- Published on Sunday, 22 November 2015 12:48
Critical Thinking's research and analysis relies of a wide diversity of researchers, activists and academics and we couldn't have made progress in understanding the political economy without their work. This article is not to belittle or dismiss the value of these people but to question why those who've been most helpful in identifying and explaining key issues are often the least open to the bigger picture. Why should this be? There is no one simple answer but there are significant influences at work.
To the extent we're all brainwashed into conformity and compliance from birth is part of the reason but cannot account for academics' acute form of myopia - the refusal to engage with information and analysis which challenge their beliefs and worldview. Yesterday, Daily Pickings referred to the reluctance, particularly among activists and academics, to "frighten the horses" by giving credence to "conspiracy theories".
The propensity to challenge one's own beliefs varies enormously but academics, who've built their career and self-image on their particular specialist expertise, face a daunting challenge: to open up to new information or ideas which undermine their worldview and cherished beliefs.
Not only does the political economy incentivise compliance with mainstream opinion but there are heavy penalties, particularly for academics, if they stray from the officially sanctioned path. In the climate debate, for example, we have a "Catch 22" situation - we're told that an overwhelming number of climate scientists endorse the CAGW theory (of human-induced catastrophic global warming) which isn't true but leaving the data aside, think about those academics who've chosen to speak out in spite of the penalties. They are consistently ignored, vilified as eccentric or their credentials and character are called into question. Thus we only hear from those who "toe the party line" and we are conditioned to distrust all those who challenge accepted wisdom.
Those who conform do so because to step out of the comfort of the crowd risks their livelihood, status and sense of self-worth, all of which are wedded to their worldview and beliefs. These are visceral impediments to new ideas which shake the foundations of our sense of self. Beliefs and our worldview define who we are as people, our relationships and "inner core", our being. To challenge these cherished beliefs means casting off from the safe harbour of certainty to explore the "unknown" - moving beyond one's specialised field of knowledge risks jeopardising our sense of uniqueness and self-worth.
Fear is the dominant driver, particularly in these dangerous times when the epithet "extremist" is applied to all those who challenge the manufactured "consensus" on the "war of terror". Not only, is one risking one's sense of self but liberty and life itself. Many have paid the ultimate price for whistleblowing or speaking out.
However, as the tide of human consciousness shifts, as the truth becomes harder to ignore, controversial views become mainstream and the sense of empowerment from understanding eclipses the false comfort of conformity. Understanding the world as it is, rather than as it appears to be, leads to the realisation that we don't have to accept the lies, abuse, oppression and destruction in the world but we can identify levers for durable, sustainable change.
Specialists are essential to understanding the world but they also need to be polymaths because, recognising their peers in other disciplines are similarly constrained to conform, no information can be taken on trust.
We are tantalisingly close to a shift in human consciousness but, at the same time, the forces to police our thinking have never been stronger. It is academics, journalists and researchers who hold the key to unleash co-creative forces to dissolve hierarchy, share the commons and banish usury. Those prepared to challenge cherished beliefs may initially be shunned by their peers and the establishment but will be in the vanguard of the "hero(ine) collective" who will enjoy the gratitude of (wo)mankind if we can avoid the collapse of our civilisation.
When we challenge our cherished beliefs, the illusory fear of losing our sense of self evaporates with truth.