The Open-Minded Bigot

A RECENT contributor to this Club has eloquently described the comforts of bigotry, and many who read the arguments against a too hospitable mind will sympathize with the writer’s point of view; for, doubtless, we have all tried the experiment of flinging wide the gates of our intelligence, only to admit the disorderly rabble of fads and fancies that come crowding into our minds, jostling the more dignified procession of legitimate ideas and beliefs.

This open-door policy certainly has its perils. During rush hours there is great danger that the more modest and quiet ideas which are seeking admission will be trampled to death by the lawless insurgents behind them. Only yesterday there was a serious casualty at the entrance to the mind of a friend of mine. A quiet, conservative little Dogma was just putting its foot over the threshold, when a horrid rough Heresy seized it by the throat, squeezed the life out of it, flung it away, and strode into my friend’s mind, — a squatter sovereign.

It goes without saying that the opposite course has its dangers also. Where there is a Scylla there is also a Charybdis, and the dread alternative of the frying pan is the fire. So even worse than the wide-open mind is the mind closed and locked, — barricaded with an unassailable conviction. Not all the tools of Modern Science — that miracle—working burglar — can prevail against the bolts and bars of Prejudice.

Is there no alternative between solitary confinement with one’s own opinions, and the communistic freedom which finds expression in a placard bearing the wholesale invitation “ Free to all ”? Can we not leave the doors of our minds a crack open so that we can peek out and exercise a discriminating hospitality? We all like to feel sure of a thing, only we get tired of feeling sure of the same old thing, and so we get wobbly and undecided, and that is worse than being prejudiced.

I have a recipe which, if followed conscientiously, will produce an open-minded bigot; and it will only be necessary to say that my advice is thoroughly immoral to make sure that it will at least be read, if not followed.

It is an excellent bit of mental gymnastics to change your conviction without changing your mind, — like the impersonator who, in the same garb, can become alternately Sarah Bernhardt and Theodore Roosevelt. Assume a conviction if you have it not; or if you have one, discard it and assume a different one. How tiresome is the guest who, when asked by his host with weapons suspended over the chicken, whether he prefers light or dark, weakly replies, “ Either.” For myself, having really no preference, I deliberately alternate my inclinations. On Monday I say “ light,” — and there is light, — on Tuesday my vote is definitely cast for chicken of a darker hue. At luncheon I own to a weakness for beef as rare as a day in June; at dinner I promptly reply, “ Well done, good and faithful servant,” when the butler respectfully offers me my choice. So my advice to those who wish to have convictions and yet keep an open mind is, on the intellectual plane, to go and do likewise.

It is not necessary to be all things to all men, but by being different things to different men at different times, one’s mind becomes active even if one’s morals get a little torpid. (In these days of specialties you must not expect treatment for your morals when you ask for mind-cure. Go to the heart-specialist around the corner.) According to my eclectic doctrine, you may with one man hold the views of a rank free-trader, and with another you may be a fierce protectionist. You may be by turns a Socialist and a Conservative, an Orthodox Christian and an heretical Hindoo. Who knows that you may not in time win the magic title of Pragmatist, — that name with which we all conjure, but which we cannot understand ? In order to know the arguments for so many irreconcilable doctrines you have to be open-minded. In order to stand up for your (temporary) conviction against so many cogent reasons you must be bigoted. Through constant practice of this intellectual gymnastic exercise you will become supple of spirit and subtle of soul, — a cold adversary, a warm advocate. In short, you will become that delightfully irresponsible anomaly, a mental contortionist, an open-minded bigot.