Saturday, March 03, 2007


Why do we always have to be right?

There's something inside of us, each of us, that tells us that this is right and that is wrong. I'm not only talking about political beliefs, or ideological beliefs; I'm talking about a sense, a certainty, that what works for me, well, works, and everything else is alien, uncertain, unstable. A faulty machine just waiting to break down.

It's long been my belief that we really don't know anything about anything. Meaning, our most fundamental beliefs are all based on kind of vague sensations that whirl around our subconscious selves like helicopters looking for, but never finding, a landing point.

Take ice cream.

What's your favorite flavor?

You may like vanilla best because you don't like all that extra added sweetness of chocolate or strawberry.

But why don't you like that extra added sweetness?

Because it doesn't taste as good to you.

But why is that?

Perhaps we could trace it back to what your mother fed you in the high chair, and how that devoped your taste buds in a particular pattern, but I don't know if that kind of pseudo-scientific reasoning would really satisfy my question.

The same principles could be applied to books, or movies, or music. Some people will watch a certain perfomance, a certain actor, and say: "Magnificent." Others will watch the exact same images and say: "Pretentious, overblown junk."

What's going on here?

The things we watch, respond to, indulge in, strike something within us. They ring bells. And we listen to those bells. If the bells ring loud and clear, we judge it good. If the bells are faint and distant, we judge it bad.

And at the bottom of these beliefs, these feelings, these I-like-vanilla-more-than-chocolate stirrings lies a certain certainty. The kind of certainty that forms the bedrock of patriotism, which is nothing more than the underbelly of nationalism.

The more time I've lived abroad, the less patience I have for nationalism. Not to say that I'm not proud of my country, or love my country, but you know what? Everybody's proud of their country. Everybody secretly believes that their country is the best country. Patriotism and nationalism are linked to those feelings at the base of our most secret selves, those inklings and nerve endings that whisper: "We are right and they are wrong."

The intensity, verging on animosity, with which the American presidential elections engender such stirrings is symptomatic of this, I think. Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, sincerely, unequivocally believe that they are right. Empirically so, almost. As if it were a scientific equation. (Not that Canadian political parties are excluded from this kind of thinking. We're just not as, well, neon about the whole thing.)

So when we have political parties that believe they are right, filled with people who sincerely believe that their religion is the right religion, the result is a polarized environment where the only solution is a fight-to-the-death for all involved. The victor will stand. The fallen will regroup and prepare for the next battle. (Because, even though they lost, they're still right. Right?)

I guess this is the way that things have to be.

Humans, as a species, tend to gravitate towards that which confirms their own perceptions about themselves. That validates their own sense of the world. Were we to acknowledge that others' points of view have equal weight, then, in a sense, we're stating that our views are flexible, malleable, bendable. That we may not be right after all. And to admit this would be to reduce us, in a sense, to the levels of animals, who don't worry about such distinctions, who just do their own thing, who live their lives, who feed and fall and kill and nurture.

Maybe we need this feeling of rightness.

If we didn't have it, then we would be forced to live our lives in a sort of pseudo-limbo, where everything shifts and sways with the frequency of waves coming towards and away from the shore. We would have nothing to grasp on to. We would have no sense of self. We would be forced to collide and connect with others in a manner both frightening and intimate. We would have to abandon what we know for a present and a future that hints at only possibilities.

And that would be too, too much to ask of ourselves.

After all, we're only human.


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