The Case For Independent Thinking

press_conferenceIn the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, the province of Oceanian, operating under the direction of Big Brother, is perpetually at war with Eurasia or Eastasia. At any moment, however, the government could make peace with the enemy and declare war on the former ally.

The unique aspect of this reversal was that the government would alter history to appear as if they had always been friends with country X and had always been enemies of country Y. The public, then, who had been fervently opposed to Eastasia one day, became fervently opposed to Eurasia the next. No one seemed to notice that what they had believed to be true, what they had rallied to support, had been altered.

In essence, they did what they were told and believed what their government fed them.

This same kind of mindlessness is a trait in the dystopian Safe Lands society created by Jill Williamson in her novel Captives. There, two media personalities hold sway over the population, dictating fads and trends that change over night for no reason other than the whims of the celebrities.

Sadly, real life seems to be imitating fiction. More and more, celebrities are telling the public how to live and what to value while government is telling its citizens how to think and what to think, with the media creating the illusion that “this is the way everyone thinks” or “this is what is right.”

Smoking has been banned in many places (here in California, in most places); bicyclists must wear helmets and motorists, seat belts; infants must be in car seats; and all of us are now supposed to purchase health insurance. In some parts of our state, plastic grocery bags have been banned, and in New York, giant-sized soda was forbidden. All these rules and regulations are in place because government needs to do our thinking for us, apparently.

Further, the politically liberal faction accuses political conservatives of mindlessly following certain talk radio personalities who tell them what to think. On the other hand, here in California, the labor union bosses are known to tell their members exactly how to vote on every issue and for each candidate.

Worse, lobbyists now tell Congressmen how to vote on bills they haven’t read.

And no one seems to notice!

Every time the government passes some silly law, I think, do they seriously believe we can’t reason for ourselves? But then I hear people I know, educated people, parroting some kind of nonsense that’s circulated through a media source, and I slap my head. Are we so conditioned that we are losing our ability for independent thought?

I was raised in an era that taught school children how to recognize brainwashing. Now I see those same techniques coming out of the White House and state house and out of our TV commercials.

Apparently we have become a society of consumers, and every business, political entity, cause, or organization sees people as buyers to whom they must sell. “We need to sell people on the idea that . . . ” seems to have replaced, “This is the right thing to do.”

So here’s my plea for independent thinking:

1. It’s Biblical. Scripture says to test the spirits to see if they are from God or from false prophets. (1 John 4:1) Jesus said “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matt. 24:4) and Paul said, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). And those same Thessalonians were commended in Acts for “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Surely, thinking things out doesn’t stop with “spiritual things,” does it? Shouldn’t our whole lives be about integrating God and His word and way into all we do?

2. It’s necessary. On occasion when I was young, I’d try to talk my mom into something she’d forbidden by saying, everyone’s doing it. She wisely pointed out the weakness of that argument: if everyone jumps off a cliff, would you jump too? Eventually I got the point.

3. It’s wise. Doing anything without thinking is not wise. Letting someone else do your thinking for you is even less wise. This week I saw a segment of the program Lookout that featured a crook masquerading as a church financial investment counselor–or some such position. In fact, he bilked church people of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. How? People let someone else do their thinking for them.

4. It’s responsible. In theory children listen to their parents and do what they’re told. The adults in their lives know what’s best. However, at some point, it’s time to grow up. It’s time for those children to take charge of their own lives. If they simply trade off their parents for some other group or organization or “role model,” they haven’t truly grown up. Sure, adults are still influenced by others, but we alone bear the responsibility for our decisions. Anyone still mindlessly going along with the crowd or the political party or the way the culture is doing things is immature, not having learned yet to take on the responsibilities of an adult.

I’m sure there are other valid reasons we should cultivate independent thinking. What am I missing, or am I tilting after windmills?

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6 Comments

  1. Your list of where the government does the thinking for people undermines anything you might be trying to say. Smoking? People have been indoctrinated into thinking inhaling an addictive and harmful substance is ‘cool’, in order to the line the pockets of those who manufacture it. Thank goodness governments are intervening to redress this balance. The choice is still there for anyone who wants to smoke but the rest of us don’t have to choke our way around public places. Helmets for children, car seats? Seriously? Try scraping a child’s spattered head off the road because the parents thought they’d be fine for a little trip on the bike. Are you aware of the difference in infant mortality between countries with and without these regulations? Thank goodness governments are taking action based on evidence and are intervening to force us to provide important protection for our children. Every example you provide is something that makes our societies safer, more thoughtful and more responsible. If your complaint against your government comes down to these issues, you are advocating living in societies where we don’t respond to evidence, we don’t elect representatives to make decisions to improve our living conditions and we all spend our whole lives running around trying to work out how to protect ourselves and our children using the Bible (I’m Jesus would have been for the use of car seats and the responsible use of raw materials but he didn’t get round to mentioning these topics), ignoring current evidence and passing ignorance from one generation to the next because parents know best.

