We must confront the possibility that serious and important viewpoints, fossilized in our minds, are wrong. And even if our foundational opinions aren’t “wrong” in the sense of being inaccurate, they are most certainly limiting. We are becoming stupider.
The question isn’t whether we are willing to fairly judge Woody Allen. The question is, whether we are willing to fairly judge anything.
The commentary on the DailyKos in response to “Judging Woody Allen, Part 1 and Part 2” has been remarkably civil, informed and fair-minded. Inevitably the back and forth has been about the charges and their possible veracity. That was not the point, but it illustrates the point.
One writer asked “why judge at all?” and that of course is the core question: what is this feral mania to slap judgments upon those we do not know, with incomplete facts and furious intensity? I personally have no wish to judge Allen, nor even to think about these horrible charges and their implications.
I posited “Judging Woody Allen” first to ask that question: why judge at all? And I am grateful to those who posed it more directly. Of course there are legitimate reasons to judge: the issues are incredibly important, not only for those involved but for all of us, grappling to manage abuse or false accusations of it. Many are offended that Allen, a suspected criminal, is lauded by Hollywood for his film-making; they feel it is a slap in the face to his alleged victim. She describes it as torture. So we are left to wonder whether an artist whose work has been powerful and important deserves to be shunned or praised, in such circumstances. That is an important issue; most people have an opinion.
The other purpose of “Judging Woody Allen” was not to judge him (many readers have noted that my piece is hardly a forensic enquiry into the details of the case) but to examine the effect of bias on one’s judgment. I used my own for illustrative purposes: I love Allen’s films, like the character he has portrayed and “grew up” with his sensibility and work informing my own tastes. This burdens me with a bias in his favour, which has in fact decided the issue in my mind for two decades.
Trying to put that bias aside is difficult, to say the least. Pushing through the rubble and noise of the case, the fact that I have tried best to ignore (the “Soon-Yi” element) keeps surfacing. It may tell us a lot, or may say little. Clearly, it has shaken my confidence in my established view.
My opinion of the case matters not one whit, fortunately. What matters here, is the powerful effect of my bias on my willingness to examine facts and my ability to weigh them. And that is what I am inviting readers to do: examine your bias and how it bends your vision. This is a crucial thing because frankly our biases are becoming a cultural disease making discussion or even thought, more difficult.
I have written about the political implications of this before (“Likemindless Souls”) and was sparked to revisit it some months ago by an innocent conversation about Stevie Nicks (yes, that Stevie Nicks). A colleague, young enough not to remember the 1970s (she never even visited them) discovered Stevie Nicks in this century and came to appreciate her music. Shorn of all the noise, nonsense, baggage and intoxicants which distort the frame for those who were there, the music of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac becomes “new”. Could I listen to an artist again, I asked myself, trying to hear the music instead of my own bias? Doing so has opened doors for me, taking me long past Stevie into corridors of music yet unexplored (“Songbird over the Rainbow.“)
You see, it is possible that innocuous and unimportant opinions, having settled in and become the bedrock of thought, are simply wrong. And springing from that we must confront the possibility that serious and important viewpoints, equally fossilized in our minds, are also wrong.
And even if our foundational opinions aren’t “wrong” in the sense of being inaccurate, they are most certainly limiting. We are becoming afraid to think outside our own boxes, afraid to listen outside our own boxes, and increasingly that means one thing: we are becoming stupider. The question isn’t whether we are willing to fairly judge Woody Allen. The question is, whether we are willing to fairly judge anything.
One test is to engage in a polite discussion with someone whose opinions run wholly counter to our own. And to listen to them, and to learn why they believe those things, and to consider what may be correct in their opinion, and what may be incorrect in our own. We should refrain from telling them our view, for fear of snuffing out the conversation. We are not required to surrender to the opposing argument, just to listen. Because maybe, just maybe, we’ve got something a little bit wrong.
That said, I am still totally right about gun control ("Three Hundred Million Gun Nuts")