How often have you heard something that goes along the lines of ”This is 2022!” or ”We live in the 21st century!” or, my favourite, ”We do not live in the middle ages!” in response to something that is seemingly comitting a crime against the oh-so precious progressivism of modernity? To a lot of people out there, open-mindedness translates to progressivism, which in turn translates to every word that could play along with ”multi”: multicultural, multiethnic, multisexual, multicontinental and you can keep stretching the list wider and wider until it — snaps.
In this article, we are going to see why open-mindedness is a myth. We are going to expose the irrationality of the concept, how acceptance cannot exist, why tolerance is a better word to describe what people consider as open-mindedness, how even tolerance fails, why the human brain cannot stand open-mindedness and how only the most exceptional circumstances can induce something akin to it.
Let us begin.
Why open-mindedness is a myth
Open-mindedness is an irrational concept
Cambridge dictionary defines open-mindedness as ”willing to consider new or different ideas.” This definition would have made perfect sense if human beings were able to live without beliefs. However, since humans are not robots, they can only ”consider” ideas for so long before they eventually settle on one of them. Settling on an idea, at the point of which it becomes a belief, automatically means discarding other ideas; it implies that, for us, it carries more truth than the rest. No matter how hard your progressive self tries to sugarcoat it with words like ”different”, there is no denying that when you take a stance, you are taking it both for and against an idea or belief.
There is no point in sugarcoating sugar.
Some people may say that open-mindedness is not about adopting different ideas, but simply ”accepting” them. For such people, acceptance is the hallmark of open-mindedness.
Let us see why this is wrong, and how open-mindedness remains a myth.
Acceptance does not and cannot exist
How can you accept what you do not accept?
Let us say I am a staunch advocate of animal rights. The cambridge definition of open-mindedness implies that if I am open-minded, I should be able to consider the idea of ritual animal sacrifice.
How on earth can this be possible? Does it make me close-minded that I do not want to see a helpless animal bleed to death for no reason other than it being part of a belief system? Do animals not feel pain, too? Why should I be considered close-minded for wanting to stop suffering? How about people who practise it? Are they close-minded because they really care about fulfilling their duties to God? Would they have been really this ”heartless” if God did not ask them to do so? Is God’s wisdom not infinite and so what they are doing must be right? How can anyone with any kind of belief be open-minded?
The nature of belief is unacceptance, not acceptance. To accept all beliefs is to have no belief.
Tolerance exists, but it sometimes fails as well
It woud be more accurate to say that open-mindedness is not a matter of acceptance, but of tolerance. You tolerate the existence of ideas or beliefs that feel ”unpleasant” to you. It bothers you that opposing beliefs exist, but you tolerate them to keep the peace. However, even tolerance sometimes fails to keep the myth of open-mindedness from tumbling down. Below are some real-life examples:
- Many countries in Europe introduced bans on religious clothes like the niqab, the burqa and the burkini. This includes France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and others. If you want to read more about it, click here.
- In 2020, the European Court of Justice introduced a law that fundamentally changed the way Jews and Muslims practice Kosher and Halal animal sacrifice respectively. Read more.
- Prior to the Brexit referendum in 2016, 56 percent of British people considered immigration to be the main issue facing the country. Here is a detailed analysis of the study.
- 15 European countries, 7 of which are EU members, still do not allow LGBT marriages. Even in Germany, LGBT marriages became legal only as recently as 2017.
Open-mindedness is unnatural to a very natural human brain
The human brain likes simplicity, not complexity. It likes generalising, stereotyping and black-or-white thinking.
Dr. Kevin Dutton calls it the ”binary brain”. On his website, he states that: ”It is human instinct to sort and categorize. We are hardwired to discriminate and frame everything in binary black and white. It’s how our brains work. Migrant or refugee? Muslim or Christian? Them or us? Rather than reaching out to those who are different, we bond with those who are similar to ourselves. Rather than challenging our own thinking about the world, we endeavour only to confirm what we believe.”
This is one of the reasons why open-mindedness is a myth. It requires a way of thinking that goes against everything the brain believes to be right. The concept of open-mindedness fundamentally contrasts with the brain’s natural thought processes.
While the human brain is capable of swimming against the current, it usually does not feel the need to. So, at the end of the day, despite our ability to reconsider our stances and consider others’, we will most likely end up not doing so. The only time we open our minds is when we are forced to by powerful external stimuli.
This is what we are going to talk about next.
Forced open-mindedness is not open-mindedness
Humans like the status quo because it is comfortable. This applies to everything from attitudes and beliefs to jobs and relationships. Humans do not feel the need to reconsider existing beliefs or consider different ones unless they have to. Usually, this state of open-mindedness is induced exclusively by strong personal experiences like loss, shock, love, betrayal, etc. Other than that, people rarely feel compelled to be open-minded.
Forced open-mindedness is not open-mindedness, it is transformational trauma.
Final word on why open-mindedness is a myth
In this article, we talked about why open-mindedness is a myth.
Though tolerance may exist, it is not really as ubiquitious as we, or some of us at least, would like to think. We are the same obstinate, stereotypical, biased, status quo-loving Homo sapiens that existed 315,000 years ago. Such deeply rooted instincs are not going to disappear over the course of a day or two and certainly not because humanity’s way of life has changed.
I do hope that humans will one day be able to overcome all natural barriers to true open-mindedness. Only then will tolerance transform into acceptance — and conflict will be a thing of the past.