Friday, February 02, 2007

Squeeze Out The Thinkers: It's Our Way

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.
- John Locke, philosopher (1632-1704)

This observation is similar to saying that we all dislike change. All things considered, new ideas and opinions often represent the leading edge of change.

What reason do we have to fear change? Human nature tells us that the status quo equals security. What is may not be perfect, but it's what we know. More importantly, what we have been told by our leaders must be true because we depend on our leaders to steer us along the right path as cultural communities.

In the final analysis, we are groups of followers, not self-sustaining islands of independence. Most of us don't produce our own food, build our own homes, make our own clothing or in more than minimal ways contribute directly to our own welfare. We depend on others to assist with these.

When our prehistoric ancestors gave up their independence in order to gather together into social groups, we also gave up some of our rights to freedom of thought and action. Those who thought differently from the group were forced to conform to the rules of the group, thus refraining from speaking things which went against the perceived welfare of the group and especially from acting on them.

Conformity meant security. Peer pressure ensured that conformity was the rule. Thus our leaders kept cohesion within the group and maintained their own status as leaders by making conformity a way of life, not just a rule designed for mutual security and prosperity.

We became the sheep that are referred to in the Bible stories, with our leaders the shepherds.

When the Church of Rome declared that the world was flat and the flat plane a square in medieval times, people believed that the world was flat and square. When the church changed its tune and later described the perimeter of the plane as round, people believed in a flat earth with a round exterior (an explanation which satisfied those who observed the arc of the horizon when they sailed the oceans).

Proving that earth was not the centre of the solar system and our solar system not the centre of the universe came at great personal cost. Proving that the planet was not flat--in those parts of the world that believed that dictum, as most of the world never subscribed to it--also came at great expense to those who put forward the proof.

History conformed around the myth so that even into the 20th century people believed that Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas, thus proving that the world was a sphere. In fact, Columbus (a mapmaker) placed what today we know as Cape Breton Island, on the east coast of Canada, on a map he made in 1490, two years before his 1492 first trip to the Caribbean. Other maps of the period included Antartica and parts of the Americas, geographical realities that supposedly were not "discovered" until decades or even centuries later.

As many factors as possible are brought to bear for the purpose of ensuring that the status quo is maintained as much as possible. New ideas and opinions are treated as heresy.

But they grow anyway. The good ones often take until well after the original thinker has died before they are generally accepted. Original thinkers may be islands in a sea of conformity and mediocrity, but they are not secure islands.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put it all into perspective, especially human nature.
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