Sunday, 16 March 2014


Many years ago I knew a guy who could not tolerate views contrary to his own. Not an uncommon experience, but this chap took it further than most.

He had his comfort zone and anything presenting even the slightest challenge to it made him conspicuously uneasy. His anxiety could be painful to watch - sometimes breaking out into barely controlled hysteria.

To my mind a dispassionate search for truth often causes a huge amount of unease commonly dealt with by avoidance. Boat-rocking subjects are simply avoided – folk just don’t want to know and make it more or less obvious that they don’t want to know.

So we approve of free speech in principle but definitely not in practice. Our natural tendency is to suppress free speech via a host of social cues. Once we have our comfort zones we are not natural truth-seekers but truth-dodgers and the reason is not hard to find.

But human power is considerably limited and infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes, and therefore we have not absolute power of adapting things which are outside our usage.
Benedict Spinoza - Ethics (Boyle translation)

As Spinoza and many others have observed, human behaviour is heavily influenced by external circumstances. There may well be such a thing as free will, but we are not free in any but a somewhat theoretical sense. So truth-seeking can be hard work while truth-dodging isn’t.

This leaves us with a major problem in that we cannot be truth-seekers without some understanding our own avoidance behaviour - obviously. Yet the path of least resistance is the avoidance behaviour itself – again obviously.

Maybe truth-dodging is in our genes as the social strategy requiring minimum effort.


Demetrius said...

Alas, most of us cannot see beyond our own nose and do not cope well with any change

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - yes, frustrating isn't it?

Sackerson said...

Must be to do with energy efficiency, but how much energy does it actually take to change your mind?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - a vast amount. That's why green energy enthusiasts never go in for it.

Sam Vega said...

"Maybe truth-dodging is in our genes as the social strategy requiring minimum effort."

Indeed. A search for truth would be a disadvantage in the context of evolutionary competition. Nature would favour the deluded, over-optimistic blinkered individual with a massive sense of entitlement.

Do you remember Clegg saying that he had slept with "about thirty" women?

A K Haart said...

Sam - yes I do remember the thirty women claim. He didn't say what they were all doing while he was asleep though.