I believe that reason relies on ambiguity and inconsistency, not on concrete ideas and philosophies; and never has my belief been reaffirmed more profoundly than when I returned home from college to have a Thanksgiving feast with some old family friends. I was raised in a small community where it was generally understood that unless you were grotesquely rich or oddly religious, you were liberal and proudly so. Quite the contrast, my small school is swimming with conservatives—outspoken, well-informed, and uncompromising right-wingers. So there have been a lot of opinions in my brain, and until this past holiday, it has been stressing me out—which opinion is more valid? Which presidential candidate should I support? Which side of the spectrum do I belong on? But as I sat at the “kids table” with the other “kids” who were now all old enough to drink wine, and compared the opinions of an acid-dealing dropout and a student from UC Santa Cruz with those I’d heard back at school, I decided that only through confusion, backpedaling, and wishy-washiness can I understand and reason through today’s issues.
“Black Friday is the biggest corporate injustice in retail history, and anyone who goes out and shops the day after Thanksgiving is supporting the downfall of the little man. I’ll be at Target telling people that tomorrow,” says the drug dealer.
“Poor people want to be poor. Why else would they be content dropping out of school and then having a billion kids they can’t support? I’m going to be an investment banker, and the government better not take my hard-earned money from me to pay for their lazy asses to eat,” I recall a student from my school spouting in casual conversation.
“This dude I know has this pirate ship made from an old military barge that he rams into whaling ships on international waters where the laws are all sketchy ‘cause Greenpeace was just too tame. I was thinking about going along with him once,” offers the guy from Santa Cruz, making a fort with his green beans.
I have a hard time taking these people seriously, but I still strive to understand what they’re saying. The opinions can all be justified logically—we will follow the sales, and thus support corporations; yes, we won’t have as much money if the government taxes us; a whaling ship at the bottom of the sea won’t kill any whales—but I’m not searching for logic, I’m searching for reason. And the answers provided by my classmates and my dinnermates aren’t reasonable to me.
As I took-in opinions that drastically differed from so many I’ve heard at school, everything became unclear, and I basked in that uncertainty. Changing my mind or having multiple takes on an issue does not mean that I have no backbone. Nothing peeves me more than criticizing a political candidate for “inconsistency” because they said something different eight or ten years ago. Allowing yourself to be confused and uncertain is accepting the complexity of the issue. It is dangerous to have only one solution because the problem is always changing. I believe that by letting myself explore all the options, zig-zagging from one side to the other, I can look at today’s problems in a novel way every time, making myself work hard for every answer.