“Do we have free will, or do the mass media and our culture control us,
our desires and actions, from the moment we’re born.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, journalist
We create cultures, communities, and organizations in order to build common ways of thinking. We do this largely without being conscious of it. That is partly because we’re so sloppy in our language and disinterested in deep understanding. We end up clumping together in groups within which we roughly communicate. We have little skill or even desire to take responsibility for our ideas. We take little effort to evolve other people’s understanding.
Family to family, parent to child, partner to partner, we are satisfied with poor levels of understanding. Our general litmus test is whether we get what we want. We take shortcuts to get there. Reasons, arguments, explanations, understandings, and even our emotions work in service of getting our needs met. The more vaguely understood the means, the less explanation it requires, the more likely we are to rely on it.
What, then, is the purpose of thinking? We think for security, not for knowledge. And this is our Achilles’ Heel, our “monkey trap.”
A common dislike is often sufficient to support consensus among people and a justification for our actions. The more we can convince someone else that we love them, the less explaining we have to do; the more justified we are in our expectations.
Thinking is composed of thoughts built of feelings, images, and words. The way we connect thoughts differs in style between people. Each of us focuses on different details, but we also think along different lines. Some of us use reason, others use emotion. Some of us stitch together accepted themes without justification, simply because it’s what other people do.
These patchwork processes become our tools for understanding, expecting, and managing our environment. Most of the time, when we start from the same premises and agree on the same conclusions, we don’t consider how we think. We think in service of our emotions.
Compare dogs and people. Dogs are obviously thinking, but they’re not thinking like us. We communicate with dogs, but we don’t know what we communicate. If the dog comes, stops, or sits, then we don’t care what they think. It’s never clear if we’re really understood, but this is not a problem as long as the situation repeats itself. It’s not much different in our communications with other people. We don’t really know what other people are thinking.
Consider a couple on a Saturday morning. They begin the day with similar concerns. They diverge to socialize in different groups, thinking, talking, and doing separate things. If all works as intended, they are similarly satisfied, convene in the evening and share a meal, event, or conversation. Then they retire to some kind of physical or ritual reinforcement of their bond. It’s their behaviors that match, not their thoughts.
This is routine. There could be communication but it’s not necessary. As long as patterns repeat and expected results are obtained, there will be a parsimonious result.
On the other hand, if there is some underlying disquiet, a need that’s reached a point where it can no longer be ignored, then the whole routine fractures. Cracks appear between otherwise smooth connections and outcomes are no longer secure. Since little thought, examination, or even intention normally occurs, these fractures seem to appear from nowhere and for no reason. They may manifest as fears, miscommunication, physical or mental ill health.
“Conversion disorder begins with some stressor, trauma, or psychological distress. Usually the physical symptoms of the syndrome affect the senses or movement. Common symptoms include blindness, partial or total paralysis, inability to speak, deafness, numbness, difficulty swallowing, incontinence, balance problems, seizures, tremors, and difficulty walking.”
— Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_disorder
Big ideas are built on small islands of justification. Each of us is expected to “understand” certain conclusions. How we each arrive at these understandings is not clear. There usually is some ill-fitting explanation that we are taught in school or pick up in conversation.
Public health and decent behavior are big ideas we’re expected to understand. It’s assumed we’ll behave in similar ways. Similar enough to establish agreement in goals and means. We’re expected to recognize personal space, individual liberty, and shared responsibility for public order.
We’re not expected to act when something doesn’t work, such as when there’s an accident or a crime, but we are expected to appreciate what’s right and to aid in the general drift in that direction. We’re expected to pull over to let an ambulance go by and express dismay at unfortunate events.
Intentions are usually short-term. They motivate our strategies and provide us with a reason for the tactics that we choose. There are many different reasons and explanations for our intentions. This reflects our various circumstances, differences in our means and aims, and various ways of thinking.
There is rarely one unique way of thinking. In specialized areas we train people to think similarly and build conformity. There is general agreement on what constitutes a good weld and how to pilot an airplane. Thinking and judgement are involved, even a certain amount of creative thought, but the start and end points are known and fixed. Freedom of thought is limited.
