The Necessary Virtue of Suspending Judgement

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In the “Information Age” we live in, we are confronted daily with issues, ideas, and news stories faster than our ability to absorb them can keep up. In days gone by (and I mean like two decades ago) the necessity for us to confront and formulate multiple opinions on so many things daily or even hourly didn’t exist. There may have been a “water cooler” discussion over some worthy topic at work, an important newspaper article to think about, or a story on the evening news to digest, but typically only a few a day.

Now, even when checking your home feed on Facebook, you are inundated with a host of earth-shattering stories and ideological challenges. Life on social networking isn’t all just cat pictures and Farmville anymore. Not only that, but the expectation of a response is as instant as the posting of the issue. When I scroll down my own feed at the moment, I see deadly protests in Venezuela, an article about the foolishness of snake handling churches, an article about people being buried alive, a treatise on the potential moral evils of the Judeo/Christian God, and varied responses to the recent “coming out” of Michael Sam and Ellen Page. That doesn’t even cover half of the pithy issues and stories that have been shared in the last day.

I, of course, share stories and issues as well. We all desire to inform and/or challenge our peers via our social networks about things that are important to us. Such interaction is a big part of what social networking is all about. Ironically, you will probably form an opinion of this blog entry, which addresses having to formulate opinions on articles, social network posts, stories, and blogs. That said, I want to encourage us all about this current reality in society; a reality where issues and ideas are constantly barraging us.

Here are some of the positives that result from this:

1. We are being tacitly encouraged to become faster thinkers and rely more on reason, evidence, and logic to ascertain good information and deflect the bad. If we cannot adapt to this social mode, we will be easily fooled and be reactionary to unsubstantiated claims. I chuckle when an “Onion” satire article inflames the sensibilities of a person who isn’t privy to such parody and “Poe” stories. I see this trend as a type of intellectual, “Natural Selection,” revealing the “fittest” for this new Internet driven world.

2. The Internet allows for us to be exposed to positive ideas, technologies, and relevant issues that we wouldn’t otherwise know about.

3. It is very hard for a person to be kept ignorant by those around them who would desire to limit their information access.

Here are some of the potential negatives:

1. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE can post anything they want and “trolls” are aplenty. Memes, photoshop, and slick looking, cheap or free websites can give the appearance of validity to an idea and the ability for people to share nonsense. Some of these are even dangerous. For example, when a person who needs effective medical treatment abandons such for the “essential oils” or “homeopathic remedies” they see in a meme or foolish article, they can actually die.

2. We can spend otherwise enjoyable time researching and formulating opinions on all the things we are exposed to. Ultimately though, it is on us to prioritize our time and shape our own online experience. If our exposure is stressing us out, we should curb internet time and/or rethink our “likes” and “friends list.” (I use the pronouns “I,” “us,” and “we” heavily as I consider these pros and cons because as we engage in online interaction, we are all in this new social world together)

All that brings me to an important consideration… Who says we need to have an instant opinion on everything? Who says we have to know everything? I think there is nothing wrong and everything right with asserting, “I’m just not sure. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you later.” Humbly saying, “I don’t know,” is also a glory in today’s world. In this modern Age of Ideas, intellectual humility and intellectual honesty is sometimes hard to come by. Of course, there are many things that you may have already considered and developed a position on. Share those positions straightaway of course, yet be willing to revise them if new data necessitates it.

Give yourself permission to take appropriate time to formulate an opinion or make a reasonable judgement regarding issues and ideas you think are worth considering. If you don’t have enough information at present, suspend judgement until you do. Then, you can do your due diligence to acquire sufficient data and/or perform needed philosophical consideration at an effective pace or at your leisure. You can also require those making certain assertions to provide their own evidence. It is not your responsibility to prove their ill-supported case for them or provide proof against a claim made sans evidence and reason. To quote Christopher Hitchens,

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

In temporarily suspending judgement, you’ll also be teaching those around you that you require time to consider issues of importance and lean on rationality over emotional, knee-jerk reactions. Be an example of effective intellectual methodology among your peers. Fostering a less emotionally reactionary society wouldn’t be a bad thing. Such an intellectual climate is even more desirable as society becomes increasingly dependent (if that is possible) on Internet social networking.

So, what are your thoughts? (Take all the time you need) 🙂

*The meme at the top of this blog is my creation, but feel free to use it as you wish.

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