses to take a back seat to reason. Thus, while I taught logic for so many years and sought to help young people learn how to reason cogently and reject the bloat and rhetoric around them, all important things, to be sure, I realize that Shakespeare was right — as was Pascal, David Hume and William James, among others.

In his remarkable book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, for example, William James recounts numerous personal experiences reflecting the power of religious feeling and the fact that, as he put it,

“The truth is that in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion. . . . Our impulsive belief is always what sets up the original body of truth and our articulately verbalized philosophy is but a showy translation into formulas. . .Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.”

Indeed, I am of the opinion that the strongest “instinct” is that of fear. In the infant it is the fear of falling or the spontaneous cry at the sound of the door slamming shut. In our youth we fear separation from our mother (“separation anxiety” as Freud called it), we fear the unknown and the unexpected. As we grow older our fears start to mount: the fear of flying, the fear of failing, the fear of debt, the fear of inadequacy, the fear of rejection, and above all, the fear of death. As we age we are a nest of such fears that we try to shield ourself from in a verity of ways that depend upon our personality and our ability to face our fears without flinching. Some people are better at this than others.

Fear of hellfire and damnation was used throughout the Middle Ages by the Church to keep its adherents close to home. Fear was used by Hitler and Stalin to control their masses of zealots who trusted no one. And, one might suggest, it is even used in this country today to maintain control of the thought and action of American citizens who are constantly reminded of the danger of “terrorism” and the need for security in the form of massive “defense” systems. Fear permeates our thinking on many levels.

Take the case of global warming. Clearly, this is an issue where fear and strong passions rule supreme. Some accept the evidence provided by science that the threat of climate change is very real, but this seemingly rational acceptance is perhaps nothing more than the fear of what will most assuredly happen to the planet if we continue to ignore the warning signs. Opponents of the notion of climate change find solace in the spurious reasonings of those who reject science because they find in those “arguments” a safe haven from the fear that global warming may indeed be a fact. Like all of us, they fear the unknown and in this case find themselves unable to allow that the threat might be very real indeed. They seek reassurance for those beliefs they hold dear. In both cases, our reasoning is led by our feelings, especially that most powerful of all feelings, fear.

Shakespeare was right. There are more things in heaven and earth than can be found in our philosophy. Reasoning can take us only so far — and it does tend to be led by the “instincts,” as James would have it. But this does not mean that we should ignore reasoning altogether. Or the findings of hard science, either. It means that we should allow for the pull of the strong emotions, but at the same time seek to temper them with the calm influence of reason which can be reassuring. It can reassure us that the sound we heard in the night was only the cat, not a burglar, for example. It can assure us that there is a way home when we are lost deep in the woods. Reason can calm our fears — up to a point. And it can show us a way to solve our problems which, if ignored, may overcome us altogether.

Sad To Say

I recently returned from a trip to Colorado to visit with my wife’s very sick sister and in trying to catch up with my emails and various items on the ‘net, I discovered this rather sad commentary on our sick educational system. It highlights the fact that an increasing number of Republican states are decimating the educational system by cutting off funds and trying to make life as difficult as possible for those who try to teach the kids. In this case Kansas is engaged in a series of cut-backs that are sending teachers to other states in an attempt to earn a living.

In the article, which underlines the fact that there are those in this country who would just as soon get rid of public education entirely, there is mention of the fact that Kansas is hiring unlicensed teachers to fill the spaces left by those who are moving out of state to find employment elsewhere. Strange to say, I tend to agree with this move, despite the fact that it smells of using “scabs” to fill the places of striking union workers. In this case, assuming that the replacement teachers are well educated, they might be an improvement over those with certification. In general, I have a rather low opinion of the entire certification process in this country, as some might recall from previous posts. I have seen a number of students leave the education department at my university because they regarded the required courses as “Mickey Mouse,” too easy and what they regarded as a waste of time. It’s a zero-sum game and for every “methods” course that those kids must take they miss out on the chance to take challenging courses that would make them better and wiser teachers. I had a teacher in the education department tell me at one point that one of my honor students was “too smart” to be a secondary school teacher and that she should find another field of study!

