Main point: Learn constantly, with an open mind, and consider the possibility that you might be wrong about things you’ve believed for a day, a year, or your whole life.
At any given point in time, I have a well-defined opinion on any one specific topic (assuming I’ve considered it for at least a little bit). Sometimes the opinion is firm, sometimes it’s shaky, sometimes it’s well-thought-out, and sometimes it based on a couple of seconds of intuition and common sense reasoning. But no matter where I stand, and how I arrive there, I try to keep an open mind. I try to imagine that there is a possibility that I may be wrong even about the ideas that I’ve studied for years. “Try” is the key word here, because admitting to yourself you’re wrong is not easy, and I often fail, because like most people I can be stubborn and irrational.
Anyway, what I find particularly fascinating, is people unwillingness to read about ideas with which they disagree. People who believe in the idea that government can do a lot of good seem to be unwilling to read literature on anarcho-capitalism, objectivism, libertarianism, or classical liberalism.
Politics, religion, economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc are all fields full of “camps”. And if you are in one camp, it somehow becomes difficult to step outside that camp in a genuine attempt to learn and consider alternatives.
I think it’s very important to read not just the opinions similar to your own but also to read those you disagree with. Furthermore, I think it’s important to read extremist literature that has at one time (if not currently) garnered a significant following. For example, I just recently read the second volume of Mein Kampf (Hitler’s manifesto on the ideology behind the National Socialist movement). This book, and any literature involving Hitler, is very difficult for me to read, because of how much of my family and friends are Jewish and have Holocaust victims and survivors in their family’s story. But it’s important for me to read and think about ideas that have lead to so much hatred, murder, and destruction, and that were followed to whatever degree at one time by millions of people. I cannot simply put that part of history in a cardboard box, fill it with tears and anger, and leave it in the attic. I have to consider it often, in order to gain a better understanding of us as individuals, us as a nation, and us as a society.
Some Practical Suggestions from Around the Web
There are a lot of different resources on the web that help you explore opinions you disagree with. After writing this blog post I googled around and found an excellent blog post on how to read books you disagree with. The three suggestions that blog post makes is:
- Cycling: Read one “on” (where you disagree with the majority of ideas in it) and one “off” (where you agree with the majority of ideas in it).
- Fringe Books: Not sure what this one means exactly, but I think he means picks books that are full of ideas about which you are uncertain or don’t know enough, and so statistically you will agree with some parts and disagree with other parts.
- Look for Quality, Not Perspective: This is really the best advice, and one that I have always tried to follow. The world of books is bigger than anyone can read in a thousand lifetimes, so it’s always wise to pick the best representatives of its ilk.