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?

Hope Or Truth

In my post today over at Spec Faith, I’m asking questions about why dystopian fiction is so popular these days, especially among young adults.

There are some great comments. One of the things that’s come up is that dystopian fiction, even if it ends with an element of light, largely traffics in despair.

That got me to thinking about fiction as escapism and the large numbers of people who say they prefer to read stories with happy endings. Not everyone is in this camp, however.

And the dystopian stories, while encased in speculation, are built on a foundation of reality. Government is big and getting bigger, more evasive. Man is cruel and getting crueler, more aggressive. The planet is dirty, the resources are dwindling, the games are risky, the work is meaningless. And dystopian novels show these social and political realities. They can also show the place or absence of God.

So that brings up the question. Which is “better,” to read a story that offers hope (and encouragement as a side dish) or one that exposes the realities of the human condition, offering little more than a warning?

My early exposure to dystopian novels was via George Orwell (1984) and Aldus Huxley (Brave New World). These books are uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but they say something about mankind that needs to be said. Neither of them offers hope.

In 1984 the protagonist ends up betraying the woman he loves, and she, him as they are both integrated properly into society run by Big Brother. In Brave New World the protagonist is so disillusioned by the society he hoped in that he commits suicide in the end.

And here’s where the truth of those books falls short. Because hope exists. Not in this world. Not in government or hedonism or power or science — none of the things exposed in the novels. Hope lies in God alone.

Some readers who prefer happy-ending stories say that the hope shown in books like romances, however temporary, creates a longing for the permanent hope and joy Christ provides.

Others say such hope is false, a superficial sham that hides reality and covers over what ought to be exposed.

Tolkien, however, says that escape from what imprisons is a positive thing, to be encouraged. Hence “faery stories” are ideal because they raise the reader, ennoble him, infuse him not only with hope but the desire to do greater deeds, to be a better person.

Perhaps there’s a place for both. I, for one, am glad I read the dystopian stories I’ve read, and I’m even gladder that I’ve read a fair number of faery stories.

I can’t help but think, however, that Tolkien may have sold himself short. I think his Lord of the Rings trilogy was dystopian fantasy set in Middle Earth. Rather than having his protagonist fail, though, he had him fail and succeed. It’s part of Tolkien’s genius, perhaps, that he showed the world as it is and that he offered hope.

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