Whatever happens somewhere, happens to us all, sooner or later. Whether it was the near-miss Grexit or the Iranian nuclear deal, their consequences mean that we’re all tied together by threads of different colours and stripes. So, I’m writing this just after the weird and wonderful Donald Trump and the wonderfully weird Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire. So many opinions. So many words. So much…money. And videos, tweets and everything.
Why am I interested in the presidential race in a country I don’t live in? Because America is a huge rolling axis of influence in the world and what happens there eventually impacts, for good or ill, what happens elsewhere. We wish that this were not the case sometimes, especially when we don’t agree, but, it’s a fact.
In a number of Western democracies, the clamour for ‘change’ has become increasingly more strident. People seem not to fear the consequences of extreme and radical shift in the same way that they used to, perhaps because they don’t understand them. In an age of brevity, complex thinking is reduced to 140 characters, believably brief mantras that people take as their own and rally round.
In the UK, a radical left-wing opposition leader has harnessed the emotional energies and idealistic fervour of the young, pulling many towards what he sees as a more egalitarian form of democracy. I’d be interested to hear him speak. Similarly, in the US, a septuagenarian with a forty year old political agenda has been leading the charge for a new kind of government where Washington’s bureaucrats and Wall Street cannot use their power to determine outcomes and the kids are behind him. On the other side, a billionaire businessman with almost zero political experience has suggested a quite different agenda, the only thing that they have in common is the fact that both of them are advocating radical, seismic change whose consequences are cloudy at best.
An American actor was criticised with undeserved venom the other day for attending a Ted Cruz rally. His critics mistook curiosity for support which is precisely the kind of knee-jerk foolishness that ensures the wrong people end up in positions of power. He said:
If you can’t stand to listen to an idea, it does not prove that you oppose it. Refusing to show interest in a different perspective should not serve as a badge of pride in your own ideas. It actually serves the exact opposite function. It proves that you don’t even understand your own opinion. If you can’t understand the argument you disagree with, then you don’t have the right to disagree with it with any authority, nor do you really have a grasp on what your own idea means in its context.
American university campuses who seek to ban Zionist speakers might do well to consider this. Ruffling intellectual feathers are what universities are for.
Not all ideas need to be validated, or even respected. There are some beliefs fuelled by bigotry, intolerance and antisemitism for example that simply deserve to be tarred and feathered, thrown under buses or otherwise never given the time of day. But when some ideas are so ubiquitous that they are persuading large numbers of people it’s only an idiot who hums with his fingers in his ears. The world changes when enough people decide that it should.
If we shame curiosity, we’ll always be afraid of the battle lines we draw to ward off the loony toons on one side or the batshit crazies on the other. Uphold curiosity. Exalt the ability to hold someone else’s belief in your mind for a moment. It’s liberating. Einstein once said ‘Curiosity has its own reason for existing’.