The suspicion begins to grow in you when you reach adolescence, if it hasn’t already. You begin to feel a growing unease with the stories you’ve been told about the “way the world is.” Religious instruction ceases to make sense. The ethics you were taught seem notably absent and even actively opposed among the most successful of adults. Something is wrong. You begin to think that you’ve been lied to.
It is difficult to face this feeling. Most people just shunt it to the side and take comfort in whatever soothing sophistries their given adult authorities provide, or simply acquiesce to the present charade until they too buy into the mythos held dear by their particular tribe. These latter are marked by a bitterness that the innocent submissives do not share. For theirs is the mind turned upon itself, and they will defend their delusions more vigorously the louder the cognitive dissonance.
I will state unequivocally that I believe every such claim of deceit, no matter what the mythos, to be true. Unless ones parents are particularly brilliant and self aware, they are unlikely to have thoroughly examined their assumptions about reality to the degree that they could defend it against rigorous examination. For most, the thought of doing so never enters their minds. It is too close to their heart, too self evident. We cannot blame our early providers and teachers for selling us a half-baked narrative. They were sold on it themselves, and have little else to pass on to us.
For instance, I was raised with a Conspiracy Theory, masquerading as a religion. This Conspiracy was of a Cosmic scale, and featured no one less malignant that the Archenemy of God Himself. Satan was the great tempter and deceiver. It was His desire to turn us all away from the Love of God in order to get back Him for being tossed out of Heaven for asking a few inconvenient questions and starting a war when He didn’t like the answers. The Devil’s tricks were legion, and He had corrupted both a multitude of competing churches as well as the music industry and Proctor and Gamble. His most clever deception, it was said, was making people believe He didn’t exist.
Imagine this mindfuck, if you can. You’re faced with a wholly fantastic narrative that sounds like a comic book or a dark fantasy novel. It posits the existence of an Absolute Evil, intent on turning every living soul away from Good. It requires you to avoid two thirds of ordinary interactions with other human beings as “sinful.” For a person who has looked at their own foibles and seen how unlikely it is that any group of individuals wold be infallible conduits for Truth, regardless of the antiquity of their assertions, the story seems too clean, too easy. Just give your life to this Jesus character and you can be rewarded when all the sinners are smitten with the Sword of Heaven. They call this the Sin of Pride, which was the Devil’s sin, if you think about it. And then they hit you with the idea that not believing in the Devil is the same thing as following Him wholeheartedly. The final message is “think for yourself and you are damned.”
Clearly, all of this is a lie. There is no Final Judgement awaiting us, and there is no Devil. This is a story that people made up to make sense of a chaotic universe and a society that never stops changing, never stops reinventing Truth. That explanation probably needs an essay of its own, but that will have to do.
Because realizing you’ve been lied to isn’t enough. In fact, in terms of soul and intellect, you’re in more danger than you were when you believed in the lie. For starters, the specific details of the lie may have fallen to the sword of criticism, but the pattern is still there. I spent years cathecting various “revolutionary” political positions, groping for a replacement apocalypse in which the Devil Capitalists would fall in a Final Battle with the Workers and Freethinkers of the World. You have to be smarter than the reaction patterns you were raised with. Otherwise, you just end up hitting on something that recapitulates those patterns in a new form.
“Thinking for yourself” is a dangerous and difficult enterprise. Quite often, the very act is filtered through layers of unconscious assumptions gleaned from the worldview that was the problem in the first place. “Liking” an idea or ideology is actually a danger signal. It means that it confirms your basic assumptions, nothing more. Be suspicious of it.
I think there is a fairly clear conclusion that one will arrive at after looking at enough philosophies, ideologies, belief systems, cults, or other mental constructs. This is that no set of ideas conceived by individuals with a necessarily partial understanding of the Universe can ever be all inclusive or Absolute. But neither can it be utterly bereft of merit. It is highly unlikely that even some hideously stupid notion arose in someone’s mind without some insight. What happened in between that insight and the final draft is another matter.
We live in an era when cynicism and hostile dismissal of ideas is a kind of default position. “Thinking for yourself” and “subvert the dominant paradigm” have gone from stimulating ideas to suffocating injunctions that ignore the difficulties of both, especially when the general approach is to try to find a new paradigm to follow, usually one that someone else came up with first. “The dominant paradigm” changes depending on whom you speak to, and always seems to exclude the speaker.
In other words, we seem to live in a meme-sphere in which being an “outsider” is taken to be a normative injunction, regardless of any material facts which might make such a claim ridiculous. One can claim to be a “maverick” even if they are promoting the most blatantly reactionary ideology imaginable.
It would appear that what is needed is not “rebellion” but simply learning to actually think again. This requires real effort, however, and is thus unlikely to catch on unless someone can find a way to do it that allows you simultaneously vedge out in front of “Survivor.”