In more general and less thoughtful areas there is not one way of thinking. This is okay because we’re not given the responsibility to create order in those areas. Highway safety depends on traffic laws and a limited amount of creative thinking is involved. A good driver drives according to the rules, not with creative thought.
In matters of love and war we need to think, but how successful are we? Our assumptions are no longer correct and our views of what is real no longer match. How can we even communicate when we don’t know what others are thinking?
We agree on our shared needs and that forms a basis for how we think. If two people agree they want to love each other, then they focus, marshal their resources, and apply themselves toward this end. If, in this process, it emerges that one cannot support the elements necessary for a loving structure, then a new problem will arise and new thinking will be required.
We agree on the goals of public health. When our collective health is threatened we presume certain ways of thinking. If the situation moves toward a crisis, more extreme measures are endorsed and more presumptions are made. If we don’t share the same thinking, we won’t have the same actions. In a crisis, differences become threats and new ideas become enemies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has broken the container of presumptions and expectations. Not only does the situation strain the consensus, but it invites opportunism that preys on our failures. The crisis opens the door for players that are not even part of the situation.
There is a membrane of understanding that protects us from predation, and when that membrane is breached all sorts of pathogenic possibilities attack us. The truth is ecological as these predatory thoughts exploit opportunities and weaknesses for the advantage of third parties.
Religions call it evil. Politicians call it injustice. Citizens call it criminal. Independent agents call it conspiracy. Corporations call it opportunity. Whatever you call it, the more likely truth is that it’s human behavior in the context of what we’ve created for ourselves. We are living the incipient failures that we created and bought into at an earlier time.
We like to think that we’re reasonable, and that we can rally support to protect our common interests. When we try to be reasonable in discussing vague subjects we find that other people barely make sense.
Making sense does not require being reasonable, and being reasonable does not require being logical. Most people don’t know the difference between deductive and inductive thinking. I often re-examine these myself.
Being deductive means using rules to connect causes, observations, or beliefs. The rules can be quite arbitrary and the beliefs can be irrational, but if you’ve got a system and you apply it without contradiction, then you’re being deductive. You might say, “All sheep are white because they carry the white-sheep gene.” Being deductive offers no assurance of being right.
Being inductive means you’re looking at situations and drawing conclusions from the specific to the general, you’re generalizing. You might say, “All sheep are white because all we’ve ever seen are white sheep.” Being inductive also offers no assurance of being right.
While being deductive is effortful, being inductive is effortless. We are inductive all the time. Induction underlies our identity and our reality and most of the time it works. We form our conclusions by flawed induction and justify them by flawed deduction.
Our thinking is held together by our emotions. Our emotions are what we feel about things, they are not our reactions or our impulses. There is a big difference between what we do reflexively and what we do emotionally, these are often confused.
Emotions underlie some of our reflexes but in many cases they simply correlate with them. We say that situations are the cause, but the real reason is what we feel.
Emotions can be thought of as a summary of experience packaged into a set of attitudes. They depend on perception and can appear or disappear as quickly as one’s perceptions change. Emotional changes can be instantaneous.
We can be led along certain lines of reason through argument, but arguments will not lead our emotions. Arguments may cause us agitation of we don’t like to argue, but the content of an argument will only trigger an emotion when it elicits memories or perceptions. Emotions don’t follow rules.
We have two kinds of integrity. We have integrity with what we believe and integrity with what we feel. Our beliefs are the set of our ideas and theories. We believe in these to varying extents. We have some allegiance with these constructions as long as they work. We have few attachments to ideas that don’t work.
We rarely violate our feelings. Conflicted feelings are the basis for all great storytelling, but when pressed to follow our feelings or our theories we choose feelings. When we can’t, because of some obligation, we get sick. Violating one’s feelings creates illness.
How we think supports what we feel. If we feel safe, we follow rules. If we feel happy without rules, the we think along other lines. This could mean we’re organic or creative and engage implausible, random, or chaotic ideas.
Looking at the social response to Covid-19 we can identify people by their style of thinking. Those that believe what they’re told would believe whatever they are told. To do otherwise frightens them.
Those who question what they’re told would behavior in a similar manner regardless. