Our Plague of Righteous Certitude

How we know what we know is the purview of epistemologists and intellectual historians. Today, they are the folks who are screaming into the void while being largely ignored. Yet, they hold the keys to our deliverance from many, if not all, of the problems we face as individuals, communities, countries, and the world.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed many weaknesses in our healthcare system, but it also provided a much more important lesson, if we care to recognize it. One of the characteristics of the pandemic that bedeviled both scientists and politicians (often at odds with one another) was how little we knew about the virus, SARS CoV-2, and even less about what to do to protect ourselves until a vaccine arrived. Masks, which have proven to be the principal means of protection, were initially thought to be necessary only for healthcare workers. Hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and isolation would save the rest of us (until they didn’t).  The bottom line: we didn’t know what we didn’t know. As dangerous as that condition is in any decision-making process, a worse condition was yet to come.

Ignorant of our ignorance, we stubbornly stepped off an epistemological cliff into the abyss. We not only didn’t know what we needed to know, we thought that we did know. Pull up any video of our prior president between February 2020 and Election Day in November and you will see stupefying evidence of this catastrophic condition. While he was the most obvious and egregious illustration of this condition, he wasn’t the only one making this mistake; to one degree or another we were all complicit. This condition, of ignorance masquerading as brilliance, is the proverbial disaster scenario of epistemology. And, as a result, hundreds of thousands of people died that did not have to die (and they are still dying).

The problem is that this condition has metastasized across every platform of discourse in the world today. Ignorance-based righteous certitude is a plague much worse than Covid-19. It has pervaded every aspect of our lives and is in evidence from the righteous right to the woke left. Regardless of political persuasion, education level, wealth, race, gender, religious disposition, ethnicity, origin, or sexual orientation, we have collectively become zealots of our own ignorance. I have even come up with a word to describe this condition: ignacity (noun) or ignacious (adjective). Shorthand definition: proudly stupid; arrogantly ignorant. One need look no further than the proliferation of conspiracy theories in America today, which act to simplify the world for our simple minds so that we might maintain a sense of cognitive consonance—of pseudo-sanity. Exhibit 1: QAnon.

Most of us arrived at our state of ignacity innocently enough. Social media initiated our dive into righteous certitude by feeding us self-affirming information that would increase our platform engagement and put more money into the pockets of people like Mark Zuckerberg. We systematically brainwashed ourselves while also losing our sense of curiosity. Then, isolation required to subdue the pandemic compounded our intellectual sclerosis. It was a one-two punch that has placed critical thinking and liberalism on life support. Further, it has disrupted, if not completely sidelined, the creative process that relies on the integration of seemingly disparate resources and ideas to produce comprehensive solutions to complex problems. Right when we needed to be open and creative, we shackled our hearts and minds rendering them functionally paralyzed.

I am beyond tired of listening to those whose hearts and minds—beliefs and knowledge—are so bound by righteous certitude and encased in steel-clad egos that only their definition of a problem, solution, or outcome is worthy of consideration. Especially when they marinate their argument in the slime of deceit. Many of us are so fixated on our narrow view of reality that we have become like tumors of toxicity, locked and loaded, ready to explode in a wrath of righteousness annihilating any contrary fact, idea, or option that dare come between us and our particular point of view. It is beyond nauseating; it is profoundly dangerous.

As a solution, steeped in that rarefied air of humility, every day, every meeting, every encounter with our world should begin by swapping arrogant ignorance for humble ignorance. We should all recite these words, early and often:

I don’t know.

You don’t know.

They don’t know.

We don’t know.

But together, I, you, they, and we, can know.

Further, our beliefs—the things we don’t know but nevertheless cling to as truths—must be poured out into the sand to be absorbed beyond their possible recovery. Think of it as a holistic cleansing of the soul. Our predispositions and convictions must be scrubbed from our consciousness to disentangle our egos from our worthy ambitions to improve our lives and the community of humanity. As the Zen tradition would suggest, with our cups emptied, our wise minds and compassionate hearts can allow all possibilities to be considered.