In the first year after I graduated from college I taught at a private secondary school in New York where none of the teachers had certification. The reputation of the school was (and still is) stellar and I found the teachers, without exception, to be excellent and dedicated to their task. They were all college graduates with majors in academic fields such as English, History, Biology, Foreign Language, and the like. They knew their stuff and they imparted it to their students with consummate skill — as far as I could see. In fact, none of the private schools in the East — and elsewhere as far as I know — require certification of their teachers. And yet they have well-earned reputations as excellent places to send the young. Indeed, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the requirement to certify teachers is a bit of a joke and certainly not the guarantee of excellence that it was supposed to be at the outset. And, as we all have discovered, Finland — which has the highest rated school system in the world — does not require that their teachers to be “certified.”

However, while I am sympathetic with the desire to circumvent the certification process, I most assuredly do not have any sympathy for those who would derail the entire public education system that has, until recently, provided this nation with most of its movers and shakers. Perhaps I am biased as I am also a product of the public education system through high school, as were my wife and two sons. There are serious problems in our public education system that have lowered it in comparison with other systems around the world. But the glutting of the schools, the increasing number of attempts to weaken the entire system until it breathes its last, is assuredly not the way to go. I would applaud any effort to eliminate the certification process and the schools of education that pretend that teaching is a science (when we all know it is an art). However, the answer is not to cut funding, but to increase it and attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession. It does appear that legislators like those in Kansas seek to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

 

Freud’s Take On Civilization

In a number of my blog posts I have made much of the importance of doing whatever we can to preserve Western civilization. And this at a time when the word “civilization” has come under fire. We have become aware in recent years that so-called “civilized” peoples have committed all manner of atrocities against so-called “uncivilized” or “barbaric” peoples — many of whom are superior in a great many ways to the civilized people who look down on them and seek to colonize and exploit them. This is true, of course. But there is much more to be said on the subject that has been ignored in our tizzy to right past wrongs, and, despite its shortcomings and the greed and avarice of so many of its leaders, civilization is highly desirable and preferable to its alternative in which lives, as Thomas Hobbes said, are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

No one has studied the strengths and weaknesses of civilization more carefully than Sigmiund Freud who defines it in the following way:

“. . . the word ‘civilization’ describes the whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes — namely, to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations.”

Now, as Freud is quick to point out, in “adjusting” our mutual relations with other humans in civilized society we pay a price. We give up many of our freedoms and we develop various neuroses. It would appear that our animal ancestors, and presumably more primitive people, are happier than we are because they have greater freedom. They have no “hang-ups” as we would now say. But this is something of a fiction, as Freud goes on to point out, because in primitive cultures only the men at the top — and certainly no women — have all the power and the rest of the society simply does as it is told. And there are numerous tribal taboos. So the freedom that a few may have is bought at a price paid by the majority of the rest of the culture. Civilized men and women, on the other hand, not only lose their freedom, they have many “discontents” to live with. We pay a price.

In the end, Freud suggests, the price may be well worth paying. There are three major benefits from civilization that are stressed in Freud’s excellent book Civilization and Its Discontents. There is, to begin with, the development of character. Without social restraints and the need to accommodate one another persons would not develop character. We find this in children who, when allowed to behave in any manner they wish, suffer character flaws. Unlike neuroses, character flaws cannot be corrected through therapy: they are permanent. These people are spoiled and unable to undertake and finish difficult projects. They wander aimlessly through life with no apparent purpose or goal.

This brings us to the second benefit of civilization, which is what Freud calls “sublimation,” borrowing a word from Nietzsche. This word means the ability to restrain ourselves and redirect the energy that would otherwise express itself in aggression toward others and channel it into creative outlets. As Freud says in this regard,

“Sublimation of instinct is an  especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic, or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life.”

In a word, by sublimating what he called the “cathexis” of energy that would otherwise be spent needlessly or even violently, civilization, for all its faults, makes it possible for humans to create and grow intellectually and emotionally, to create and invent.

And this brings us to the third benefit of being civilized persons, and that is the suppression of “powerful instincts” that would otherwise result in violence toward our fellow humans. As history has shown, and which we are finding out for ourselves of late, this benefit has not been fully realized. Humans, even in so-called civilized societies, are still given to rage and the release of aggressive instincts toward their fellows. But, Freud would insist, this release of impulse is of lesser extent in civilized societies than in primitive ones since law enforcement helps to restrain aggressive impulses. What we are finding out is that law and order are less effective than we might hope and as increasing numbers of people become armed with deadly weapons and numbers of those pledged to enforce the laws break them resulting in increasing disrespect for law itself we can look forward to even greater violence in the future. As Freud would have it, civilization is a battle between the impulse toward happiness (pleasure) and the aggressive instinct. In his words,

“This struggle is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species.”

