Tonight I watched a movie about delinquent high schoolers who were taken to an “Enlightenment” session where the evil principal put in brain implants to make them “good” students.
This got me thinking about influences or perhaps the more disparaging word called brain washing. We grow up surrounded most likely by a group of people that have the same ideas/values/norms and we become like them due to the environment.
For example, we are taught to be patriotic to our country without question. If we read the history of the United States and learn about Benedict Arnold, he will be called a traitor and we will think of him as such due to the teachings. However, as we become more critical in our literary analysis we learn that he could also be a “patriot” for Great Britain. He is even defined as a “traitor” in the dictionary. Since he is defined as such the opinions of those around us are supported by the information that surrounds us in a specific place which perpetuates our current thinking about the person in question. If the situation were reversed and Benedict Arnold was first on the British side who defected to the Americans, then he might be even called a “hero” in American dictionaries.
All information is thus filtered to fit the dogma, or idealism of the nation / religion to suit their teachings and it is very hard to see a situation from all sides since we lack a more complete source of information. Noam Chomsky also states that we ourselves filter information and are thus hurting ourselves. We will read newspapers and written materials that already support our view and even if we do read the opposite opinion it will not be with an open mind and we become actually incapable of considering that point of view.
What has helped me to see all sides came from my travels. I was able to escape an environment that taught specific ideas and during my stays in foreign countries I would immerse myself in the culture, language and thought. Yet, after taking the plunge there is no going back and becoming so immersed in the foreign culture, my native one began to seem alien. Yet, the trick is to not fall so far in that we can no longer see the original side again.
For example, if one were to grow up in a religious atmosphere such as Catholicism, they will almost certainly be Catholic. They have never had the opportunity to open their minds or even genuinely consider other religions. Therefore, the person in question will spend their entire life defending this faith since it is all they have ever known. The Church is a vast and great empire and should they go on to higher education it would be impossible to understand all the history, details, and origins of all they practice.
Some will go on to study another religion such as Islam and should they immerse themselves so thoroughly in it, they may even convert. They will feel as though their mind has been opened since they have escaped their original form of thinking and adopted a new one. Yet, it is my opinion that they should not stop there and continue along learning and thinking. It is easy to fall in this trap of feeling one has an open mind since they have freed themselves from the bonds of their original form of thinking.
Another example is Communism. Most Americans will see it as a dirty word. But how many have understood the mentalities of all the communists who gave their lives in wars? Do we really think that they would have fought and died for something they did not think was true and right? The person who holds this opinion then places himself above all the millions who thought the contrary as more superior and of correct opinion. In other words, this “thinker” is right and all the other billions are simply “wrong,” end of story.
To drive the point home, the religious preach tolerance, yet ironically they cannot be so. They will think those of other faiths as simply “wrong” and themselves as “right.” To them tolerance is not abusing the other faith but not accepting them either. To the Hindu, all other faiths are wrong and theirs is right. It is the same for the Catholics, Islamics and so on. In other words their mentality is “We are right, you are wrong.”
By traveling out of my original environment and honestly opening my mind to other cultures and forms of thought the world has become so complicated that I have given up any hope of ever thoroughly understanding it. It is interesting that the most ignorant of people will have all the answers, yet those that are thoroughly learned, will not have any answers.
So going back to the kids in the movie that were “brainwashed,” are we not all brainwashed in some form or another? We usually will be most patriotic to the place we are born, but for what reasons? We will usually follow the faith in which we are raised but why? A student of Communism will be Communist and a student of Capitalism will be Capitalist. We are taught that it is a good thing to have an open mind, but to what extent? Surely once we question our teachers they will say we have opened our mind too far.
Finally, back to the filtering of information. As I have mentioned we all filter our own information from information which has already been filtered once due to the ideology in which we live. The information is also filtered by the way we comprehend information which is in the form of language. The very language in which we think also is a big filter. For example, in Japanese, one must consciously choose which form of politeness he will use and pronouns are not needed as to convey harmony with the group. In English, most sentences start with “I” “We” or some other pronoun. Therefore, when the teacher, explains an idea, the idea originated from the teacher and we will say “He explained…” Yet in Japanese it is possible to simply say “The idea was explained,” which thus makes it innately true. Perhaps this is a horrible example, but I feel as though I’m on to something here but cannot quite grasp the idea.
A current hot topic is the Japanese textbook in which they say the Japanese “advanced” instead of “invaded” China. This really makes the Chinese and Koreans unhappy. But are not all textbooks written in such a manner? Is it possible to write an unfiltered textbook?
To come to a point, and I do believe it is time for a point, what I have learned by traveling abroad is to look at everything with a critical eye. To do so I must release all that I previously held true and start again.
The easiest thing to release is religion and start again. If I look at the Catholicism in which I was brought up, I find it odd that there are still “sacrifices” weekly albeit symbolic. The congregation eats flesh and drinks blood, although symbolically. Would we not look upon our ancestors as barbaric if they sacrificed something, ate the flesh and drank the blood? But we are unable to see ourselves with the same critical eye. The Pagans also wore colorful robes, made alters and tried to correct illnesses with prayer. Yet the Catholic looks at the pagan as a barbarian and considers the priest in the colorful robes as correct while the pagan is just silly, when they DO THE SAME THINGS!
Of course the Catholic will defend his beliefs with arguments found in the Catholic Church!! Just like a Communist will defend his arguments which he learned in a Communist school. But of course these questions are all taboo and people who question have been put to the stake throughout history in the Inquisition, the Cultural Revolution, the French Revolution (We have no need for savants in the Republic!). Questioning and learning is seen as good and right until you stump the teacher and then OFF WITH HIS HEAD! (And don’t get me started on this polarization in America with one “right” side fighting the other “right” side, were questioning is no longer acceptable “You’re either with us or against us.”
I have come to understand that religion fills a void. We as humans need to feel that there is a divine being protecting us for if there were not, the vast emptiness of space would be truly terrifying. We would not know where we would go when we die and be again, terrified. So we look to comfort ourselves and reassure ourselves that we have meaning. We exult ourselves and say that this divine being created ourselves in his image. We call our bodies and the heavens perfect! If our bodies were perfect, then why do men have nipples, and wisdom teeth that cause excruciating pain? Space is also a place of extreme violence and chaos. Planets and stars collide and there is much destruction and rebirth. But when we put these questions to a religious academic and have him stumped, they can always fall back on “It’s a mystery.” Well ain’t that a relief. We can go back to bed feeling safe in the fact that “It’s a mystery.”
To fill this void we have created religion and from all the religions that have been created there can be only a few winners. Therefore, we look to these few winners as the correct ones since they have survived. Yet, a few must survive eventually but this survival does not mean they are correct, simply that they survived. In the book “Sermon on the Mount” the philosopher states that Jesus Christ is the most influential man in history which might be quite true and people use this argument to support their belief. Yet, one can also argue that again, a few people should be the most influential in history since everyone cannot be the most influential. This argument of simply being the most influential does not make it correct.
So once we have stumped the religious scholar, they will reply with, “Then what is the true answer?” and since one cannot come up with the supreme truth the religious scholar will simply be comforted in the belief that his is correct like a baby nestling back into a crib, afraid of going out and on with life since the unknown is too scary a proposition for him.
In traveling abroad, I have taught myself to not be afraid of the unknown and what a ride it has been. I have gone into an unknown country and made it my home. The experience has been enlightening yet, the answers simply get further and further away the more I learn and experience.