What's a Thinker to Do?

>> Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Based on the comments on my last post, most of the thinkers I know are disheartened by how much easier it is for the dumb but emotionally manipulative stories to gain traction than any amount of rational logical thought.

Experience argues they're right.

So, what's a thinker to do?

It would be nice to say, well, I can try to help people by educating them, encouraging people to think critically, to use their minds and discourage them to follow anyone blindly. And I will do that, even though I know that the ones most likely to listen don't really need me to tell them to think critically. Chances are, if they weren't the sort who did that, they wouldn't be frequenting my blog anyway.

The misinformation crowd has more outlets and more money, have people on staff who are experts in emotional manipulation. My reason and logic are drops in the bucket. Aren't they?

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
-Mahatma Gandhi
But then I think back to history and I find some hope. Not comfort, per se, but a light at the end of the tunnel, because those that do bad things, those that convince others to do the wrong thing with their emotional appeals and charisma - their reigns are short (even if the damage is acute). What's more, what's left behind after the smoke clears is smarter and less gullible. Freedoms, once provided, are there for the duration. Not so the oppression.

If there was no hope, we wouldn't understand the significance of Gandhi and King because they wouldn't have made a difference - but they did make a difference. It cost them, but they were successful without compromising their principles. It can happen.

In my opinion, this last (US presidential) election sends this same message. However one feels about the ideology of the two candidates last year, in many ways it was a battle between emotionalism and reason, negativity and hope, fear and hatred vs. compassion. And reason won. Whether Obama can follow through or not remains to be seen. That he's trying is encouraging for folks like me, even if some of what he's fighting involve the politics as usual from dems as much as republicans.

Admittedly, much of the reason we had a small victory is a direct result of who came before and the lessons we learned from that. But we learned. People can learn.
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall - think of it, always.
-Mahatma Gandhi
If you look at society today, for all it's problems, can compare it to the intolerance and disparity of times gone by, the religious persecution and selective freedoms, the opportunities for all, including minorities, the world is a better place.

If we didn't learn, if we couldn't learn, all of us, it wouldn't be.

It's not perfect. We've more growing and learning to do. We may never reach our potential...but we're closer to it than we used to be. That ought to mean something.

If we don't have as many scientists as we should, we have more than we used to. If we don't have as many deep thinkers as we should, we have more than we once did. Education is more widespread in this age than it ever has been before.
Truth alone will endure; all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time.
-Mahatma Gandhi
So, I'll stay here in my quiet corner, preaching to the choir, pointing out the nonsense when I see it, telling people my reasoning when I have it. I won't be silent. I won't be part of the problem.

If, over time, just a few minds open a little more, think a little harder as a result, the world is better off.

I won't believe it's hopeless. People are flawed, but I think they're mostly good, they want happiness for themselves and others. They can be misled, but not indefinitely.

Perhaps I'm wrong. But, if I am, I can't do anything to stop it. And if I'm right, I'm doing the best I can.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
-Mahatma Gandhi


  • The Mother

    I wish I believed, as you do. I'm older. I've been ranting for longer. I do agree that people change. I do agree that, in time, it will be better.

    I don't think it will happen in my lifetime.

    I do think that people will have to give up their superstitions to make this happen. I think they will have to give up their iron age religion to make it happen.

  • Stephanie B

    It rarely happens as quickly as we'd like. Sometimes, we seem to go backwards and that's very disheartening.

    But I think it's important, whether it's in my lifetime, my children's lifetime or even beyond that.

    If the world is even infinitesimally better for my actions, the effort is not in vain. Or so I believe.

  • Aron Sora

    I would like to share this (Tell me if I'm sharing too many links.) Your post reminded me of this article and I think it could give you some hope for humanity.

    The leaders will come if they are a good fit. The people who end up falling where not cut out for that job. A small, highly trained squad can wipe out a huge army of untrained, poorly armed soldiers. This is the right path, we are strengthen and building and modeling the people we need to reclaim the world from the unlogical forces which hold it. Those marketers who use fear and emotions and don't care about the people they are misleading are falling, the only companies do well in this economy are the ones based on truth.

  • Doctor Faustroll

    I'm not quite sure that reason won or even was present during the 2008 campaign.

    There was plenty of emotional horse exhaust on both sides and the response to the results were not particularly rational.

    I've always thought that people who vote shouldn't be blaming the rest of us for the problems they've brought on themselves. :-)

    Representative democracy has always been entertainment for the groundlings, pandering to the lowest common denominator, which is why Vonnegut's creation of Diana Moon Glampers as the Handicapper General in Harrison Bergeron always struck me as the description of an unassailable truth as valuable of Newton's laws of physics.

    American democracy in particular is the lowest of the low in framing the important discussions of our time, assuming such things exist. Take the current to-do about health care reform. Why has Obama not dared to mention Michael Moore's Sicko?

    Because this country is more consumed by creating and believing in big lies than in pure investigation into the wonders of life and universe.

    I believe in nothing and never have believed in anything, although I was brought up to believe and trained to believe every step along the way in my ludicrous life.

    Belief is the wall that political systems and civilizations build between their followers and the people they want to exclude. All discussion ceases when one side expresses a belief.

    Consider the continuing horse exhaust about whether Obama is an American citizen. Even a birth certificate can't dissuade a believer from embracing lunacy.

    When considering the interactions of idiots and the fabrications and leaders they believe in, I continue to cite Barbara Tuchman, who in the March of Folly says:

    "Woodenheadedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian's statement about Phillip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."

  • Shakespeare

    I think converting the masses is illogical--and impossible. Yet I'm a teacher--by my very nature, in my profession, and, like you, through my writing. And I teach, not because I believe I will overcome the hordes who cannot or will not think for themselves, but because every single semester, and with every piece of writing, and through every conversation I have, I affect others. I teach students to write in my classes, yes, but I also encourage and teach them to THINK. They broaden their thought processes, and I broaden mine, each semester. I am not reaching all of them--or even most of them--but if I have managed to reach a single student, my efforts have not been in vain.

    Many people likely come to your blog without commenting, Rocket Scientist, yet you have no idea, and will never know, the kernels of truth you have laid inside their minds, which will grow and have their effect as surely as you affect us active commenters every single day.

    No effort is wasted. I think you know that already, too.

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