You’ve likely heard the news; YouTube is expanding its censorship policies to include a broader range of anti-vax content. You may think that YouTube is doing the right thing. I’m assuming they think they are doing the right thing- protecting us, but this is a dangerous solution.
There are better ways to combat misinformation and bad ideas, and one place to start is with wisdom. Wise people don’t just accept another person’s version of the truth, they hone skills at discovering truth themselves.
Hone Your Truth Finding Skills
Instead of censorship, what if we began promoting wise reasoning? Imagine a culture where the majority had the ability to sift and sort through information and decide, using critical thinking, what to pay attention to. Envision a culture where people aspired to be wise enough to pull strands of truth out of unexpected places, and then used those threads to weave a more complete picture.
Practicing wise reasoning requires a commitment to intellectual humility, an ability to embrace uncertainty, and a willingness to integrate diverse viewpoints. These 3 aspects of wisdom allow us to pull those strands of truth while discarding that which obscures it.
“There are a lot of ideas out there that are bad, wrong, dangerous. But the moment we have the hubris to say we know which ideas those are is the moment we lose our ability to find the truth, to find solutions.” Lex Friedman
Intellectual humility is one of the traits that set the wise apart from the rest. It involves recognizing our intellectual limitations in the service of pursuing deeper knowledge, truth, and understanding.
An important part of intellectual humility is recognizing where your uncertainties lie. It is the ability to say to yourself “knowing what I know currently, I feel this way, but I also realize there are things I don’t know.” If you are honest with yourself, in MOST cases, there are things you don’t know.
Experts can lose their sense of intellectual humility because as they grow in knowledge, what they do know starts to obscure what they don’t. Their focus changes and the stakes for being wrong increase. A consensus on a particular subject grows, momentum moves towards certainty, and new perspectives or flaws in the current thinking get ignored.
Overconfidence in “rightness” combined with a desire to avoid the negative consequences of being wrong, is one of the motivating forces behind the silencing of heterodox ideas.
“Leave everything undefended, including yourself. Befriend uncertainty. Fall in love with mystery. Kneel at the altar of Not Knowing. Give your questions time to breathe. And the answers will find you.” — Jeff Foster
The saying, “the more you learn, the less you know” is an uncomfortable truth that needs to be embraced. Because we have been inundated with opinions that are presented as facts, many of us have become more aware of where our news is coming from. We look for reputable sources and then feel confident that what they say is true and correct. We then close the door on uncertainty with that topic and move on to create certainty somewhere else.
Often, we choose a stance or pick a side, because feeling uncertain leads to fear. When a great number of others agree with our stance, it affirms our choice, thus increasing our certainty and decreasing our fear.
Censoring the dissenting voices is a way to bring more people onto our side, reducing the fear of all of those in the group, but this is a dangerous illusion that creates certainty at the expense of truth.
Instead of pursuing certainty, pursue truth. There are bits of truth to be found inside every perspective. This is why listening to opposing viewpoints can be so powerful. Truth is revealed through the challenging of ideas. Censorship by its nature does not make any space for uncertainty. It slams the door shut on new information and perspectives that might refine what we already know.
Integrating Diverse Viewpoints
Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data, or evidence related to it. While critical thinking is an important piece of the solution for countering misinformation without censorship, one of the hallmarks of critical thinking is that it is to be done objectively- without the influence of one’s own emotions, opinions, or biases. But the strands of truth are not all made of facts.
Wise reasoning uses the skills of critical thinking to analyze what we know about a situation, while also holding the awareness that many aspects of life are not reducible to facts. We need to be aware of how our emotions and biases color our judgments in positive and negative ways and also be aware that this is happening inside each and every one of us.
We are all shaped by a lifetime of subjective experiences and our diverse viewpoints are proof of that. Being able to integrate the diverse viewpoints of others into any analysis of a situation is a vital part of being wise, it makes space for compassion and for nuance. It is also the path away from us vs them, right vs wrong, mentality.
Back to Censorship
How can we practice wise reasoning when different viewpoints are silenced? How can we practice discovering our own biases and short-sightedness when we are not allowed to have conversations online that might call them into question? How can we check the findings of experts, when questioning them is seen as dangerous?
Censorship undermines our ability to think critically or use wise reasoning because it limits our opportunities to do so. The weaker our skills get, the more topics will need to be censored because we will become weak prey for bad ideas. Wise reasoning is an antidote to misinformation and the negative influence of bad ideas, but it is a skill that needs to be practiced.