7.1. It Wasn’t Always Like This

Our struggles over truth, knowledge, and beliefs have been getting more heated and divisive.

We humans have always been curious, always motivated to get to the bottom of things, always searching for ultimate truth and meaning.

And ever since we formed ourselves into civilizations…we’ve been arguing over those things.

It’s hard to claim that our ideological struggles are worse today than they’ve ever been, given the religious wars that tore apart Renaissance Europe.

But I don’t think there’s any doubt that our struggles over truth, knowledge, and beliefs have been getting more heated and divisive.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that what could be a collaborative quest for truth and understanding has devolved into a bunch of bitter, disciplinary battles among our sciences, our philosophies, our political ideologies, and our religious and spiritual traditions.

And I don’t think there’s any doubt that here in the United States, these struggles are tearing our country apart, fueling an environment of fear and distrust, and putting our democracy under tremendous strain.

We’re going to have to figure out how to deal with our ideological differences—and cramming our beliefs down other people’s throats isn’t the answer. All that will do is breed more resentment and resistance.

Democracy isn’t supposed to be a dictatorship of the 51 percent. It’s not supposed to be about eeking out a narrow majority, and then using the tools of the state to force everybody to do it your way—even though that’s increasingly how it’s being practiced.

Democracy is supposed to be a peaceful, productive, inclusive, collaborative, respectful, and ethical process of exchanging ideas and building consensus.

In a previous video, I made the point that our belief systems didn’t used to be so fragmented.

I pointed out how ancient thinkers like Aristotle, Confucius, and Thomas Aquinas flowed freely between science, philosophy, politics, and religion in their works.

I argued that it was during the Industrial Revolution that we stopped seeing human inquiry as one unified project.

Not just because that was when our modern sciences and political ideologies first started to be formulated. But also because, just like with physical labor, we started carving up our mental work into specialized fields.

Nowadays, there are very few generalists—and a whole bunch of specialists, each an expert in their own narrow field of inquiry.

These experts have made some incredible advances, over the past 150 years.

But it’s come at a great cost. Because we can’t get on the same page.

Religion and science are at each other’s throats. Religions don’t like other religions, and natural scientists look down on social scientists. Political liberalism and conservatism are as far apart as they’ve ever been. And so on.

We have these supposedly “irreconcilable differences” that are used to justify all-out ideological warfare, instead of constructive knowledge and idea-building.

We have to do some big-time work in this area.

We have to defuse and reconcile these ideological differences that are strangling our country.

We have to reclaim the project of human inquiry from those who’ve turned it into a bunch of ideological crusades.

And we’ll start, in the next video, by going right after those most stubborn and supposedly “irreconcilable” differences.

 

This is the 109th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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