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Friday, February 10, 2017

No, You Don’t Have the Right to Think “What You Want”

I’ve been repeatedly told, “you can think what you want, I can think what I want. That’s everyone’s right.” But what does that mean?

It is a reference to a legal fact still current in America in principle. It means the government can’t put you in jail or take your property or in any way punish you for your thoughts. We don’t yet have Orwell’s “Thought Police.” But that’s all it means. People say those words to me to cut off discussion. This makes it useful to them as a wall. Let’s agree to disagree. You and I will never agree anyway. See you later.

People implicitly understand that what they think is who they are. They are comfortably being who they are. The prospect of thinking differently, of being someone else, or some different version of yourself is frightening. Even if it's a better one. People can feel so comfortable in their homes that they would rather stay in them than move even if moving is an upgrade, even if it eliminates everything about your current place that you've been complaining about for years.

The problem is you don’t have a moral right to think whatever you want, and you don’t have a rational right to think whatever you want. The phrase “what you want” references desire. And desiring and thinking are two different operations. Certainly in humans they overlap and confuse each other like two radio signals competing for some part of the band. But this should be seen as a problem.

You have a moral imperative (not a right) to come to the best conclusions, and you have a logical imperative to come to the most accurate conclusions. Morally you must think in terms of the good, logically you must think in terms of the true. Desire shouldn’t enter into it.

If you say “you and I will never agree,” what you mean is that you will never under any circumstances change your thinking. You may justify this offense against morality and reason by saying that it applies equally to both of us--that you will never change your thinking and I will never change my thinking either. But it doesn’t. If the evidence leads to a conclusion that is not the one I currently hold, I have an obligation to change my thinking. And I will do it. I’d be stupid not to. If you can show me where I’m wrong, I will change my mind. If you show me that what I’m eating is poison, I will stop eating it. If you can show me that the conclusion I have reached goes contrary to my values, I’ll change my mind. (I may also have to adjust my values.) If you show me that my moral conclusion conflicts with my logical conclusion, I’ll have a problem. But something will give.

Digging in your heels may be fine for desire. Dig in your heels and keep rooting for the Cleveland Browns if you want to. It is however suicide to thought. And suicide to self.

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