Gary Horton | Challenging Ourselves in Thought

Gary Horton

Let’s talk about the urgent need to break patterns of ideological self-isolation that’s affixed itself as a nearly universally adopted thinking method in these “United” States. What I’m talking about is our new, social-media, endless targeted channels, and websites with jet-powered ability to expose and restrict ourselves to purely our existing bias-reinforcing messages. Now, that’s a little depressing … 

Carrie and I just celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. We took a trip to visit our daughter in Seattle, then continued by train to visit Vancouver, Canada, for a few days. Vancouver is a wonderful city, full of great food, exhibits, shows, museums, and a unique global vibe. And it turned out there is fabulous art museum right across from the hotel where we stayed. 

There were two exhibits on display. One on contemporary fashion design, and one on the impact of Native American, Ms. Alanis Obomsawin, who spent most of her extremely unique and productive adult life working to restore rights and justice for the Abenaki and First Nations Peoples on the eastern coast of Canada. 

The exhibit was fascinating in that it featured multiple video “view stations” from across decades, depicting old Canadian Broadcast Company news clips and features about Alanis Obomsawin’s art, music, interviews and social justice activities. 

Central to this column’s intention was the way these shows were introduced by the CBC. Most of this was long before cable, and when the CBC was the central broadcast medium for Canada. Shows like “Inquiry” and “Take 30,” and many others, purposefully exposed viewers to concepts, ideas and realities likely far different from their existing understanding. 

Preceding a particularly impactful “Take 30” show, the show’s lead-in messaging was something like, “There’s a whole wide world out there to learn of and understand. And though what you’re about to see may not agree with your opinions, understanding how others live and think is essential to our own growth and learning. And discovering new things and new ideas can be fun and enriching. So, open your mind what we’re about to explore together tonight …” 

Can you imagine that direct an approach today? What a breath of fresh air. Too bad it was 50 years ago and not today. 

Not long ago, Angela Davis spoke at College of the Canyons. We all know Ms. Davis to be a highly controversial person, with life experiences and opinions that may vary greatly from our own. We also know she’s a world-renowned scholar and sought-after lecturer. There was some stirring in our community about the “insult to our decency” to have Ms. Davis speak at the COC Performing Arts Center.  

Ms. Davis came to COC, spoke for 80 minutes, and most in the audience left with a better understanding of how so many Americans have experienced lives other than our own. 

To weigh alternate sides of issues and vet out best solutions is the stuff of progress. To stick our heads in the sand, poking up only briefly to get our junkie’s fix of our existing biases and bigotries is a sure-fire recipe for mental stagnation. If we are going to choose to live in the real world, we’ve got to face the music and understand how other people than ourselves are experiencing it. 

While at COC, Angela Davis stressed the absolute necessity critical thinking be required in educational settings. Learning is about getting exposed to things that challenge us. Learning must require us to be exposed to new ideas, to challenge, synthesize and critique them — and grow through the process. This should be obvious in education, but in today’s ultra-combative, fragmentized culture, diversity of thought, even in college settings, is under attack. 

I bumped into an incredibly unintentionally funny post on my Facebook feed the other day. Some “snowflake” was hot and bothered because MSNBC was going to “betray its audience” by airing a live town-hall-style interview with indicted former President Donald Trump. This “full blinders on” thing works both ways and all ways. MSNBC is as self-reinforcing to “progressives as Fox News is to “conservatives.” Both sides prepackage their product to appeal and addict their customers, every bit as much as Coke or Winston does theirs. And my Facebook poster had hair on fire over this “betrayal” of showing the other side. 

When Carrie and I walked into that Canadian museum we didn’t know an iota about Alanis Obomsawin nor the Abenake Natives. And what we learned had us holding our heads in our hands with shame and sorrow. We didn’t know what we don’t know. None of us can comprehend nor improve what we haven’t seen. Nor, can we appreciate the good we’ve never experienced. 

So, on display were these early Canadian TV news shows with the very purpose to expose news and challenge viewers’ opinions and understanding and create enthusiasm for broadening one’s vision. 

Today, with likely a million unique sources of this or that information and disinformation, we don’t have to risk the pesky task of challenging our own presumptions and biases and bigotries. We can tune into exactly everything that comforts our hearts and sooths our minds that we’re fully in the right and righteous, and deviation from what we already believe is completely wrong – and should even be avoided. 

Our schools, our colleges, our personal relationships, and our own thinking, should instead continually put us to the test. In this self-challenging, in the consideration, comes the intellectual growth and solutions to our problems we dearly need in our super-fast, modern, multicultural world. 

We need more diversity in thought, not less. We need more exposure, and less restriction. We need personal commitment to continuous learning – even when the learning hurts. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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