Sunday’s Wisdom #377: Freedom in Intellectual Freedom

“You need each other’s ideas to really be free.”
– FM, ReDawn, by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Peterson

This little gem is part of a conversation between FM and Alanik. They are young women from different species and different planets, but they are working together to save their worlds and their peoples from subjugation and death. Alanik, at the moment, has been talking about how one of the major movements among her people has basically been demanding complete conformity from the other, a complete surrendering of all dissenting ideas. Alanik sees that as folly, because it is in the comparison of different ideas and perspectives that one finds both freedom and an improved quality of life.

One cannot find the best alternative without alternatives.

Sometimes those alternatives, and the people pushing them, can seem nothing short of idiotic. “How could anyone be so stupid as to believe that?” But the most foolish mistake of all to make is to stop listening, to discount differing ideas and the people behind them. We make that mistake all the time, of course, and often because of how deeply entrenched we are in our current set of ideas.

Mind you, as with all things, balance is key. It is far too easy to be swept away with every little idea that comes along, to never choose for oneself what ground to stand on and defend.

And yet, the two extremes can be astoundingly similar to one another: not really listening, just doing and parroting as we are told, going with the flow, getting swept along without thinking about it, no matter the obvious inconsistencies. Either way, it’s a submission to someone else’s ideas at the forgeiture of one’s own.

Opponents like to think they are opposites, but opposites are not always opposites. Two people can walk wildly different paths of reason and still end up in the same place, doing the same thing. It can be surprising how often diametrically opposed enemies are, in fact, next-door neighbors. It’s much like the color spectrum starts with red and ends with purple, with colors that are right next to each other on the wheel.

Heck, suppose that every competing idea is a color. Should we all see only red? Or blue? Or green or gray or white? Is anyone going to argue that we’d be better colorblind? Or hearing only one musical note forever? That is the same thing as arguing that everyone should just shut up and agree with us, that everyone should conform without variation.

We are not built for that, no more than we are built to see in only one color or hear only one note of music. If those colors and notes and ideas should happen to be painful to take in at the moment, we still need to keep our eyes and ears and mind open. To willingly do otherwise is a mistake, and one that will cost us dear.

No offense, of course, intended to anyone who is actually colorblind, but I prefer seeing all the colors of the rainbow. Just as I am thankful to hear music of every sort, some of which I like and some of which I don’t. And I am glad to encounter differing ideas which I can compare with my own.

Those differing ideas help me to be free, just as mine will help others to be free, regardless of exactly how right or wrong either side is.

The important thing is to have those ideas, to talk about them, and to choose for ourselves… and not for others.

I adore my freedom, and I would rather die than become an intellectual master who stays comfortable at the expense of intellectual slaves. I feel that even more fiercely than my desire to die instead of being a slave myself. And yet, most tragically, people in every argument seem to want me to become at least one of those. Maybe that is why I hate today’s politics so much.

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