Idealism should never exclude a desire to know the truth. If it does, it will destroy the much more valuable thing of which idealism is only a manifestation. Idealists must always be ready to find answers, must never imagine that they know all the answers already. The so-called idealists who want things done which are not solutions at all are not idealists, but the destroyers of good. Idealists who lack necessary basic information about their field are extremely harmful to the human race.

Here are examples:

Professor Ward Edwards Professor Ward Edwards has shown that man tends to reach conclusions rationally by using all available information. So far, so good. But he has also established that conclusions reached on insufficient evidence are likely to be stubbornly clung to, even when contradicted by subsequent superior evidence.

This means that there is more than a danger that people are incapable of changing their minds when they should do so.

He also discovered, by careful tests, that more than one person in three tested were unable to make accurate decisions because they were ‘befogged by superstition, biases and logical incoherence’.

The ordinary idealist will want to reject this evidence, perhaps because by a wider-based humanitarian test he is not an idealist at all. An idealist would be someone anxious to understand and to serve, especially humanity. But the self-styled idealist whom we most often meet, faced by such facts as these on decision difficulties, will turn out to be someone who has made up his mind that man is always already potentially logical, resolute and capable of forming sound opinions and making the best use of whatever data is provided to him, whenever it is given in a reasonable manner. Now, if this type of idealist is right, then Professor Edwards is wrong. And there would be only one way of proving him wrong: to conduct tests which provided different results from the Professor’s.

The idealists to whom I have so far submitted the above facts, however, have all reacted in another way: they have employed flat denial instead of reason or experiment. In my opinion, therefore, they are not idealists at all, but people who imagine that they are idealists and may induce others to believe so too. It seems that the idealist himself may fall into Professor Edwards’ category of people who cannot change their minds.

One is almost tempted to say that it would not be logical to continue to accept self-estimations of people as idealists if their decision-making and opinion-altering capacities had not been tested to determine whether such people were deluded and unconsciously trying to involve others in what might be discovered to be a deluded system of belief.

This whole problem, of course, does not rest upon Professor Edwards’ work alone. Ever since it was discovered, it has been frequently verified that what was formerly regarded as true, altruistic belief could be produced, or apparently duplicated, by indoctrination and conditioning.

Even before this, it had been uneasily noted that people of very different, even mutually exclusive, ideas could apparently regard themselves and be regarded as humanitarian idealists. That is to say, once the principle had been accepted that two people could hold, equally sincerely, totally opposing views, it was only a matter of time before it would become necessary to test the ways in which opinions are formed and what lies behind ‘believing in good’.

The relativity of ‘good’ – the fact that something might be good under one set of circumstances and bad under another – could be concealed or have little or no effect upon human thought only while people lived in exclusive societies, often competing or mutually hostile, and where there was very little interchange between them.

The keeping of one society distinct from another, the avoiding of ‘cultural contamination’ from one to another, has even been defended on the principle of ‘not rocking the boat’. Modern communications have rendered such a possibility obsolete.

Idries Shah The Commanding Self

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