Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ignoring The News & The Ostrich Effect

The Religious Life

“One of the truly bad effects of religion is that
it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.” 
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

An Ostrich Farm in Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel. Ostriches (Struthio camelus) do not bury their heads in the sand when facing danger, but it remains a metaphor to describe denial. “Ostriches have three main strategies when attacked. They can run away, they can kick, or they can try to hide (eg, when nursing the eggs). When hiding, they will sometimes lay flat on the ground, with the long neck and head also on the ground. In the rippling heat haze of their native Africa, they can look just like a grassy mound.The myth that an ostrich will stick its head in the sand, in an effort to hide, may have begun with that great Roman thinker, Pliny the Elder (23—79 AD),” says ABC Science.
Photo Credit: Mathknight; 2008
Source: Wikipedia

When I spoke to my daughter recently about world events, she responded that where she lives there are no secular newspapers, and she has yet to hook up to the Internet. “We live in a very religious community.” True, she and her husband and two small boys live among ultra-Orthodox Jews in a community near Jerusalem.

In my estimation, it’s a restrictive way of life that is contrary to mine and even contrary to the way my wife and I raised our daughter. About five years ago, she became “more observant,” as she put it and quickly embraced the more orthodox, the more observant standards and ways of Judaism; this has caused a rift (of communication and understanding) between my daughter and me— more on her part than mine, since religion by design calls for separation from the unbelievers, the heretics, the apostates. In such considerations, free-thinking individuals and their thoughts and ideas might contaminate and pollute the “true believers.” Such fears are valid; since historically, free thinking leads to leaving the restrictive life and its community of faith and embracing the wider world.

This includes, of course, all news reports. No use reading about Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Iran; not important to find out about the U.S. and its world-wide surveillance policies; no use even reading about socio-economic and political events in Israel. After all, the rabbis will tell you what’s important. So is the thinking. To be sure, the thinking behind such restrictions is that news reports are often negative; this is true, since much of what takes place in the world is negative, bad, evil, punctuated by positive news. Yet, my thinking is that it is far better to gain information and knowledge, even if it’s negative, than to live in a narrow restricted circumscribed world that is in many ways contrived and false.

That such religious individuals are happier is likely true; that their happiness is based on ignorance of world affairs is also true. That such individuals can collectively and privately live as they do is their right, and yet if everyone would live in such a manner, it would not necessarily be a good thing. Not searching for knowledge and not trying to understand the greater world and the people that reside within it is a recipe for ignorance. Humanity suffers.

Here’s why. I would argue that genuine happiness, if it exists, can only be gained from knowledge and understanding, even of negative events; and the better way is to obtain, interpret and integrate such knowledge and yet remain optimistic, even hopeful in some cases. Otherwise, it is merely living a life of ignorance, and to use a well-known metaphor (although one not based on real ostrich behaviour), acting like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. Moreover, without such knowledge of negative news and of other peoples and cultures, there is little incentive to act, morally or ethically. Moreover, one can easily become insular, finding little incentive to act outside of one’s narrow interests, which only  increases the prospects of tribalism.

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