Reading Promiscuously with John Milton (The Secondhand Inspiration Project)
“Promiscuous reading is necessary to the constituting of human nature. The attempt to keep out evil doctrine by licensing is like the exploit of that gallant man who thought to keep out the crows by shutting the park gate.”
— John Milton
This quote is from John Milton’s anti-censorship piece Areopagitica. During the English Civil Wars, when having a wrong idea in your head could literally cost you your head, Milton argued fervently that the most effective way to thwart lies is not by censoring them, but by countering them with the truth.
Facts are mightier than fabrications. Falsehood can triumph through the suppression of opposing views, but in the long term, the truth usually prevails when there’s a free and open exchange of ideas that allows it to shine.
We are living in a time where social media hot takes, public outrage, and political posturing are often gift wrapped and passed off as the truth. Depending on what side of an issue we are on, we are provided plenty of articles that match our opinions, whether they’re ultimately right or wrong. It’s easy to mentally buy into these sources being right since they match your sentiments. But the truth is rarely so accessible, simple, and convenient.
I don’t have to explain the hazards of people blindly following the myths that politicians, media outlets, and crooks pass off as gospel. Synthetic truths can trigger society to become callous, flip neighbors to turn into enemies, and cause citizens to act like sheep.
So what’s the best way to counteract this persistent erosion and manipulation of reality? Keep searching for it, relentlessly. Read as much as you can. Question everything and then read some more. Don’t automatically take the first article that pops up on your Facebook feed at face value. Understand that the talking heads blathering away on news shows might be blending facts with opinions.
The only way to discover the truth is to read everything you can and assess the validity of the information yourself. This might mean reading or listening to opposing viewpoints objectively, which can often be surprisingly uncomfortable. Push through that discomfort in order to better understand the opposing side of every issue. This relentless search for the truth can help you discern facts from bullshit and transform you into an open-minded, adaptable member of society.
Read promiscuously just as Milton suggested. Don’t be afraid to relentlessly search for the truth. This may prove the most intellectual form of rebellion…and quite possibly the most effective.