I had a couple of conversations recently with friends who expressed curiosity on how I remain abstinent from drugs without relying on a supernatural 'Higher Power,' as they say in the 12 step programs.
Information on the 12 steps is widely available online, so I'll avoid a lengthy explanation. There should be a search bar in the upper right hand of your screen. The amazing thing about that search bar is that you can type in any subject you happen to be interested or curious about into it and it will, seemingly through magic, return a host of results pertinent to your query.
As I explained to one friend, I came to the conclusion that supernatural forces were not only not active in my life, but that by believing that they were I was, in fact, actively inhibiting my growth and progression as a person by waiting for 'signs' before taking any risk, or by seeking 'guidance' when confronted with a tough decision. These behaviors invariably prevented me from taking any action at all, and in waiting for burning bushes or seemingly portentous events to manifest the needed instruction my decisions usually wound up being made by default.
The conclusion was reached, oddly enough, by use of one of the tools of the 12 step program itself: self-evaluation (personal inventory, in 12 step parlance).
Critical and skeptical evaluation of different claims, evidence, opinions, or positions, while undoubtedly useful, can only be applied to the extent that a person applies it to his- or herself.
I've spoken before about my awareness of my liberal bias, politically speaking, and my obvious bias against the supernatural. I became aware of these biases through self-evaluation.
By working to become more aware of these biases and my other personal presuppositions, limitations, and tendencies I find that I become more aware of them when they crop up.
To give a recent example: GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms.
There has been a pervasive thread of outrage against Monsanto in recent months, at least in liberal circles. Monsanto is a multinational agriculture/biotech company, and, as such, belongs to the Dark Side of the Force as far as I'm concerned.
For months I had been mindlessly 'liking' any anti-Monsanto propaganda that appeared in my Facebook news feed, including anti-GMO memes. I did this while being well aware that I had not even a cursory understanding of what GMOs even were or entailed.
My anti-corporate, anti-capitalist bias was doing my thinking for me.
Instead of withholding judgement until investigating the claims that GMOs were evil, I had fallen prey to the poisoned well fallacy.
A few weeks ago, when I couldn't, in good conscience, continue condemning a science I knew nothing about, I decided to investigate GMOs. The information is freely available online, if anyone's curious. What I found, of course, was that genetic modification doesn't mean Frankenstein monsters or H.R. Giger drawings springing forth from cornfields. Nor does genetic modification imply mad scientists haphazardly rearranging genetic codes in an attempt to stumble across a real-life Pandora's Box.
A summary can be found at http://www.herbogeminis.com/IMG/pdf/reuters_monsanto.pdf.
Genetic engineering, like any science, is morally neutral, and the claims that GMOs are carcinogenic or cause pod people seem to have been either a result of mistaken causal inference (the pesticides the plants were modified to resist have been linked to increased cancer rates in the tests, but the plants themselves showed no significant correlation,) or completely made up, since liberals can be just as unreasonable and superstitious about science as conservatives.
Now, admittedly, I have only a layperson's understanding of genetics, but I also do not have a layperson's tendency to assume that it means that tampering with genetics will mean that the 1995 film Proteus will become a terrifying reality. Which is good, because I don't even know where to get shark-monster destroying heroin from these days. So I've revised my stance on the matter. Monsanto is an evil company, but just because Monsanto uses genetically modified organisms does not mean that genetically modified organisms are evil.
One of the most effective ways of evaluating myself that I've found is to merely list which labels I'm willing to accept for myself, and then reading all of the arguments against those positions, and to be aware that when someone or some piece of information I identify as friendly towards my position (as an atheist, or a socialist, or a skeptic, or a metal-head, or whatever,) then I will be more likely to accept it without questioning it. As such, I find that it is helpful to occasionally re-evaluate the positions I already hold, to test them against any new evidence, to try to disprove them, or to investigate opposing positions with the same openness I grant to my own.
Sometimes I'll find that I'm really, really wrong about something. That used to bother me quite a bit. Especially since it was along the lines of 'My entire life is a lie!' or 'I've wasted a good portion of my life championing a fairy tale!'
Those kinds of admissions can be extremely painful. In some cases they can even lead to the kinds of psychotic breaks that require therapy or hospitalization.
But it gets easier. We just have to keep in mind that, historically, most people have been wrong about most things most of the time. I'd argue that it would be the acme of hubris to assume that anyone, anywhere, is 100% right about anything, at any time.
Even systems as seemingly settled and flawless as mathematics or gravity should not be accepted as 100% truth. Even now, quantum physicists may have to modify Einstein's theory of relativity, and as computers become ever more important for modern civilization then math must become ever more complex. I mean, do you know what a Poincare Conjecture is? I don't, but they solved it recently. Or proved it. Or whatever you do with math problems that involve three-dimensional objects in four-dimensional space.
|Or you could try this tactic.|
Finding out and admitting that we're wrong about something, even something major, is a great thing. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn something new, to find a new way to see the world, to let go of inaccurate, misguided, or damaging beliefs and embrace new ones.
Yes, your whole life may be based in a lie. But if it is, wouldn't you rather know about it?