Beware the incurious

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 28, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

In a fairly divided America, one of the things that I struggle with is not simply casting out the people that I disagree with. Granted, that category of people are generally those who hate or wish to oppress or punish people for no other reason than that they're different. And you can't make the circular argument that the same group of people are like the ones they're against, in terms of being targets. Those they oppose aren't against anyone as long as they can be who they are. With that in mind, I've tried to understand what the root of the difference is. A lot of people say it's environmental, the idea that if you grow up with a racist, you might be a racist. This has been going on for generations in the US, but also throughout history. My assumption is that as you get older and gain life experience, you break out of the assumptions and behaviors you may have learned early in life. We know that doesn't always happen. Why?

I'm starting to believe that it's because at some point, many, maybe most people, stop being curious. I can't explain why that happens. I do think that children are inherently curious, and it's why they learn. Up to a certain age, you can't separate an airplane from magic. Hopefully you cling to the curiosity long enough to understand the physics. But it's a head scratcher when people think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, or that the earth is flat.

There are anecdotal circumstances that I can look at in my own life, that exemplify the power of curiosity. Growing up in desegregation Cleveland, it's not hard to understand the environmental reason that I'd grow up anti-racist. But my grandfather and uncle routinely made racist jokes. My theory is that curiosity beat environment. I was curious about the island, Puerto Rico, where so many of the neighbor kids came from. I was curious about what it meant to be Black in the years near the end of the civil rights movement. Maybe most importantly, curiosity caused me to question why an authority figure like my grandfather would say such awful things about my classmates. (One time I questioned him, in middle school, and my stepfather assured me that I didn't know what I was talking about. That had a lasting impact on my relationship with him through the rest of my childhood.)

Maybe curiosity competes with fear. The latter is certainly a powerful motivator. The refrain from a lot of the haters is that "[marginalized group] is ruining the country," but they can never explain why, or how they're affected by them. There are two modes of incuriosity here. The first is that they're willing to believe someone with no particular credential is offering them truth about why you should hate on others. The second is that they won't bother to learn about the people that they loathe.

The pandemic showed us just how the incurious react to science. It seems like our culture has decided that expertise is no longer a thing. Here's a funny thing, where I'm wrong to an extent. The anti-science folks are actually curious enough to "research" things, but reject the critical thinking to validate or authenticate the information that they find. Maybe that's an inauthentic flavor or "curiosity." Regardless, it's the hardest thing for me to reconcile, because the universe is so vast and so fascinating that no one could ever have their curiosity satisfied. That indication of our place in the universe would also, you would think, lead people to spend less time on trying to punish people who aren't like them. Ain't nobody got time for that.

For now, I'm as curious as ever. There are so many things that I haven't learned, that I would like to. And engaging in those things slows time, compared to doing the daily routines. I think that's going to ultimately be my measure of life. When I stop being curious, it'll most likely be because I've ceased to exist.


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