FLORIDA, June 3, 2012 — Ideology, faith, and politics are three subjects none too distant from any given discussion these days.
When all three are combined, a strongly negative series of events usually tends to follow. As this witch’s brew is almost always brought about by ideologues, trying to reason away fanaticism rarely works.
That poses a huge problem in the contemporary American political arena. Even when theology is not brought into the equation, far too many choose to make a religion out of political matters. One result is the rampant sort of bipartisan partisanship which can now be found from city hall to Capitol Hill.
How can this be alleviated?
In the first part of my interview with Australian cognitive scientist Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, co-founder of the internationally renowned School of Thinking, we discussed the basics of lateral thought. An alternative to the critical discipline common in Western cultures, it entails searching for solutions in what can only be described as a non-orthodox fashion, following a scientific method all its own.
Dr. Gleeson later discussed applying the methodology of lateral thinking to the aforementioned subjects. What does a get rich quick scheme have to do with the appeals of ideology? How does faith relate to open mindedness? Furthermore, is there a better way to approaching politics than the traditional left-to-right spectrum?
Joseph F. Cotto: Whether they should be rooted in theism or politics, various ideologies often attract droves of willing participants searching for a universal truth of some kind. In the long run, what do you think that this does to any given society?
Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: Ideologies, like advertising campaigns, offer lots of benefits and that’s what makes them attractive. However, little attention is given to the drawbacks. Many a buyer has had the experience of purchasing a “get-rich-quick-scheme” that was given the hardsell only to find later on that not only did they not get rich quick, but they did not get rich at all.
I agree, to some extent, with caveat emptor when it applies to adults. I do not agree whenever it applies to very small children. I believe the abuse of small children by these kinds of ideologies is the most legendary and critical issue of our times.
Cotto: Across the world, untold billions rely on faith just to get them through the day. Said faith might be in the divine, another person, or a social construct. What are your opinions about the concept of faith in general?
Gleeson: Faith is a fact. Just like sexuality. It’s a human trait. We all have it in one form or another. Like all human traits it’s distributed unequally across a population. Some have more of it than others. We need to be open-minded to those who have faith and even to fundamentalists. But, we need to be wary of the dangers of faith, especially in its extremes, and we need to pay attention to our long-term security and especially to the safety of our children.
Cotto: Here in the United States, we are gearing up for yet another presidential election. During this year’s Republican primaries, many marginal candidates found popular favor, and gained international attention, because of their adherence to “true” conservatism. When it comes to political matters, do you find that the traditional left-right spectrum is a valid way of approaching complex matters?
Gleeson: Well, of course, it’s valid. But is it there a much better way? Yes there is. I think the OR approach (us OR them, Republican OR Democrat, Good OR Bad), as mentioned before is too judgmental and negative. I think a more positive approach would produce better outcomes.
The AND approach has much better design possibilities for a safer and more productive future. The OR approach has been a big disappointment and has not served the democratic model of politics very well at all. My mentor, Professor George Gallup, who founded the Gallup Poll at Princeton, has shown up these limitations in his comprehensive and continuous polling for three quarters of a century.
Imagine that: politics based on actual ideas rather than preconceived notions. Perhaps a few lessons in lateral thinking should be given to Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, as well as many of us. When we fail to consider the viewpoint of the so-called ‘other side’, are we doing so in blind faith to an ideology, or in pursuit of recognizing the facts on the ground?
That sounds like a question which answers itself very easily.
Beyond these everyday matters, how can lateral thinking be used for understanding broader social concerns, such as the separation of church and state along with the rise of multiculturalism?
Stay tuned for part three.
We consider ourselves independent-minded, but is that self-delusion? Part one of an interview with Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the science of thinking.
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