DIGGING FOR ROOTS Radical Bleeding Heart image

What Does it Mean to Go to the Roots?

Essentially, it just means asking questions.

That's it? There is nothing more to it than that? If it is that simple then what is the big deal?

Roots are hidden. Down in the dirt. Getting at them takes work. And getting messy.

Can that be right? How does asking questions require work, and how does it mess you up?

First, it demands thinking, and thinking is the hardest work in the world. Second, it messes you up because you have to dig away at the very ground you are standing on. You see, it means digging up your own roots, your own foundations, the very props that keep you upright. You have to “re-pot” your very life, the beliefs and values that define your world. That is difficult and dangerous.

The Terror of an Open Mind. You are not convinced. It is very difficult to open one's mind. One of the things we are most closed-minded about is the question of whether or not we are closed-minded. Really opening your mind is like taking off your clothes in public. We recoil against it. We have all sorts of settled ideas about things, and the older we get, the more settled ideas we have and the more settled they become. They are the foundation on which we stand, the walls that protect us, and our security blanket all in one. Giving that up is terrifying.

So we have all sorts of defenses to protect that fortress. Most of them are automatic and unconscious.

How the Idea Fortress Is Protected. As a purveyor of unfamiliar ideas, the Radical Bleeding Heart has had the opportunity to observe them in action on many occasions. What do people do when presented with arguments that attack their settled ideas? First of all, they usually do not actually hear the arguments. That is right. Once they know a Sacred Idea is being attacked, the walls go up. Sometimes they just dismiss you out of hand; after all, they “know” in advance that you are wrong. Or they will ignore your argument and offer one defending their Sacred Idea. Such an argument is often circular, that is, it will defend the SI with reasoning based on the assumption that the SI is true.

Or they will come up with a straw man argument. This is the most interesting of all. The Radical Bleeding Heart used to think that straw man arguments were absurdly dishonest until he realized that the person making them usually believes them himself. This is what happens: The person whose Sacred Idea is being assaulted, knowing in advance that the attacking argument is wrong, actually cannot hear the real argument. Instead, it is fed to a part of the subconscious equipped for the purpose, where it is transformed into a similar sounding but absurdly weak contention. He then shows you that this ridiculous reasoning is utterly wrong, quite convinced that this is the argument that you made. If you try to correct him, he will only be convinced that you are just being evasive.

Perhaps I have convinced you that other people engage in such self-deception. For this endeavor to do any good, you have to realize that you do it as well. Yes, I mean you. How do I know that? I mean you because I also mean me. I mean all of us. Remember what I said about being closed-minded about being closed-minded?

Those defenses are there for a reason. They protect us, personally and socially. They give us a sense of who we are and a purpose in life. They provided social cohesion and group solidarity. But in order to grow, you, as an individual, must get past them. We, as a society, must get past them because our heads are stuffed with lies by those whose short-sighted selfishness is leading us on a road to perdition.

You need to do it in order to live your life for yourself and for what you really value and believe in. If you don't, there are others who will see to it that you live rather to benefit them.

Enough with the abstract lecture. What sort of questions are we talking about?

You need to ask questions of others and you need to ask questions of yourself.

[Next: Questioning Others]