“The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.” – Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason,” 1794
Back one day shy of a year ago, I said that, “As we now ponder the problems facing us in this new year of 2017, it might sometimes seem as though the issues we face have grown to insurmountable proportions,” but that “nothing is EVER “insurmountable”! It’s only a question of whether we choose to use our minds ...” (“The indomitable power of our minds,” WTE, Jan. 1, 2017).
Well, I’ve always believed in leading by example, so ... How well did I use my mind over the last year, now that the new year of 2018 is upon us? And how about the things such uses make possible? How successful was I at achieving my values? Of loving my loved ones? Of standing up for what’s right and opposing what’s wrong?
And wider, still: As I look back upon all of the “New Year’s” I’ve experienced, I often wonder about the hopes and dreams of some of those earlier me’s. One New Year’s, in particular, stands out in my mind, and I can still remember the young teenager that was me, 16 years old back in 1975.
It was a “New Year’s” party with a bunch of my friends, and it was about to become 1976. But I’d just quit high school, right before the beginning of the Christmas break, because I was bored to death and preferred working (cooking) in restaurants instead.
I still remember the feeling I’d had the day I decided to drop out: that I was actually doing it so I could move forward with my life – with my own reading agenda, that is – which was being greatly hampered by the endless hours of mindless rot I was being spoon-fed at Southfield High School.
And I still remember, that New Year’s Eve, thinking about the various paths I wanted to seek: I hadn’t made up my mind yet what I “wanted to be when I grew up,” but I knew I wanted to complete my overall understanding of the world in which I found myself.
What I wanted, more than anything else in the whole wide world that New Year’s Eve 1975, was the truth – whatever that might be, wherever I might find it. Why would I ever want to seek, or allow myself to believe, falsehoods? That was what made my schooling such a contradiction: It actually clashed with that search, both in terms of its content as well as its methods. I had to end both.
Learning on one’s own is often harder, of course, since errors tend to magnify before being corrected – but I trusted my own mind; I didn’t trust the classroom swill at all.
Well, here I am, exactly 42 years later – did I achieve any of the goals my earlier self had set back on New Year’s Eve 1975?
Well, some things, yes ... other things, no. I never really did “grow up” and “get a job,” in the sense of setting out deliberately to end up in a certain career; to the contrary, I chose instead to wander around. Restaurants, sales, newspapers, construction – and then, finally, back in 1986, the computer field that I remain in today. A career I never even thought of back in 1975, inasmuch as the school computers back then took up several rooms and didn’t interest me much.
In the key areas, however, in the search for truth – in gaining real knowledge along with a code of values to guide my choices and actions – I succeeded beyond what I would have thought, back then, was possible. Philosophy was the key for me, the science that gave me sight. ... For what is “a code of values to guide your choices and actions” but a theory of ethics? And how is one to arrive successfully at such contemplations without first understanding both the nature of the world in which we live (metaphysics), as well as being able to meaningfully differentiate truth from falsity (epistemology)?
Nor has it always been an easy journey, for my path to truth has often led me to radical and heretical opinions not shared by the large majority of my fellow humans.
Oh, well ... I was pretty much a loner at 16, and I’m pretty much a loner at 58, too. If “acceptance by society” still means sacrificing both consistency and intellectual integrity, I’ll still pass in 2018, just as surely now as I would have back in 1975.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.