It is easy to passively accept widespread beliefs under the umbrella of "common knowledge." We believe these things because everyone does, so someone, somewhere must have done their research. It is seemingly quicker to accept something for instance, that recycling is a consequence-free solution to environmental problems than to go online and look up the facts ourselves.
If one did look up the facts about recycling, however, this is what one would find. Single-sort recycling, like the kind we have here at Dartmouth, actually decreases recycling plant productivity. Through single-stream, the purity of recycled materials is decreased, which means more of what we recycle eventually goes into a landfill. Furthermore, recycling is still a manufacturing process and impacts the environment like any other. Recycling plants change the nature of pollution and sometimes actually increase it. Clearly, as a whole, recycling is not the faultless knight that much of society accepts it to be.
I am no environmental expert. I spent five minutes on Google, searched "recycling pros and cons" and read some of what came up. I do not claim to know the intricacies of the environmental impact of recycling. I will, however, claim that I know more now than I did five minutes ago and that my opinions have some evidence to back them up. There is rarely any harm in research that overpowers the damage that ignorance brings.
Why do you believe what you believe? This is not a question that refers only to spirituality and ethics, though doubt and questioning should most certainly be applied there. Thorough skepticism is frequently kept within the realms of philosophy and theology, dealing primarily with obtuse questions of existence itself. While it does make for great conversation, these existentialist endeavors have little practical use in the dullness of our daily lives. However, those concepts can and should be applied to the world around us. Instead of doubting the very existence of our hands and minds, doubt advertising and politicians. Doubt what your mother told you were unimpeachable truths, doubt what you believe solely because you believe it.
Through questioning and research, beliefs become informed, intentional and strong. Ignorance, on the contrary, can cause you to unknowingly aid abuse and corruption. Thus, it is necessary to possess informed beliefs about everything we can. If you vote for a politician, ask yourself why. Research his policies, his speeches, his voting record give your belief evidential support. Otherwise, it means little to nothing.
Passive acquiescence thus harms society because it perpetuates falsities within both our collective systems and our individual selves. Uninformed actions can assist government corruption (know for whom you are voting), corporate greed (know where your money is going) and the systematic abuse of human rights (because the politicians for whom we vote and the corporations from which we buy sometimes engage in very questionable activities).
These kinds of unintentionally damaging actions are usually driven by apathy, which by its very nature does not care if it brings harm. That is what apathy is a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Granted, a certain degree of apathy is necessary to function, as otherwise society would stop. Everyone would constantly be pained because of the vastness of human suffering in the world, immobilized by a feeling of helplessness and grief. But that necessary degree of apathy should be exactly that ? a degree. Yet for many people, it is a ubiquitous aspect of their lives. Apathy and laziness go hand in hand, after all, and it is so much easier to be lazy.
Yet, the time saved through intellectual laziness is negligible; the knowledge it brings, incalculable. When push comes to shove, empathy and knowledge always trump apathy and ignorance.
Recycling plastic may use more energy than it is actually worth. American Apparel's chief executive officer has been accused of routinely engaging in horrific employee abuse. Acupuncture fails under scientific rigor to produce anything more than the placebo effect. Urban Outfitters, that bastion of liberal aesthetics, has a staunchly conservative founder and has been accused of stealing designs from independent artists. Saintly figures like Mother Teresa and historical heroes like Abraham Lincoln are decidedly not perfect and never were.
Don't believe me? Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn't. Do your research.