    You haven’t been trained to spot brainwashing, you’ve been brainwashed to be paranoid about progression.

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    • I’m surprised that you find this objectionable, violetwisp, since you’ve expressed in other conversations how we ought to teach and not punish. Granted, we were talking about children then, but why would you change your tactics? I’m saying, we should teach people about smoking, about safety on the road, about environmental issues, about good health practices. I don’t think government needs to parent adults.

      But you hit upon the real issue when you mentioned money. If the government was so conscientious as to be concerned about the health and welfare of its citizens, why hasn’t drinking been curbed? People ought not to be able to buy alcohol at a sporting event in order to prevent drunk driving. Or at a bar unless they could prove they were not driving. Restaurants should have a limit on how much alcohol they can sell, and so on. Instead, many areas are pushing to legalize yet another mind altering drug and many proponents do not hide the fact that they want a piece of the new, legalized “industry” they’d create via the taxes that could be engendered.

      See? Big brother is rather picky when it comes to what he wants to regulate, don’t you think?

      And progression? I’m guessing you think having the government tell us what we should and shouldn’t do is somehow progress. But who informs the men and women who make up government? They are just people too. So that makes you and me, what? People who aren’t quite smart enough to think things through as well as the lobbyists who are telling our Senators and Congressmen how to vote on bills they haven’t read.

      Honestly, violetwisp, I think better of you.

      Becky

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  2. Your posts are always rock solid, Becky, but this one was the best I’ve read yet (guess because I so whole-heartedly agree). You really nailed it.

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    • Thanks, Amber. I appreciate your support. Very encouraging.

      Becky

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  3. I’m with violetwisp on this one. This is a very muddy post. You mix up:

    1. what celebrities do that some emulate

    2. what governments can prevent us doing or require us to do

    3. what corporations trick or persuade us into doing.

    These are different things and often in conflict with each other. There is no single voice operating here. Different people are influenced by different things.

    One of the running themes of the BIble is that people don’t always do the right thing, even when they know what the right thing is.

    A couple of weeks ago our car was run into by a young woman P-plater who was on her mobile phone. Fortunately we took in on the tow-ball so most damage was to her front bumper. You often see people in American TV series taking phone calls while driving. Yet governments are now making laws to prevent this. This has educational value. It points out to people that driving and using a phone at the same time is not safe. Did we expect people to know this? Was it always obvious to the mature adult? Is our society made up of only mature adults?

    Some argue that “everyone is doing it”. So should we allow the damage to continue? Official regulations tend to come after the damage has become obvious. Celebrity/corporations are more likely to be up front starting the damage. Independent thinking helps sort these out.

    Some years ago a colleague from the USA came to Australia for a conference. Afterwards we spent some time together. We went to the beach and were walking on a rock ledge. I said, “Don’t walk on the black slime”, which I pointed out. The American gave me a violent look through slitted eyelids, as if he wanted to shoot me and dump my body in the sea. He walked on the black slime to demonstrate his Freedom and Independence of Thought. I could have pointed out that the slime was decaying seaweed covering an oyster bed. He slashed his feet and had to be carried off to a medical centre.

    I think this was the first time I realised that the American obsession with violent self assertion of their right to do whatever they want was actually sick, mad and illogical. What do you then do with people who think independently and come to different conclusions to you?

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    • There is no single voice operating here. Different people are influenced by different things.

      Ken, the “single voice” is the one that says, I have to go with the crowd, be that crowd set in motion by the government, celebrities, ad campaigns, or more recently by someone texting or tweeting about a flash mob. In my day it was the “everyone’s doing it” mentality.

      What I’m decrying is that no one seems to be teaching against this any more. In fact, government and corporations seem to have figured out how to exploit it and consequently want to keep the public ignorant and dependent. We’re not smart enough any more to park our cars or check behind us before backing up or turn on our headlights.

      Instead of teaching people–about force and velocity that comes into play when driving or about a dozen other things, and about listening to reason and trusting those in authority–we just pass more laws and create more “safe” products, as if that will take care of the problems.

      I was so frustrated some weeks back when a “flash mob” formed, with people eventually tromping onto the freeway. Traffic came to a screeching halt while the police formed a barrier to contain the mob’s movement. Meanwhile, a reporter, with people walking down the middle of the street behind her, said there had been no arrests and for the most part the demonstration had been law-abiding. Really? Does she not know what law-abiding means? Not arrests, but people who abide by the law! Last I read my driver’s manual, walking down the middle of the street was not law-abiding!

      And Ken, it’s not an American thing to assert our rights–it’s a human nature thing. What I’m advocating has nothing to do with asserting our rights. I’m talking about learning to think rather than waiting for someone to tell us what to think. I can almost guarantee you, if someone that person in your story held in high regard (his boss, for example) said not to walk there, he would have happily walked elsewhere, probably without a question. Instead, he displayed hubris, not independent thinking. He wasn’t thinking at all, just pridefully doing whatever he wanted to do. That’s not the same as independent thinking.

      Becky

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