What Beliefs Commonly Held Today Will Be Recognized as Absurd in the Future?
We all know the experience. We hear of a belief commonly held in the past, immediately recognize its absurdity, and marvel that anyone could ever have believed such nonsense. We flatter ourselves in no longer holding such beliefs, and often our self-flattery is mixed with a certain condescension and disdain for the poor benighted fools of bygone times. Yet always a dark cloud hangs over our self-flattery, because it only takes a moment of reflection on beliefs deeply held in the past that are now recognized as absurd to prompt the question “What beliefs commonly held today will be recognized as absurd in the future?”
I ask myself this question every day. To my dismay, I’ve found the question embarrassingly difficult to answer, because I like nearly everyone else harbor unexamined assumptions that are challenging even to recognize. After many years of thought on the matter, and a great deal of difficult self-questioning as well as struggle in the dense undergrowth of absurdity in my own times and society, I am ready to propose a few answers.
Each item listed below represents a belief or outlook that can be recognized as absurd immediately, yet is still commonly held. My intent is not to convince you of truth or falsity on any given matter, but to prompt you to question your own beliefs and attitudes. Yet in order to question your own beliefs and attitudes, you first have to consciously recognize and understand what your beliefs and attitudes are, and often the only way to do this is to be presented with views that directly differs from yours.
Perhaps you’ve already had that experience in some area of life; you encounter a belief or an attitude to which you react strongly, and through the nature of your reaction you discover your own belief or attitude, perhaps for the very first time, perhaps to your own surprise, and even perhaps to your own shame. I have had that experience many times, in matters of race, sex, privilege, religion, economics and in views of other cultures and specific cultural practices.
Agreement or disagreement on any particular matter is not at all the point. A blossoming of explicit consciousness is the point, and productive self-questioning is the point. As you react to each item, I only ask that you observe your own reaction, observe the nature of your reaction, and question whether you can fully justify your own views, whatever they may be.
Let’s start with a bang, shall we? Let’s start with those oddly persistent artifacts of the human mind, race and religion.
Beliefs Commonly Held Today That Will Be Recognized as Absurd
- That “race” actually exists, other than in the human mind.
- That religion is anything other than self-flattering human fantasy.
- That self-critique is negative, instead of the pathway to a glorious existence.
- That belonging to a group is inherently a good thing, and doesn’t tend to warp your outlook, disable your conscience, and tempt you to treat badly those outside the group.
- That it’s a good idea to “prevail” over nature, instead of cooperating with nature, and taking care of nature, and enhancing nature.
- That colonizing another planet is more worthy than taking good care of the one on which we absolutely depend.
- That human beings are the “pinnacle” of evolution, instead of a deeply flawed species with a moral obligation to become better.
- That human beings are “superior” (whatever the heck that is supposed to mean) to animals.
- That human beings are rational, and function rationally, or even have a good definition of rationality that also includes the influence of emotion.
- That you arrived at the implied conclusions that determine your outlook through a conscious process, and that you actually know what your outlook even is.
- That most of what you learned, you learned consciously, and know what it is.
- That psychology, because it isn’t a “hard science,” somehow isn’t crucially important to how human beings make good or bad choices that affect everything in their lives, as well as other people’s lives, and ultimately the overall health of society.
- That what you believe is your motivation is your actual motivation.
- That it is possible to have a mind without a body, and that such a condition is something to aspire to.
- That eating horrible, unhealthy food won’t eventually lead to horrible, intractable medical problems.
- That having lots of material possessions is necessary for happiness, and that having more of them will make you even happier.
- That status symbols are not inherently pathetic, shameful and a sign of poor character.
- That cognitive intelligence is more important than character qualities.
- That serious study throughout one’s life is a sign of weakness and indetermination, instead of a profound and multiple virtue.
- That the education system should not include courses in logic, valid reasoning and valid evidence at every level, K-12.
- That a lie told to oneself is less serious than a lie told to someone else.
- That you know and recognize all of your emotional responses, even the ones you would find shameful and unacceptable if experienced consciously.
- That the stories you tell yourself and fervently believe weren’t determined by your prior emotional responses, which you don’t even understand or even recognize.
- That what you do doesn’t determine who you become.
- That how you spend your time doesn’t directly determine the course of your life.
- That individual human character is unchangeable.
- That you actually know who you are, in every aspect, and that your own view of yourself is not fundamentally invalidated by the influence of your ego.
This list is very short compared to the complete list of commonly held beliefs and attitudes that will be recognized as absurd with serious, honest reflection. I challenge you to build your own list, add to it as your insights develop further in the process, and allow those insights to transform you. The path is long. The path is full of challenges. The path is also incomparably interesting, worthy and fulfilling.