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Yet both have proven themselves perfectly capable of brilliant, rigorous examination of ideas.
The truth is that their Great Books aren't perfect, and their faith-based works aren't stupid, just under-questioned. And their critics are susceptible to all the same flaws.
What can we do, then, if we want to learn as much as we can, yet haven't lifetime enough to become experts in every field?
First, don't put your faith in any individual writer or thinker – just because Machiavelli or Nietzsche or Kant is right or wise or illuminating about this doesn't mean he's right about everything.
Instead, read widely. As you read many views, you'll begin to build up your own world view – one that will have its own flaws, of course, but one which you constantly correct by checking it against more and more sources.
But all of this is worthless if you don't also think deeply. Analyze. Question everything, but don't ever get confused and think that your questions are answers, that your doubts are facts. Everything can be questioned – so what?
It always comes down to causality, and that's the one unknowable thing. Why are things the way they are? Nothing ever has just one cause; nothing ever has just one result. No answer is final.
Even in matters of faith, your own individual understanding grows and changes through the same process. Regardless of your faith, it profits from analysis and exploration, questioning and rethinking.
Truth is truth: things as they were, are and will be, regardless of observation and explanation.
But our understanding of truth, though never even close to perfect, can get better and better.
And the happy result is that the better our understanding, the better our ability to make sense of the world around us and make successful predictions and preparations and decisions.
At worst, it allows us to bear misfortune and disaster, not stoically, but with a sense of perspective. Not the mantra "this too shall pass," but the knowledge of how these events fit within the many currents of life and time.
Nothing is more productive of better understanding than to watch the wise argue with the wise, the well-informed with the well-informed, and then to think and analyze and compare their views with your own experiences and conclusions.
But the more you know, the less patient you are with the under-informed, the ideologue, the demagogue. I tune out, for instance, the pointless arguments about gun control, because each side sustains its arguments only by ignoring the arguments of the other: people with blindfolds shouting at each other over which way to turn at a nonexistent crossroads.
They miss the point that on this, as so many issues, cultures and polities are free to choose, and then live with the consequences of their choices; and that there is no choice without negative as well as positive consequences.
This doesn't mean that the choice doesn't matter. Civilizations really do destroy themselves by their choices – just not the ones Diamond thinks.
I think of how the Brits argued about whether King Edward VIII could marry a divorced woman – while their own government was allowing Hitler to break treaties and prepare for the war the would kill millions and millions of people.
People are so easily distracted. So easily fooled. And I don't mean other people – I mean everybody. We're all blind about something; about many things.
All we can do is try to see whatever we can think of to see, and then share our vision with others as best we can.
And, collectively, over the long haul, pointing out pitfalls to each other, taking each other by the hand, maybe we can muddle through for another generation.