When I was young my parents moved me to this awful upper middle class suburb, in an attempt to get us kids into better public schools. The neighborhood’s over-privileged kids all seemed to be cut from the same mold, their parents shared the same values. There was a major lack of diversity and culture. The lawns and medians always looked excessively manicured and artificial, though sometimes they were subject to vandalism by rambunctious kids. As we got older, we found that for entertainment we typically had to leave this suburb, and venture into the larger city, as it tended to have nothing other than mini-mansions and parent friendly shopping centers. Being there, one tended to feel isolated from much of the rest of the world, both for good and bad. The older kids mockingly referred to the place as the bubble.
Living in the bubble definitely shaped the way we looked at the world, as viewing the world through a bubble would be expected to. I had to escape and go experience more of the world, to discover who I really was. Breaking away from insular like minded groups is an important part of personal development that people simply do not do enough of. Too many of us, seem to be stuck in our own bubbles: liberal bubbles, conservative bubbles, libertarian bubbles, Christian bubbles, Muslim bubbles or atheist bubbles. We all too often prefer to avoid reading, listening to, or watching material, that conflicts or challenges our views.
By doing so we insure our bubble never pops and we are stuck thinking the same way indefinitely. If we stay insulated from dissenting thoughts we can never mature in our way of viewing the world, we never have the opportunity to correct our misconceptions and develop a more sophisticated world view. It has been pointed out that the first things cults do is claim everyone else is lying, and that the first thing oppressive political regimes do is cut their populations off from the rest of the world. That we would voluntarily do this to ourselves reflects poorly on us.
I have been told that if you want to know what is wrong with your religion, you should ask a member of another one. The same certainly goes for political philosophies too. Competing world-views almost always have elements of truth in them. One’s own world-view may in fact be improved by incorporating ideas from competing views into it. If not, your philosophy will only be made stronger by knowing what ideas it is competing against.
That is why we should all make a regular point of challenging our preconceptions. Everyone should take the time now and then to seek out the best arguments against their own positions and in favor of competing ones. If you are a liberal, read The The Conscience of a Conservative or watch some debates with William Buckley Jr., or some of the latter political writings of Christopher Hitchens. I find these sources much more articulate than the more sensationalist and liberal-bashing conservative outlets that dominate today’s AM radio and cable markets. If you are conservative, try some of the more articulate liberal material on cable or your local library. Both liberals and conservatives should read more material from various branches of the libertarian movement. Libertarians should do the opposite as well as read things different branches of the movement. For example, Kevin Carson’s pieces are definitely consistent with libertarian principles but substantially challenge the parts of movement that defend the power of today’s economically privileged class. If you think this country can do no wrong, read some Chomsky. If you are anywhere on the American political spectrum, read some works by socialists or Marxists. If you like either of the two major presidential candidates, read up on some from other parties. You opinions probably won’t be drastically but, you will definitely have a better understanding of what other people believe and a result will be able to purge your own beliefs of errors and represent them in a stronger manner.
If you are an atheist read some religious apologetics. I have and posted some reviews on this blog. If you are a Christian read the God Delusion, watch Christopher Hitchens’ debates on religious topics, or watch some Atheist Experience Clips on youtube. If you are a member of any religion talk about your differences in respectful and friendly terms with someone from another one. Examine your own beliefs and see if you hold them to the same high standards of evidence that you apply to people, who disagree with you.
If you can’t stand country music, try listening to Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash or Lorretta Lynn. If you can’t stand Rap music spend a day listening to the works Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, Aesop Rock, Mos Def Blockhead or Tupac. If you are uncomfortable around gay people, try getting to know some. If you are uncomfortable around, religious conservatives try getting to know some.
Make a point of getting to know that foreign born co-worker of yours, or visiting parts of town you are not completely comfortable in. If you can, by all means travel outside this country, because Americans can be incredibly insular people. Every once in a while, talk to your black sheep family member, about whatever that taboo belief of theirs, that everyone avoids talking about, is. What ever you do, break out of your bubble. Don’t let your self, get stuck in a suburb or ghetto of the mind. There is so much out there and too many people are afraid leave their comfort zone and experience it.
Editors note: This piece urges readers to take in works from people they disagree with or who challenge their own views. I see it as always important to know what the other guys are saying. I will however, say always maintain skepticism, as some of the groups or individuals listened above do say things that should be taken with a large grain of salt.