15 February 2021

Independent thought

Strictly speaking, independent thought is the only kind of thought that exists, or can exist.  Thinking, in the true sense of the term, can happen only within the individual brain.  There are many activities, including some mental ones, that humans can do collectively, but thinking is not among them.

I would hate to be the kind of person who can be defined by words ending in "-ism" or "-ist".  Yes, I know, I've got six such words in my blog profile -- but they're there only to give a general impression of what I'm about, in a necessarily very brief space.  For each one of those words, there are areas where I differ substantially from some part of the phalanx of ideas generally associated with it.  (The exception is "atheist", but that word doesn't represent an ideology or idea-system at all -- it just means a person who doesn't believe in any god.)  In the case of some of the ideas most important to me, such as those expressed here and here, I don't think there even is any such one straightforward term that unambiguously refers to them.

It is odd and unfortunate that people so often say "I think" a thing when what they really mean is "I believe" that thing.  All too often, belief does not proceed from thought, but even serves as a barrier against it.

Here's a simple test to differentiate a blind follower from a thinking human:  Find out what politician or other leading figure the person most admires, then challenge him to give an example of some point on which he disagrees with that figure.  If he can't come up with even one, he's not thinking for himself.

The use of chants and slogans inspires me with a kind of horror because it represents a lapse into a subhuman state.  It constitutes a blanking-out of individual thought and judgment in favor of voluntary submission to a collective attitude.  This is very well illustrated by the recurrent bleating of "four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm.  Such slogans are not arguments.  They're hardly even assertions.  They're acts of self-hypnotism.

I don't believe regimentation and groupthink are natural to humans.  No one thinks of himself as a blind follower or takes pride in being one (well, other than the most fervent religionists).  But regimentation and groupthink are useful to those who control, or seek to control, other people.  Most cultures inculcate an unquestioning, even belligerent subservience to some kind of orthodoxy in any number of ways, and do so mainly in childhood -- think religious catechisms, the pledge of allegiance, the way adult reactions demonstrate to children which ideas and people are to be approved or disdained.  The fact that today more and more people question or reject such traditions is a sign of human awakening.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Correct. Totally agree.
What scares me, though, about the MAGAts is that reticence to accept that they don't think, they BELIEVE. Which is not surprising, taking into account the number of Talibangelicas who are, indeed MAGAts.
Not that it's relegated to the stupid, only, but that brand of 'thought' is usually more prevalent with the unwashed masses that espouse the GQP doctrine.


15 February, 2021 16:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chanting - has always been a distressing element of the numerous protests I have attended over the decades. It contributes nothing and is always led by people who, for me, have an agenda more to do with themselves than the subject of the protest.

15 February, 2021 17:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Methinks your delineation here between “think” and “believe” rather modern and erroneous. The etymology of either term reveals neither started with any basis in reasoning. The modern associations are not as ‘they seem’ to be, I ‘think’, and “that word you keep using... I do not think it means what The Princess Bride says it means...”

16 February, 2021 03:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because millions of people believe the same thing does not mean they did not use their own thought process to come to that same determination. What they read, see, or hear is part of an individuals decision process. Mob mentality, or group think is real. Some people have weak minds, but all people who learn are using their minds to the best of their ability. Using misinformation (lies) to make a decision doesn't mean the person gave no thought to their decision, but it does mean they will come to a wrong conclusion. Many of Trump followers are not just backwards, bigoted, hillbillies. Many are highly educated, professional, intelligent (as measured by society norms)people and are not just brainwashed, robotic idiots. It is possible that independent thinking people come to opposite decisions on the same issue. To think that people who come to a different conclusion than you on an issue, or idea are lacking in their independent thought processes is rather close minded on your part.

16 February, 2021 09:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Thanks. I've always thought that the irrationality and blind belief of religion open the way to other forms of irrationality and blind belief.

Anon 1: It's a disturbing practice, and part of the reason I long ago stopped going to mass demonstrations, even for causes I agree with.

Anon 2: I'm talking about the present-day meanings of the words. Lots of words have etymologies or past meanings which are at odds with the modern meanings, but the modern meanings are what they are.

16 February, 2021 15:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon 3: You're confused. I never said that everyone who disagrees with me is not an independent thinker, nor did I even mention politics or Trump supporters. You're reacting to stuff in your own head, not to what I wrote.

16 February, 2021 15:38  
Anonymous Annie said...

I continually appreciate your optimism. I do have a question, though. While you have chosen not to go to mass demonstrations (and I understand that sentiment, as I’ve been at a couple where the surrender of one’s will seemed expected, which was scary). However, non-violent protest has proven effective in ultimately persuading the powers that be to grant individuals within groups greater freedom to express their individuality. So do you value such efforts—even though you won’t participate?

16 February, 2021 20:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Annie: I don't oppose such efforts -- they're a legitimate form of free expression. However, I question whether they are really still as effective as they were a few decades ago. The Women's Marches in 2017, for example, were massive in size, but I can't see that they actually had any impact at all, other than on the morale of the participants. What minds or policies did they change? And the potential downside is huge -- such demonstrations can turn violent, or a minority among the participants can do so, alienating public opinion. There's some evidence that people opposed to the Black Lives Matter agenda have actually infiltrated their protests with the aim of committing vandalism in order to discredit them. It's a potentially effective tactic, and very difficult to guard against. And I worry that participation in such protests, because it uses up a lot of energy, creates an illusory feeling of taking effective action and distracts people from taking part in the actual political process.

Ironically, such mass protests seem to be more effective in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. The huge 2009 protests in Iran (the largest protest marches in history, anywhere in the world) did succeed in scaring the regime into refraining from blatantly stealing the 2013 presidential election, allowing the reformist Rouhani to come to power. But that happened because the regime was genuinely intimidated, and such intimidation was widely accepted as a legitimate tactic because everyone in the country, including the regime itself, knew that the regime did not represent the real will of the people. In a Western democracy, the state is generally too strong to be intimidated, and efforts to do so will never be widely accepted because the government, having been freely elected, does have democratic legitimacy.

17 February, 2021 00:37  
Blogger Annie Asks You said...

There are a number of women who decided to run for office as a result of their participation in the women’s marches of 2017–and the marches served as loci for gathering signatures for other political campaigns as well. They may have been a significant factor in the Democrats’ winning the House handily in 2018. But that does raise the question of what happened in 2020: one would think there would have been a massive House win.

I share your concern about demonstrations in today’s climate. The insurrectionists are seeking any opportunity to start what they hope will be a civil war. It’s terrible to think that peaceful demonstrators must now weigh whether exercising their First Amendment rights in the good old USA might be fatal.

17 February, 2021 13:02  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

they dont think

17 February, 2021 13:15  
Blogger CAS said...

You've been slowly convincing me that mankind is evolving for the better, but at the same time, there are more and more places vying for our attention and rewarding us after only a few seconds of consideration. It's hard to develop a set of personally curated beliefs in such an environment.

By the way, I relish the poem you linked to above. Seriously, this should be distributed by literary publications.

19 February, 2021 12:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Annie: That's interesting, and a possible effect I hadn't thought of. I do wonder if people who were that engaged would have ended up running for office anyway, but of course one can't know.

I'm even less inclined to go anywhere near a demonstration of any kind these days. One has to worry not only about violence from people among one's own, but an armed attack by the enemy, given their delusional and apocalyptic mentality these days.

JackieSue: A lot of them don't.

Carol: I hope that education and the sheer variety of conflicting ideas being presented will help people be more independent. Certainly there's less herd-think in the total population than, say, five hundred years ago.

Thanks again for your kind words about the poem!

19 February, 2021 15:38  

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