In the end, there are discontents in civilization, to be sure. But there are benefits that help to humanize us. As we lose those benefits we become less human, more like “our animal ancestors.” This is why I point to such things as the loss of good manners which, in itself, seems trivial, but is in fact, together with the growing disrespect for the law and those pledged to enforce the law, a sign that the ties of civilization are loosening and we are slipping back into a more primitive way of life — the life of our “animal ancestors.” Surely, this is something to be aware of and to seek to avoid.

Mill On Tolerance (Revisited)

I wrote this several years ago, but it seems timely and apt, especially as we are entering an election year and there is so much fodder out there that needs to be worked through to make an informed decision. The key point here is that we don’t know anything unless we try to know as much as possible about an issue looked at from two (or three) sides. How many of us do that today when dialogue seems to degenerate into a shouting match at the drop of a pin and folks seek to score points rather than listen and learn from one another?

Those who agree with me are the brightest people I know. Those who disagree with me are obviously stupid. Of course, I don’t really listen to the latter group, but I must be right. In a word, even though I would like to think I am a tolerant person I strongly suspect that I merely ignore opinions I do not tend to agree with and I suspect that is not what tolerance is all about. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that tolerance may simply be another form of indifference. He’s right, of course. In our culture today we all pride ourselves on tolerance but we may, indeed, simply be indifferent. There is much we don’t care about, and that includes someone else’s point of view. I know it’s true about me and I strongly suspect it is also true about others.

To be truly tolerant, it seems to me, one needs to listen closely to another point of view even knowing it to be totally opposed to our own before we decide whether to reject it or not. I recall the words of John Stuart Mill in his superb essay “On Liberty.” Mill said:

“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination.”

Let’s take a closer look at tolerance, taking our clue from Mill, even though he doesn’t use the word “tolerance” in the passage I quoted. Let’s say I’m listening to a political rant and after a few minutes I decide the guy is a wacko right-winger (or left-winger — they’re both wacko at the political extremes) and I stop listening to him. In a sense I am being tolerant. I haven’t bought a gun, followed the man into an alley, and shot him — as some in our society seem inclined to do. But I have certainly not been tolerant in the sense of the term Mill is speaking about. de Tocqueville is right, I am being indifferent: I don’t really care what the guy is saying.

Tolerance would require that I listen carefully and weigh what the man says — as Mill suggests. After that, I would then have to work through my own “take” on the issues being discussed and sort out those which seem to be the soundest in light of what I just heard. This might require changing my own beliefs, which is a very difficult thing to do. In fact, it is so difficult we don’t do it very often, if at all. That’s why we tend to dismiss those who disagree with us with a wave of the hand and, usually, a label of derision: he’s a “wacko,” or a “nut-case,” or whatever. Labeling the opposition is simpler than listening to him and taking what he says seriously. It makes things easier for us. So we embrace opinions that are most comfortable.

Tolerance is a very difficult virtue to practice, as Mill’s comment makes clear. We have come to the point in our society where we are bombarded by so much noise posing as personal opinions it is hard, if not impossible, to listen closely. So we don’t listen at all much of the time. We just filter it out. Or we half-listen and then dismiss, especially if we sense ahead of time that the person doesn’t agree with us.

And this is why we have become rather closed-minded and intolerant of others’ opinions. Not only don’t they fit in with the opinions we hold dearly and are reluctant to part with, there are simply too many of them out there and we need to protect ourselves from the bombardment. So we congregate with others of like opinions and watch and read those who agree with us, convinced that these are the bright ones — thereby firming up our own convictions. But, if Mill is right, and I think he is, we do this to our own detriment, because we lose out on the opportunity to learn something and have our minds grow and mature. I need to keep this in mind next time I dismiss the “wacko” on the TV trying to sell me the latest political panacea or farmland in the Everglades. Just because he’s wacko doesn’t mean he can’t be right.