Cover by absurd.design
Throughout the history of humankind, it is not uncommon to see humans supporting each other in heinous acts. Some of us supported slavery. Some of us supported the Nazis. One might say that our predecessors were relatively uneducated, and that we have now learnt from the mistakes we've made. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
What would your position on slavery have been if it were still a norm today? You may think you would have bravely spoken out, and worked tirelessly against it. Robert P. George posed this exact question to his students at Princeton and their response was just that. Yet, how can you be so sure? Was there a single instance where you have supported an unpopular cause at a great personal cost? If you have not, the probability scales overwhelmingly tip to you supporting the slave system and happily benefitting from it. This is the unfortunate reality.
Now, I do not intend to encourage people to call out what seems to be wrong today. Quite the opposite, my intention is to demonstrate that we have once been wrong, and certainly we can be wrong again. Here's how Paul Graham put it in his essay Orthodox Privilege. "At every point in history, there were true things that would get you in terrible trouble to say. Is ours the first where this isn't so? What an amazing coincidence that would be."
Our time presents another set of issues. For instance, many people believe equity to be justice; many others believe it to be a form of discrimination. On the same token, many people believe abortion to be the moral right of a mother; many others believe it to be the robbery of a child's potential. (There are a gazillion other examples, and this was written in no particular order)
In issues like these, most people take sides quickly. The problem is, our human capacity for knowledge is limited. How can we say that what we believe to be true is indeed, true? Are these truths we support and fight for going to make the world better? What if our impact turns out to be harmful in proportion to our ignorance?
It is difficult to tell straight up what truths will produce an outcome that's best for humanity. Not without reviewing the consequences of our actions in hindsight. Even discussions and debates among our best thinkers have proven fruitless in the current scheme of things. But the one thing we can all do, is to each reduce the probability of ourselves being wrong. To achieve that, we must orient ourselves to seek the truth. Here's how:
You should seek the truth by attempting to learn and understand in an objective manner. Certainly, we cannot be truly objective. We are after all, human beings seeing from our highly subjective, narrow lens of experience and perception. But the carefully-pruned, honest truths of an independent mind are about as close as we can get to the reality of what is good. In other words, our truths can be closer to an objective good by educating ourselves.
While educating yourself, you must be aware of your cognitive biases. Here's one that's commonly at play. Our ingroup bias wires us to excessively support our group and oppose the other. Think, football fans who detest fans of the opposing team and are willing to go to great lengths to demonstrate it. Are your truths simply the mouthpiece of your ideological group? Are you a conformist who cannot think for him/herself and panders to groupthink?
Unfortunately, many people fit this bill. They see every issue through the lens of groups. You can only either be "an x-ist or a y-ist", and one of them deserves to be erased from existence. I can't help but think they are responsible for a lot of the trouble in the world. You can avoid this state of being by choosing to educate yourself.
This is the single most important step. Be open to hearing out the perspectives of others, and critically weigh your own truths.
The key: Your truths must be your own, as honestly as possible. If every truth coming out of your mouth mirrors one ideological group, there's a good chance you are terribly one-sided in your viewpoint. Do not be a conformist. There's two simple reasons why we must do this: One, our knowledge is severely limited. Two, good intention is not enough. Bad things can (and have) come from it.