“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
Human beings are, by nature, conflicted. As a species, we’re gifted with the ability to explore the universe, critically analyze problems, and develop solutions that improve our lives. Whether you believe these talents are the result of Divine Intervention or a lucky roll of the biochemical dice, we can all agree that it’s better to use them than to reject them.
At the same time, we harbor a number of urges and instincts that run counter to our intelligence and rationality. These include the drive to follow leaders blindly, reject new ideas, and react to any perceived threat with verbal and physical violence. In this way, we’re very much like the so-called “lower” animals, such as monkeys, dogs, and sheep.
Our basic instincts aren’t all bad, of course. They add flavor and excitement to our lives. The aroma of food, the sound of music, and the sight of someone physically attractive – all of these arouse us on primal levels. That’s a good thing, I’m inclined to think. I for one don’t want to be a robot.
It’s when our primitive drives cloud our ability to act rationally that the trouble starts. Give in to the smell of sizzling steaks or baking cookies too often and we end up morbidly obese. Surrender mindlessly to lust and we find ourselves in bad relationships or with nasty diseases. Listen to music too loudly and we destroy our hearing.
All of that’s bad enough; who wants to be fat, deaf, and screaming in pain every time they pee? Ever worse, however, is when we give in to instincts that make us divide up into tribes, squash dissent, believe lies, and attack people who aren’t like us. Those are the urges that get people killed and ruin our ability to function as a society. Yet there are many people who intentionally stir those drives up in others, in order to gain money, sex, votes, applause, book sales, radio listeners, etc.
I’m not referring to ad execs who figure out new ways to market CDs or seafood. I’m talking about merchants of ignorance, intolerance, and hate. They exist in all spheres of society, and among devotees of every political, religious, social, cultural, and economic belief system. There are clergy-people and scientists, celebrities and social commentators among their ranks. They use different buzz words and champion varying causes, but underneath their appeals to virtue and goodness lies the same goal: to control others.
Tragically, all too often their victims are co-conspirators in their plots. As the above quote from Thomas Edison shows, there’s something inherently seductive in allowing others to choose our thoughts, beliefs, and convictions for us. This prospect is especially tempting, when those doing so flatter our egos and applaud our prejudices. If we just take their bait, then we can have emotional security, a feeling of camaraderie, and a ready-made excuse to look down on others.
The problem is that, left unchecked, movements based on hate and extremism never end well. Yet those kinds of forces are running rampant in today’s world. Should they continue to grow, they may rip western society apart, and doom the great experiment known as democracy to utter failure.
The best way – indeed, the only way – to combat these movements is by having the courage to think clearly, unemotionally, and logically. But doing so is harder than it sounds. Quite often, bad ideas dress themselves up as sound, rational, unquestionable truths. Exposing them requires the courage to critically evaluate both the ideas of others and our own.
That’s what this blog is ultimately about. Whether you agree with the posts or not doesn’t to me as much as why you do so. The goal isn’t to persuade you that I’m right; it’s to challenge you to decide for yourself, based not on sentimentality or group pressure but on facts and good sense. If I accomplish that aim, then I will have made the world a better place.