WARNING! This is a rant. I'm going to claim a bully pulpit here for a few minutes.
"We are an illiterate people. When a person says something, we don't ask where he learned it. We just believe it." That quote (printed in TIME Magazine) is from a Pakistani man talking about how he had come to the decision to not allow his daughter to receive a polio vaccination, a vaccination that would have prevented her being a cripple for the rest of her life. I was struck by the parallel between his statement and what I have been observing in our own country for some time. We are no less credulous just because we can read; we accept any statement that supports what we already believe and reject any that doesn't.
A recent school shooting and, even more so, last years presidential campaign released a torrent of words. "All guns are bad." "All teachers should be armed." "President Obama is not a citizen." "Romney doesn't care about anyone but the rich." No statement has been too outrageous and the only defense necessary seems to be "You can't prove it isn't true." Even the most reasonable, sensible and modest proposals following in the wake of a shooting spree that left 16 children and six adults dead are called threats to the constitution. One NRA pundit even tried to tie gun control to racism. I've also heard, "We know it won't work, so why even try," from someone I actually respect. Of course, she is right that "It won't work" in the sense that making assault weapons and hundred round magazines illegal will not immediately take them out of, or keep them out of, the hands of people who would misuse them. (Is there any way for a civilian to not misuse an assault rifle?) Does that mean any attempt to control them is bad or that it is wrong to even offer ideas for consideration? Is it even remotely reasonable that either presidential candidate was a willing conspirator in a plot to take over the world?
I suppose I am really angry about this because I recently caught myself holding on to an idea just because I "knew" it was so. The subject was "Right to Work" laws. Your dad was for them and I was against. As he offered reasonable arguments to support his view, I realized that my response was basically knee-jerk; these were bad laws because I knew they were bad laws. Long ago, I had accepted without question the viewpoint of the union to which I then belonged. Thirty years later I still had not questioned that viewpoint. I'm still not certain it was wrong, but I am much less certain that it was right. I am now examining my willingness to examine my beliefs and finding it wanting. It's annoying to find out you aren't as reasonable and rational as you think you are.
It was Will Rogers who said, "It ain't what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you do know that just ain't so." We need to examine what we "know." Is it fact or at least a reasonable idea based on facts? Or is it just what we choose to believe? If we do not challenge ourselves to challenge what we believe we have no basis for challenging what anyone else believes. Be a skeptic. Question everything, especially your own beliefs. And be willing, but not necessarily eager, to change.