Learning is the lifeblood of knowledge. It assures that all inputs are considered to create better options resulting in decisions that produce desirable outcomes. We must remove the corrupted lenses we have duct-taped over our eyes to once again see things as they are, rather than continue to be minions of epistemological disaster. The sad thing is, if we don’t open our minds and hearts to think about things differently, we will continue on a path of death and destruction.

Please join me in saving humanity by writing, saying, shouting, and singing: I DON’T KNOW! (It’s a start.)

By |2021-05-31T15:45:06+00:00May 11th, 2021|General|0 Comments

From Fear to Flow

Crises always offer the opportunity for creative destruction, although emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic hardly feels creative, at least not yet. The science says go for it; that is, if you are fully vaccinated. Yet, as slow as we were to adopt responsible habits of self-protection—like mask wearing—I feel no sense of urgency to drop my security blanket of triple-layered nose to chin prophylaxis by UnderArmour. Taking it off feels like I am walking around with my fly unzipped. I am embracing my vaccinated freedoms with all the enthusiasm of a bear emerging from hibernation: ambling about in a slumber-induced stupor trying to decide if I am hungry or hungover; wary of leaving my den behind. (I captured the bear picture above a few days ago from just outside my front door.)

In the last big crisis that we faced—the Great Depression and World War II—Americans raced forth to get college degrees, have babies, and rebuild the world. Back then, science didn’t tell us to go for it, ABC’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet did. Bigger families, bigger cars, and bigger houses put the United States on the path to superpower status. We looked up at the moon and said, “Okay, we can do that.” And, drunk on red, white, and blue ambition, we did it, as the world looked on in awe. Awe is not the way the world, or even we Americans, view the United States today. Youthful national exuberance has given way to crotchety timidity; our swagger squandered in a cauldron of personal fears and social and political fragility. There is no staff of victory upon which to hoist our patriotism. We have the people, but there is no “We the people.”

Our new president has an enormous challenge, and while he is meeting it with what appears to be a proper mix of assertiveness and deliberation, the opposition remains poised—and unfortunately capable—of returning us to the Age of Deceit in 2022. The battle over what it means to be an American is clearly not yet decided. But that doesn’t mean we can’t forge a new and better life. It just means we must remain vigilant about what lurks in the blindspots where those reside who are determined to impose their twisted conception of a 1950s-styled retrotopia—where the only winners are Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s boys—are coiled with fangs drawn to toll the death knell of America’s liberal democracy.

We must get past our fears and get into the flow of creativity to assure a healthy transition to a new American identity and personal equanimity. The first step is recognizing the lessons of the pandemic—the things we did (even if we didn’t want to) that proved beneficial. We slowed down. We consumed less. We paid attention to family, friends, and neighbors. We realized that many of the things we thought were necessary—like flying across the country for a business meeting—weren’t necessary at all. Many of us came to realize just how much of our lives were being wasted staring at social media screens and Netflix trailers; that a walk in the woods filled our hearts better than Facebook friends. We learned to sacrifice, and while many sacrifices proved depressing, others have earned their permanence in our new lives.

I come from the generation that was taught that any effort less than 110% simply didn’t cut it. One of my lessons from the pandemic is that 80% is better. Maybe even less. Proceeding at the pace and intensity of 110% crowds out inputs and options that improve outcomes and reduce failures. Slowing down and opening up is a much more effective strategy. Further, it makes space for empathy and humility. Listening is more valuable than speaking. Hesitation is not necessarily a weakness. Like the fermata that brings aesthetic structure to music, pausing to think twice, or even three times, can yield spectacular benefits. It can turn noise into melody. Finally, it is a much healthier and more sustainable way to live.

What are your lessons? As we move from fear to flow, what can we retain of our sacrifices that still make sense as we emerge from our pandemic dens? Returning to normal should not mean going back to pre-pandemic behaviors and policies. A new identity and life must leave room to retain what we have learned. They may have been hard lessons, but lessons nonetheless. A new America and a new you are what creative destruction is all about. Summon the courage to honor your lessons. Seize the opportunity for a hard reboot. A better normal—a better life—can be ours.

By |2021-05-11T14:13:30+00:00May 5th, 2021|American Identity, General|0 Comments
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