Her final chapters were great. Two had to do with how we sometimes hold on to beliefs so tightly, they become part of our identity. This is especially true of religious and political beliefs. Here's an excerpt from the "How Beliefs Become Identities" chapter.
The problem with our tendency to turn beliefs into identities isn't that it pits us against each other. At least, that's not the problem I'm concerned with here. (Getting along with each other is important, too -- it's just outside the scope of this book.)
The problem with identity is that it wrecks your ability to think clearly. Identifying with a belief makes you feel like you have to be ready to defend it, which motivates you to focus your attention on collecting evidence in its favor. Identity makes you reflexively reject arguments that feel like attacks on you or the status of your group.
So the best thing to do is to hold our identity lightly.
Holding an identity lightly means thinking of it in a matter-of-fact way, rather than as a central source of pride and meaning in your life. It's a description, not a flag to be waved proudly.
...Holding an identity lightly means treating that identity as contingent, saying to yourself, "I'm a liberal, for as long as it continues to seem to me that liberalism is just." Or "I'm a feminist, but I would abandon the movement if for some reason I came to believe it was causing net harm."
It means maintaining a sense of your own beliefs and values, independent of the tribe's beliefs and values, and acknowledging -- at least in the privacy of your own head -- the places where those two things diverge.
But it can be difficult to let go of a religious or political identity that's been an important part of our life. I experienced this when, after 35 years of being an active member of an India-based religious organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), I realized that the RSSB teachings no longer made sense to me.
That realization wasn't a big blow to my identity because I valued truth more than my connections to RSSB. Thus I felt good about myself because I knew that the reason I left RSSB was that the teachings I'd followed for so long didn't strike me as being true any more.
This commitment to truth is the key to embracing a scout mindset aimed at knowing reality as it is rather than as we'd like it to be -- which leads to a soldier mindset aimed at defending our beliefs at all costs. Here's how Galef ends her "A Scout Identity" chapter.
I found the concluding anecdote very appealing.
Personally, I find all those facets of scout mindset inspiring -- the willingness to prioritize impact over identity; the confidence to be unconfident; the courage to face reality.
But if I were to name one single facet I find most inspiring, it's the idea of being intellectually honorable: wanting the truth to win out, and putting that principle above your own ego.
The example of intellectual honor I find myself thinking about most often is a story related by Richard Dawkins from his years as a student in the geology department at Oxford. At the time, there was a major controversy in biology over a cellular structure called the Golgi apparatus -- was it real or an illusion created by our observational methods?
One day, a young visiting scholar from the United States came to the department and gave a talk in which he presented new and compelling evidence that the Golgi apparatus was, in fact, real.
Sitting in the audience of that talk was one of Oxford's most respected zoologists, an elderly professor who was known for his position that the Golgi apparatus was illusory. So of course, throughout the talk, everyone was stealing glances at the professor, wondering: How's he taking this? What's he going to say?
At the end of the talk, the elderly Oxford professor rose from his seat, walked up to the front of the lecture hall, and reached out to shake hands with the visiting scholar, saying, "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years."
The lecture hall burst into applause.
Dawkins says, "The memory of this incident still brings a lump to my throat." It brings a lump to my throat, too, every time I retell that story. That's the kind of person I want to be -- and that's often enough to inspire me to choose scout mindset, even when the temptations of solider mindset are strong.