Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On the Will to Stupidity

To close your ears to even the best counter-argument once the decision has been taken: sign of a strong character. Thus an occasional will to stupidity.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I have always found fascinating the will to stupidity, from the examples I found when I first became interested in internet debate to the examples I find around me in that world outside of the monitor. Those men who are of such strong (stubborn?) character that nothing can shake their foundations.

I have chosen Nietzsche's aphorism because thinking about the aphorism brought my mind to this topic; I do not doubt that there may be people far more familiar with Nietzsche than I who might have a more accurate view of what Nietzsche meant, but this is where it led me so that's what I'll write about.

First I want to talk about the will to stupidity as found in men of "strong" character. These men are not hard to find, they are the ones who are not particularly concerned with whether or not a thing is true, even to the extent of dismissing any opposing argument or evidence to the contrary of whatever it is that they believe. Perhaps a pious man who says science is only good in so far as it confirms his particular religion, perhaps a liberal man who insists that all who do not share his politics should be dismissed as greedy warmongers? We can find all sorts of examples in all camps.

There is great pleasure to be had in dismissing doubt and reclining with the notion that you are correct in all your beliefs that matter; disregard pleasure and consider the fact that doubt leads to an inability to act. Consider James' insight on this matter:

. . . the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6

Are there any objections to this insight? You may doubt that James had a good thing for us to put our faith in, but I find it very easy to believe that he was right when he said the doubting man is "driven and tossed by the wind." Doubt restrains us, keeps us from moving; the will to stupidity is the thing that keeps us marching forward, but the will to stupidity may blind us to the fact that we're marching toward something that we ought not march toward.

Doubt is paralyzing, but isn't that occasionally beneficial? If we're marching toward a pit we would want to be paralyzed, if we're marching toward streets of gold we would want to keep moving with as much vigor as possible. The problem is that we cannot always determine what we're heading toward. This is why doubt is valuable, and we should choose self-inspection over a will to stupidity. Doubt paralyzes us and in order to proceed we must examine ourselves and our surroundings.

Is faith then to be done away with, or does it have a place.

Faith, in it's purest sense, would be acting or believing without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Doubt, in it's purest sense, would be refusing to act or believe without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Naturally, no one deals with these things in their purest senses, we deal with mixtures of them. We must have a little faith to say, perhaps, that we can reasonably trust our eyes to get us through the day. We need doubt otherwise we are merely the disciples of whatever charismatic leader we happen to bump into.

Without faith we cannot move forward, without doubt we march to our deaths.

What of the strong man who does not consider anything opposing him? Well, fortunately for him he'll probably turn out alright. Chances are that he will cling to whatever morality he was given by those around him (he is not known for innovation) and chances are that he will be able to operate well in society with the morality he was given, pity if he was raised by Westboro Baptist or a suicide bomber, though.

What about his opposite? The man so open minded that he has no real beliefs? He is worse off. He may never march to his doom, but that will only be because he does not march anywhere. He makes no progress because every new objection or new idea sends him right back to the ground, paralyzed.

The strong man doubts all but himself, in whom he places all of his faith. The weak man has faith in all but himself, in whom he places all of his doubt.

Once again the golden mean between these two paths is the ideal. Have faith in yourself so that you may progress, but doubt yourself so that you understand when it's best to go in a different direction. The proper balance of faith and doubt in relation to outside influences would be to consider their claims and give them enough consideration that you can confidently reject, accept, or respect them.

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