A far-left guy I knew in high school — let’s call him “Ben” — made a very interesting post on his Instagram story recently. It was along the lines of, “Because I support women, I will never consider voting for Biden. If you try to convince me to vote for Biden, I will immediately block you.”
The post was startling for many reasons, but what hit me in the gut was the pride that resonated from it — pride in how close-minded Ben was toward any opinion that disagreed with his own, especially concerning an issue in which he has no direct experience, what with his being a cisgender man and all. And it was his shaming of anyone considering voting for Biden that surprised me. “Biden supporters are sexists,” he seemed to say, with total conviction.
Pride in ideological inflexibility is a disease that plagues both sides of the aisle equally. I’m talking to anyone who congratulates themselves when they push away news coverage that disagrees with a certain narrative, people who brag about their choice not to vote or to vote for a third party candidate, people who laugh about how they won’t listen to anything published by MSNBC and people who laugh about how they won’t listen to anything published by Fox News.
This notion that Ben and so many others have, that consideration of any other argument is some sort of weakness or betrayal, is completely counterproductive. The fact is, when someone looks into counterarguments to their opinions, they aren’t “caving” — they’re developing. They’re becoming a more informed individual and a better activist.
In the eloquent words of John Stuart Mill in “On Liberty, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that … if he does not so much as know what [counterarguments] are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion … nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them,” he wrote. “He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
In short, no one can truly understand their own ideas without understanding opposing ideas as presented by those who really believe them.
Besides, nothing displays a lack of faith in one’s beliefs quite like pride in a wall against any criticism. If an idea is truly strong, it will stand up to questioning. If it does not stand up to questioning, it will be modified and subsequently made stronger.
Likewise, unquestioned ideas are weak, and action that stems from them takes time and energy that could have been used more effectively. In the end, weak ideas are always revealed to be so. And when ideas don’t hold up, activists have to start at the drawing board once again.
For example, the energy Ben is putting into taking down Biden might translate into a second term for Trump. If “supporting women” refers to the sexual assault allegations against Biden, Ben might realize after the damage is done, that Trump has equally as bad a record in that respect (or likely worse). Ben might see that his activism did not successfully help women as he had hoped. But he will be too late, and he’ll have to start over if he wants to help women in America.
This is not to say that no one should have deeply held beliefs. It’s just that no one should have pride in how deeply held their beliefs are. Especially when you have direct experience with a subject, it is okay to have strong opinions that are core to your sense of self.
For example, a transgender or nonbinary person has the right not to entertain (more) arguments against their right to exist as they are. This is because transgender and nonbinary people have already come up against arguments against their fundamental rights again and again and likely have considered those arguments in depth. Besides, being oneself is not an opinion.
But changing one’s mind is not black and white, zero or one. Opinions can be simply altered to fit new evidence or arguments.
This brings me to my last point: don’t shame people for looking into ideas different from your own. Learning, growing and, most of all, changing our minds, are journeys we’re on for our entire lives — and no one can possibly know for sure that any opinion is right. However, we can make the world better with strong ideas.
And no one is going to change their mind to agree with someone who doesn’t show open-mindedness to alternate ideas.
In a nutshell, pride in intellectual inflexibility is like unquestioning reverence to a dictator who can do no wrong in their people’s eyes — because that dictator controls the press and has no system of checks and balances. Of course the dictator’s people will think the dictator is great. They can’t see the dictator in any other light.
Have a revolution in your mind. Set up a democratic government. Have freedom of a press you don’t ignore. Don’t take pride in your walls against any incoming ideas that are different from your own. And don’t shame others for taking in those ideas.
Margot Rosenblatt SC ’23 is from Manhattan, New York. She seeks out kind, empathetic people to present smart counterarguments to her opinions and is delighted to change her mind and make her ideas stronger.