An odd thing happened when I reached university. I automatically became an ignorant, racist, homophobe — well, at least in the eyes of my fellow newly acquainted middle-class, liberal, southern state first years. All because I came from rural Queensland (i.e., Australia’s version of the UK’s up north or the US’s deep south, etc).
No doubt I was ignorant when I arrived at university. I have said so previously. However, I was not completely unsophisticated, which is what they meant. I might not have been on a school trip to Europe, but I could still easily point it out on a map. Wow, I even knew it was a continent not a country. Similarly, I was bemused (and quietly amused) that their exclusive institutions necessarily made these homogeneously white north shore Sydneyites (and Melbourne’s equivalent) better educated on Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island peoples, when I had actually met some, even went to school with a couple. I was also well aware of the consequences for my grandparents when they arrived off the boat as the wrong sort of immigrants. While, I remain deeply saddened that the unwavering belief of my supposedly inherent prejudice was cause for a couple of my closest friends to push me away when they came out, despite our favourite local club being the gay bar.
Nevertheless, it is true that I grew up amongst such prejudices. I even learnt to harbour some of them — what child doesn’t? Importantly, though, I unlearnt them, too.
I have no clear recollection of this unlearning happening. No ‘aha’ moment, no ‘scales falling from my eyes’, definitely no cinematic denouement where I dramatically, suddenly, completely learn the error of my ways and ‘get the girl’. Instead it happened gradually, gently, without me realising it, never really noticing my change of mind, of heart. This is the best way.
In fact it appears to be the only way.
Although I do not rule out the ‘epiphany’ I do deny that it is ever an entirely independent, self-generated revelation, nor a deep, sustained change of mind. What might feel like a singular new thought coming out of nowhere — a bolt from the blue — is actually an instance where our quite messy, slow, even tedious, accumulation of ideas, feelings, reasons eventually somehow align. But genuine mind changing is the messy, slow, tedious process, not the epiphanic moment.
No-one deliberately changes their mind, no-one just decides one day, ‘oh, yes, I am a racist/sexist/homophobe, so by golly I am going to change my mind about that.’ Indeed, no-one simply chooses to give up any long-held ‘-ism’ or belief of any sort.
Remember, when I first proposed that the greatest virtue of being a philosopher is to change our mind, I made clear that it is an arduous task; as even the smallest change of our mind means a change to who we think we are. Since then, I have been describing the aspects of how this might be achieved. Importantly, although each of these separate aspects is a deliberate act of one kind or another, the overall process is not.
The usual scenario is that we encounter a view or situation that challenges our existing beliefs. It might even be an alternative we have never realised existed. Then get defensive. Yet, what defines us as philosophers is what we do next…
No matter how resistant to it we might feel, we philosophers will listen. As I have discussed, the art of listening is shaped by child-like curiosity and imitation. Be inquisitive and imaginative, imagine these difficult, confronting, unexpected ideas as your own. This is not meant to change your mind, just open you up to the possibility.
Warning against philosophy’s trojan horses, I showed that this imitation is not the same as accepting nor agreeing; we are not automatically adopting the ideas as our own. I urged you to further investigate these ideas for yourself. Do not blindly take anyone’s word for it; nor just go with what you like the look of.
Nevertheless, our investigations need to start somewhere, with some expert. You will have little choice where you start, but I assured you not to worry about it! Just keep feeling, listening, imitating. Over and over, again and again.
With time you will build up a multiplicity of views, a meaningful philosophical conversation, making you better placed to choose between your chance assortment of philosophical expertise, and to cultivate your own — that is, to make up your own mind!
Still, even if you avoid succumbing to the intellectual dictators, or even your own whims, it is likely you will still get it wrong — but that is a good thing. As I stressed last time making and embracing mistakes is only way to really find out what is genuinely worth knowing, having, being. To really come to know ourselves (and genuinely like who we are).
Starting out at university is wonderfully fraught. An equally thrilling and overwhelming bombardment of the new. New people, places, approaches, expectations, ideas. Naturally newbies take refuge in what is familiar, their familiar tribes, their familiar prejudices, and wave these about to show they are coping (at least better than someone else). Amidst this, I happened to be flagged as the familiar cliche of the country bumpkin. No doubt, I flew my own prejudicial flags. But, eventually, without us realising it, we changed our minds.