Principle I: Intellectual Curiosity

Orthodoxy means the generally accepted practice or doctrine of a particular industry, faith, etc. It also means the status quo or the ‘conservative’ view on a particular subject or issue. It’s a fancy way of saying “the way that things have always been done.” Orthodoxy stands for stagnation. It signifies a desire to stifle intellectual evolution and discovery. Defenders of orthodoxy are afraid of change because it typically entails a shift in the current power structure. Whenever change results in a better outcome for the majority, it will likely result in a less attractive reality for those currently in power. Those benefiting from orthodox views don’t relinquish their power peacefully or willingly.

This page series, Principles of the Orthodoxy Slayer, will delve into some of the weapons that intellectual change agents can employ in the battle against outdated ideologies and beliefs. These are the tools required to test orthodoxy, and dismember it…piece by piece.

Through the mechanism of natural selection, nature picks and chooses winners and losers. Certain ill-fated descendants of the biological tree of life simply cannot adapt to a changing world, a world that is completely indifferent to the interests of any particular species or organism. That indifference has endowed nature with an objectivity that eludes any sentient being. There are no opinions and no ‘alternative facts.’ Life simply responds to stimuli and the organisms that can withstand their respective environments receive the privilege of a continued existence.

The development of human consciousness added another element to the brutal, but functional system of natural selection: intellect. The faculty of reason was included in that package. Humans developed ideas and beliefs that evolved, fought and died just like the tree of life’s ill-fated children. Unfortunately, the extinction of unworthy intellectual species (ideas and beliefs) doesn’t always occur without intervention, unlike physical species. The natural world is governed by objective natural laws, like gravity. The human mind, the domain of the intellect, is governed by subjective schemas and biases formed from individuals’ life experiences.

The inherent subjectivity of the human intellect means that a myriad of harmful ideas and beliefs will survive long past their optimal extinction date. There is no survival of the fittest mechanism for the intellect. Because of this, intellectual intervention is sometimes necessary. Conspiracy theories, political and religious propaganda, racism, bigotry, sexism are all intellectual species that have outlived their utility and need to be ravaged. They deserve to be disemboweled, figuratively speaking. It’s time for them to go extinct.

The biggest weapon in the orthodox defender’s arsenal is deception. In the 1960s, the government successfully thwarted the tobacco industry’s attempt to mislead the American public. For decades, the tobacco firms knew that their products were killing consumers. They knew this because they hired scientists and lobbyists to come up with misinformation campaigns to combat the growing scientific consensus that smoking caused cancer and that nicotine was addictive. For example, they admitted that mothers who smoked had smaller babies than non-smoking mothers but they were adamant that the mini-babies were just as healthy as their full-size counterparts. Internal documents seized after-the-fact revealed that these companies had conducted laboratory experiments on animals that confirmed nicotine was addictive. Despite these internal findings, none of the companies willingly admitted the truth until the government compelled them to do so with the evidence that it compiled independently.

Greedy corporations aren’t the only defenders of orthodoxy. Religions of every shape and size are all seasoned veterans of deception. Their brand of deception is particularly nauseating because of their pretenses of piety. Pro-Life Groups across the country have set up Christian-affiliated ‘crisis clinics’ that are portrayed as government-sponsored entities. These clinics distribute religious propaganda that’s designed to guilt-trip vulnerable mothers. The clinics give the mothers inaccurate information that grossly overstates the medical and psychological risks of abortion. Many of these women don’t have the resources or knowledge to recognize the clinics’ lies.

There are endless examples of people defending orthodoxy through deception, in all avenues of life. While rape is a horrible tragedy and perpetrators should be thrown into prison, feminist and leftist activists have spread misinformation that drastically overstates the percentage of college rape prevalence and vastly understates the frequency of false rape reporting. This has led to the erosion of due process on college campuses. Many accused students have been exculpated by police investigations, but universities still expelled them.

There is only one weapon against the bane of orthodoxy and its deceptive defenders: knowledge (and the unfettered access to it). In order to successfully castrate orthodoxy, the slayer must wield knowledge faithfully and consume it ravenously. These two components comprise what I refer to as intellectual curiosity. Wielding knowledge faithfully means holding oneself to the highest standard of objectivity. Ignoring facts that don’t support a particular viewpoint or narrative is intellectually dishonest. The ends don’t justify the means when it comes to the pursuit of truth. The selective consumption of certain pieces of knowledge combined with the avoidance of others is no better than complete ignorance. The orthodoxy slayer actively seeks out arguments and information that contradicts or questions the totality (or aspects) of his or her current viewpoint on an issue.

Social media has made wielding knowledge faithfully difficult. It condenses complex issues into simplistic, condensed nuggets. These platforms obliterate nuance and supercharge the public’s dispersion into tribal factions. Members of these factions ejaculate as soon as they taste the venom of identity politics. Even worse, social media  only exposes users to what they want to see. It ensures that their viewpoints will be reinforced, but never challenged. It creates an atmosphere where users won’t have to engage in honest intellectual discussion. It takes out the uncomfortable, but indispensable, synthesis of information that occurs when someone is exposed to a compelling argument that contradicts his or her current viewpoint on a subject.

The second component of intellectual curiosity is the ravenous consumption of knowledge.  Too often, people only focus on acquiring the mundane knowledge that they need to accomplish everyday tasks (learn how to use a particular excel formula for a work project, read a book for a paper due next week, research a company for a job interview). This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, individuals that don’t learn about the world around them miss out on the world’s wonders. Second, it makes them more susceptible to malicious deception by defenders of orthodoxy. A mind with no knowledge (or false knowledge) is an easy mind to manipulate.

The world is interconnected. Philosophy is connected to science, which is connected to healthcare, which is connected to medical ethics, which is connected to philosophy. Knowledge is only divided into segments for reasons of organizational practicality, but all knowledge is woven together into one master tapestry. No one will ever be able to know everything about everything. It’s like perfection; no one can attain it, but by chasing it, folks attain excellence. When people know a great deal of information about a broad number of subjects, they develop a more ‘whole’ understanding of reality. They’re able to empathize with people on the other side of the world. They’re able to develop solutions to complex problems. And they’re able to thwart deceptions that cleverly masquerade as facts.

Intellectual curiosity doesn’t just benefit the individual, it benefits society. Knowledge is sustenance for a person’s mind, a shield for a person’s ability to make sound decisions and a weapon against the deceptive defenders of orthodoxy. Go to your bookstore, pick out an interesting paperback and start to remove the flesh from orthodoxy’s syphilitic body.