I am not exactly an outdoors person, but I do enjoy looking down at the world from the top of a high mountain, figuratively. I find this way of looking at things to be the ultimate source of personal freedom.
Before I learned about this vantage point less than a year ago, I often found myself admiring a fierce debater with whom I agreed, enjoying watching them tearing their opponent apart (on my behalf, in a way), but then thinking to myself: “Would I still love watching this person if I were on the other side of the issue instead?” The answer would be “no.” Is it rational to dislike the exact same person who makes the same arguments with the same debate style only because my own opinion on the issue were to change? I suspected it wasn’t, and thus would feel self-contradictory even when I held a clear position on the issue.
Then from reading Zen philosophy, I realized that the source of this personal paradox is the human tendency to attach oneself to ideas. When we are attached to an idea, our desire to defend it supersedes our desire for the truth. As a result, we are less receptive of arguments challenging that idea and become emotional toward contentions surrounding it. Therefore, this tendency effectively binds us to our existing ideas, depriving us of our freedom of thoughts. In order to liberate us from this intellectual bondage, we must stop attaching ourselves to ideas. Recognizing the fact that things in the universe are infinitely complex while our comprehension is limited, we ought to understand that no theory represents the entire reality; rather, due to the unknown and unknowable aspects of a truth, everything we know is subject to modification or reversal. So, while we may believe in a theory, we should not cling to it. Instead, we can imagine ourselves standing at the top of a high mountain looking down at the various viewpoints on the ground, including our own beliefs and arguments. Being detached from all of them, we can be as unhampered as possible by biases and insecurities. We are therefore free to explore farther, dig deeper and, as a result, be inspired as much as our intellect will take us. Consequently, we find ourselves more flexible in our thinking, less likely to be angry when opposed, and more likely to make a debate productive.
We are accustomed to thinking about things in terms of dichotomy, in terms of black and white. Even when we have grown sophisticated enough to recognize gray areas, we still haven’t broken out of the framework made of only black and white because, after all, different shades of gray are just black and white mixed in varying proportions. Furthermore, that things exist with their polar opposites or contrary forces is an illusion. When we stand on the top of a mountain looking down, however, we are more likely to see an issue at a level, in a dimension, that we would not be able to see if we were caught in the middle of that issue, attached to one side or the other. For example, should gay marriage be legal? In addition to yes and no, someone also came up with a third way—“civil union” as a political compromise. When we rise to a higher level, however, another dimension appears—taking marriage out of the hands of the government. Thus, gay marriage, as well as marriage in general, is no longer a legal or political issue. And we have a resolution that gives all of us, gay and straight, more liberty.
Another case in point: The two-party politics has dominated American political culture for so long that it has become an important part of the public psyche. The public is engrossed in the struggle between the Republicans and Democrats, countless commentators make careers out of it and, when sensing the resulting impasse has disgusted enough voters, politicians boast their imaginary abilities to bring people “across the aisle” together, only to divide them even more, as it turns out. However, if we stand on the top of a mountain and look down, we will see a specious dichotomy with a bunch of people mindlessly swarming to each side and fiercely fighting those on the apparently opposing side. Moreover, the partisan attachments run so deep that they can make or break friendships and even families. Yet, what exactly is the difference between the two parties or conservatives and liberals besides the label? On the one hand, the Democrats or liberals, in the name of “social justice,” overtly pushes for socializing fruits and thus factors of production, which will inevitably lead to government’s control over everyone’s life. On the other hand, the Republicans or conservatives, spuriously claiming they are adherents to the Constitution and free markets, engage in a scheme aimed at concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the government and cronies, which will also lead to the end of human freedom as we know it. From the vantage point of the high ground away from attachments, it will be evident to us that a true alternative exists beyond those two warring gangs—the principle of reason, responsibility, and human cooperation without coercion. This principle, championed by some libertarian-minded individuals, is the necessary condition for a truly free and fulfilling life for each human being. Unfortunately, too many of us are entangled in the endless partisan bickering on the ground level over seemingly big wins for the small minds, some of whom stand to profit from depriving us of real choices that democracy is supposed to offer us.
Indeed, the vantage point on the top of a mountain enables us to see things more clearly and discover solutions in life that have always existed but unperceivable on the ground level. Let us be cautioned that we should not become attached to this very idea either, as we should not to other ideas.