Consider the Source. Or Better Still, Don’t.

Consider the Source. Or Better Still, Don’t.

I was once very open about my political beliefs.  I was also once a straight-ballot Republican.  Age and experience have changed both of those character flaws.  I think it is highly unlikely that I will dedicate any space on my blog to political discussion other than this:  I am a Libertarian (of the big “L” genus), and no, I don’t want to talk about it.

Not everyone is so averse to sharing their politics.  I find that the people who are least inhibited about sharing their political opinions are also the most closed-minded. Last night, I was looking for something in one of my Facebook postings, and I stumbled upon a conversation that reinforced this belief.

A few months ago, I engaged a Facebook friend via the comment section of an image I’d shared. About halfway into this discussion, I found my index finger hovering indecisively over Facebook’s “Block” option. I had posted a quote by Carl Sagan as a cover photo for my Facebook page. It was from the book of essays by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan called The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

 our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness . . .

The Full quote is:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness . . .

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark


The person with whom I was discussing this made it clear that the quote from Sagan was a philosophical non-starter for him, because Sagan was (in his words) a “huge lefty” (referring to Sagan’s politics and not his handedness). This led to a long (and frankly tiresome) dialogue about Sagan’s (and by implied extension, my friend’s) politics.

My response was:

I don’t live in a world where everything is colored by politics. Sometimes I post political quotes. Sometimes I post philosophical quotes. This was not a political statement; it was a lament on the darkening of human intellect by the closing of the mind. The superstitious man and the zealot rail against anything that throws light on the dark corners of their belief system; places they would rather fill with ghosts, demons and gods than with something new that challenges what they think they know about life, the universe and everything else.

I think you are allowing the phrase “consider the source” to cast too wide a net over new knowledge. People you disagree with politically CAN sometimes say important things. His philosophy is correct. How he formed his politics around that philosophy does not have to dictate how I form mine.


The last aspect of my response to him was the inspiration for this blog entry. I like learning things. In order to learn things, I have to read. Applying the adage “consider the source” as some sort of touchstone for assigning legitimacy to how we acquire knowledge is not unlike a starving man refusing to eat a salad because he can’t stand vegans. If something is true, then it is true no matter who is conveying it.  I believe the religious man can strengthen his faith by reading the works of rationalists, and that an atheist who refuses to read the Bible is just as hidebound as the zealot who refuses to read On The Origin of Species.

For anyone seeking further light and knowledge, “consider the source” is a form of preemptive book burning. It presumes that potentially offensive content is tainted and irredeemable, and (more offensively) that the recipient of any knowledge derived from that source is incapable of sifting through the chaff and finding the truth. It is an elegantly crafted insult and an insidious form of intellectual aspersion.

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