Yesterday a friend from Germany acknowledged with approval that I have an open mind. He was referring to my willingness to rethink my opinion about Antifa after I finished reading a book by the same name. (For those who may not know, Antifa refers to anti-fascists who oppose fascists using many different tactics, including violence.)
On the very same day, another friend in the U.S. expressed disappointment with my closed mind after I refused to entertain arguments from a climate denier that my friend thought might have some merit. I flatly rejected his invitation to engage in an intellectual exercise to disprove this climate denier’s “facts.”
Of course, I felt validated by my first friend’s pat on the back and irritated by my second friend’s jab when he implied that I couldn’t think for myself but was simply following dogma. He equated my refusal to engage in his intellectual tit for tat as a personal weakness or failure.
Well, on further reflection, the open mind / closed mind dichotomy are merely two sides of the same coin.
The open mind questions, rethinks, and re-evaluates all information coming in because new information might change one’s opinion. The open mind knows that no one is God and all-knowing. The open mind is a humble mind. Each of us is a fallible human being on a path of constant learning.
On the flip side, the closed mind rejects inquiry or further reflection because the closed mind has a profound certainty that it knows all — at least all about the given issue at hand. The closed mind sees the world as white and black, right and wrong, truth and lies. What beautiful comfort to live in such a world, and what arrogance!
Both sides of this mind have an important role to play, and neither should be rejected outright.
If we didn’t take some facts in our world to be settled, we’d be incapable of decision-making and taking action. “The Earth is round and gravity keeps us firmly planted.” Thank goodness I don’t need to re-evaluate that proposition every day. A closed mind comes in handy sometimes.
If we never questioned the commonly-held beliefs, humanity would never progress. “The Earth is flat.” Thank goodness someone questioned that “truth”. An open mind charts the path for humanity’s future.
The open / closed mind has particular relevance in the Israel / Palestine “conflict”.
The extremists on both sides have closed their minds to any opinions or facts that might disprove or cast some doubt on their cherished position (whatever that position might be). I wish everyone had an open mind about Israel/Palestine rather than spewing “terrorist” and other dehumanizing venom at each other. Few are willing to entertain any information that might recast Hamas from a terrorist group to a political party duly elected on a platform of resistance to the occupation. Few are willing to have an open mind about the future of the state of Israel apart from their firmly held convictions.
Between the two sides of the same coin — the “open mind” and the “closed mind” — is the rational mind, where “rational” means a mind based on reason or logic., a mind capable of discernment, a mind actively engaged rather than just spouting firmly held beliefs.
I suspect (and I have no studies or reports to support my suspicion) that most humans divide their minds in the following way — 75% closed, 5% open and 20% rational. Or perhaps that division is too generous to the rational mind.
It’s important to recognize that each of us is operating with all three running simultaneously — our closed mind, open mind and rational mind.
Which mind was I using when I read Antifa? Just by picking up the book, I was willing to rethink my preconceived notions about Antifa. I chose to read the book not to confirm my previous notions that anti-fascists are hoodlums hyped up on testosterone that prefer violence over nonviolence. I wanted to learn about the arguments and the strength of those arguments presented by an author who was clearly pro-Antifa.
I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Antifa — about the long history of anti-fascists’ movements (primarily in Germany, Italy and Spain … and more recently in the US). I learned about their activities and motivations from the author’s research as well as his personal interviews with anti-fascists. I learned how Antifa responds to the typical arguments against its tactics — some of which I agree with and others I don’t. Finally, I weighed the Antifa tactics in the political climate which permeates much of the world today. I concluded that Antifa has a legitimate role to play and shouldn’t be discounted outright, although I worry about violence that perpetrates more violence.
I was using my open mind and concluded that I needed to revise my perceptions about Antifa.
Which mind was I using when I rejected my friend’s invitation to engage in an intellectual exercise about climate change?
A closed mind reflexively refuses to entertain contrary evidence. My friend called my refusal to engage an example of my closed mind.
A rational mind discerns the utility of engaging, weighs the pros and cons, the likelihood of making an impact or learning something new.
- I reject climate change deniers and question their motivation.
- I believe the anthropomorphic impacts on the earth systems are indisputable based on the reports of a vast majority of scientists over many decades, and the IPCC reports and articles by James Hansen and others whom I respect.
- I know that the fossil fuel industry has been engaged in deceptive tactics to misinform the public for many years, just as the tobacco industry was in prior years.
- I’m aware that the vast majority of the scientists believe the window is rapidly closing on our ability to turn this ship around. Should we spend our time debating the reality of climate change or debating about what actions we must take very quickly? I’ve made my choice.
- Finally, a rational mind asks itself “what’s the downside of being wrong?” In other words, what if the majority of scientists are wrong about climate change, and calls for action are overblown or unwarranted? What’s the impact if Lora Lucero remains ignorant? In my assessment, the world will benefit by getting off fossil fuels and moving towards local economies, public transportation and all the rest of it …. regardless of whether climate change is real or not. The potential harm of not acting is catastrophic.
We only have one journey on this Planet, and none of us knows the future. Let’s fully engage our minds — all three minds — in a respectful way.