I am a strong believer that the key to self improvement is a willingness to discipline your thinking.
Philosophy is a good discipliner of the mind. In thinking rationally, one should try to make statements that avoid leaps in logic. Also, a rational statement should attempt to be a standalone statement, meaning it needs no further clarification, explanation, proof, or authority to back it up.
It’s not easy to utter a rational statement. It takes mental effort.
I’ve always thought that the following was a rational statement: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In your opinion does that simple statement need further explanation to be understood? It’s pretty clear isn’t it?
Is the statement true because some authority said it, or would it be true no matter who said it? In my opinion it doesn’t need much authoritative endorsement does it? It stands on its own merit.
Does the statement stand up under critical analysis? For example, let’s say you want to harm your neighbor. Under this statement, you would have to be willing to be harmed. Under that scenario, you would probably conclude that because you don’t want to be harmed, it’s best not to cause harm. Hence, it seems like the statement holds up under this particular piece of analysis.
A truly rational statement becomes more rational with time and use.
Science really helps to discipline the mind
Science is another good discipliner of the mind.
In science, if you think something might be true, you write the statement down, then see if you can observe it in everyday life.
For example, I think that deer coming into my yard at night have rubbed up against my newly planted pine tree, causing the wearing away of the bark on one side. However, before I go to the time and expense of building a fence to keep the deer out, I at least should try to observe deer rubbing up against the newly planted pine tree. I sat up two nights watching that pine tree.
No deer touched it. Until I can come up with tangible proof, I can’t conclude for sure that I am right.
I might be right. I’m probably right. But, without tangible evidence, I can’t say with perfect clarity that I am right.
Why am I going through this exercise? For one, I sense I need to challenge some old assumptions I’ve held.
Challenging my conservative thinking
In my last several articles, I’ve been challenging conservative political principles. Not because I reject them, but because I have believed in them for so many years. Of late, however, I have been veering away from them.
For the last four to five years conservative political thinking has seemed strident and out of touch with what I’m sensing is good for our political system.
As a result I have leaned more and more “moderate” in my opinions, and have even started supporting issues that would be considered liberal. For example, I support the right of two people, irrespective of gender, to be able to marry.
For the life of me, I can’t come up with any good rational thinking or scientific evidence that would convince me that my position is faulty.
One of the main conservative ideas I’ve heard is that heterosexual marriage is the custom we have been following for at least 500 years. We should honor it because it is the established norm of our culture.
To me that fails the test of strong rational thinking. It’s not reasonable. Its logic is faulty. For example, should we have continued slavery in America because it had been the practice for two hundred years? Practices are not necessarily right because they have been practiced for a long period of time.
One of my strongest beliefs is that America’s strength lies in the diversity of thought that is free to express itself. For me there’s nothing better than listening to a debate between a strong liberal thinker and a strong conservative thinker. Diversity of thought is, in my opinion, our strongest safeguard in assuring an enduring democracy.
Of late, however, strong, coherent conservative thinking has been lacking.
For this reason, I’ve been going back and studying the pillars of conservative philosophy. In particular, I’ve been analyzing Russell Kirk’s “Ten Principles of Conservatism.” One of these principles states that the conservative adheres to custom, convention and continuity.
For most of my life I have accepted this on face value. But, of late I’ve had to challenge my own thinking on that principle. Simply because we have customs and conventions does not make them worthy of adherence.
If that were the case, women would still not have the right to vote, African Americans and whites would have separate drinking fountains, children would still be working in factories for 12 to 14 hours a day, and private men’s clubs would still be intact.
I could go on but I think you get my point. I no longer am sure that adherence to custom, convention, and continuity is a principle worthy of my support. Its premise lacks the necessary logic to be a principle of an enduring standard.
In my opinion, it’s time for people who have considered themselves conservative to rethink what it means to be a conservative thinker.