• Ben Williams

Unthinkingness - when did Masons stop thinking for themselves?

Having been moderating our Facebook page for over five years now, I am constantly surprised by the vitriolic divisions enforced online.

This is shocking among a population as a whole – a population that seems unable to peaceably disagree and explore contrary opinions – but it’s downright unacceptable among Masons.

If you get bored one day, head to our Facebook page and explore some of the posts there. You can see the ones that are controversial by the sheer number of comments. I promise you won’t be uninterested.

One thing about these conversations (if you can call them that) is they’re memorialized. They remain. You can see one and then, a couple weeks later, another. It’s interesting to note how one side will take up arguments contrary to their own previous positions (arguments in fact made by the other side) when defending a contextual inference they happen to agree with, and then flip to the other side when attacking an inference they don’t agree with.

Each side sounds identical to the other; the arguments are completely contradictory to each other when the inference is removed – the only difference is the subject matter. Thus we see the same voice in two mouths.

Worst of all, most of these arguments are not novel. They don’t belong to the expositor, they don’t originate from any considered particular. They belong to someone else. These arguments are rehearsed, canned, and automatic. They’re hashed into the psychology of reinforced opinion, recycled, filled with pretense and self-entitlement, and then paraded out at an opportune time to frame the grandstand. The problem is not contrariness. The problem is lack of originality.

The most salient example of this is, not surprisingly, manifested in the topics of “politics” or “religion”. If a post is shared for interest’s sake, and not to endorse or espouse any particular opinion, people will readily see what they desire and grandstand opinions that are already frustrating them. A post about the influence of Baghdad in the dark ages somehow becomes an endorsement of Islam. A post of a man wearing a Masonic pin in the Whitehouse Pressroom suddenly becomes an endorsement of the current administration.

Grabbing hold, one side or the other jumps on the chance to decry “politics” or whatnot. Charges of unmasonic conduct are raised by all the opponents. Examples of exceptions to the rule; “not in tyled Lodge”, “the Green Dragon Tavern”, etc. etc.; emerge from the proponents. But then the arguments flip 180º when the positions are reversed. The irony of this – and the salience of such flim-flam inconsistency – underscores the emotionality driving discussion in the modern age: The lack of any considered, original thinking.

The Rocky Mountain Mason posts eclectically. We’re staunchly opposed to the political divide (believing that the left and right wings are just two appendages necessary to keep aloft the same beast). Thus we post things of interest, without consideration as to which “side” the post might be inferred to fall on (usually by its opposition). So there are remarkable examples of this flim-flam switcheroo on our feed. We’re variously attacked and extolled by Brethren on the “left” and the “right”, in almost identical fashion (even though its entirely self-contradictory) depending on who decides to oppose what.

Beside the obvious absurdity of such a situation, the question is begged: when did Masons become so incapable of reasoned discussion?

When did Masons stop thinking for themselves?

This is the great tragedy informing our modern membership decline – our membership has lost sight of the fact that Masonry teaches a way to think, never what to think. These days, the converse is all too evident: Don’t think for yourself! You should be thinking what I think you should think! (Which is of course an opinion I've had carefully prepared for me.)

This is one reason why we take the unpopular position that business should be conducted in Lodge. Motions need to be made, discussion needs to be facilitated in all due decorum, and the majority opinion should be allowed to carry the motion without malcontent so long as the minority opinion is allowed to be heard.

The problem with Lodge business, then, is not that it is boring and should be relegated to some separate “business” meeting. The problem with Lodge business is, Lodge’s don’t have relevant business to discuss.

Business is not the problem – the lack of meaningful business is. If your Lodge business is perfunctory and boring, the minutes uninteresting and redundant, then chances are your officers aren’t doing their jobs. By way of example, consider that in the latter nineteenth century Masonic Lodges floated bonds, built brick and mortar edifices downtown, and paid yields to the bondholders at maturity. Masons founded free education and established schools in their communities. Masons helped maintain separation of Church and state. Masons were active and involved in the administration of their communities.

Masons were the mayor and the magistrate. Masons attended their town council meetings. Masons summed their collective labors to manifest moment.

Great endeavors were undertook – where Masons were united (by respecting the majority opinion, yet always allowing the minority opinion(s) to be heard) there was seemingly nothing they could not accomplish.

Brethren, we need to resolve this sense of purpose. We need to put the Craft to work and give it proper instruction. That means encouraging freedom of thought and educating minds to analytically adjudge for themselves.

Today, division undercuts all purposeful intent. Fear of fomenting division constrains meaningful discussion. The narcissism inherent in maintaining the social media “bubble” makes all opinions hyper-personal and unreasonable. Every contrary opinion is taken as a personal attack. Every opponent is the sum of the proponent’s readymade opinions, defined in projection – not objection: the proponent is merely arguing with himself. He has already determined the opponent’s opinion before a counter has even been uttered.

The clear majority of argument lacks originality.

Where the opportunity for meaningful interlocution dies, there can be no opportunity to learn. When there is no opportunity to learn, there is no originality and opinions will be recycled and regurgitated, rote.

Masons are best employed in study and discussion to share novelty of contemplation: Contemplation that aggregates perceptions across membership and exceeds the sum of our parts.

Masons are best employed in the seven liberal arts and sciences – to enforce a way of thinking for themselves, to discover things anew – to see the world as if for the first time. It doesn’t matter if a discovery is not original in the world, it matters that the thinker came to the conclusion by himself – that he made the discovery. There is a great secret here. Regardless, that type of originality is what Masonic education is ultimately about.

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