"Are you doing this on purpose?" a friend writes to me. "Are you trying to provoke people's anger with your posts?"
The answer is that, of course, I am. See, I have this theory that getting people to think is akin to pushing a car down a hill. You need a significant initial effort to get people's brains to start moving. As soon as you get them to move in the direction of independent thinking, though, this process of intellectual development cannot be stopped. I use this method a lot in my teaching. No effort is too big to get students to generate the very first idea of their own. It is extremely hard to make that happen, but once you do, there is no stopping such a student.
People respond best to trivialities, to received wisdoms of all kinds. Most of us are never as happy as when we hear something that we heard before, that we already know. Observe the faces of people at a lecture or at a conference, and you will see their eyes happily glaze over and their heads nod hypnotically whenever they hear something self-evident that has been said a million times before. The reason why we are so happy to hear things we heard before is that this liberates us from the painful necessity to think, which is the greatest burden a human being has to shoulder.
Thinking is more difficult than any other task we can face. This is why people go to such lengths to avoid the unpleasant duty of thinking for themselves. They join religious cults, support totalitarian regimes, dilute their individuality in collective identities of all kinds. In short, they do anything they can to let others think for them and provide them with ready-made opinions they can contentedly regurgitate for the rest of their lives.
This is why all kinds of received wisdoms and generally accepted pieties annoy me so much. They are a cop out, an abdication of one's God-given (or an evolution-driven, whatever you prefer) right to have a fully functioning brain. When I was little, my father heard me say that I agree with something that was said on television. "This is completely wrong," he said. "Whenever you hear an opinion, no matter how big of an authority proclaims it, your first impulse should be to disagree. How else will you find out which opinions are actually yours?" Of course, I responded by immediately disagreeing with his position. I still believe, however, that the words "I agree completely" have to be used very sparingly lest we allow our brains to petrify as a result of not being used often enough.
I don't want to write posts that make everybody nod sagely in agreement. That would be the worst thing that can happen to my blog. More than anything, I want to make people start questioning, doubting, engaging passionately with issues. All of my favorite writers, critics, philosophers, journalists, and bloggers are the ones who help me do that.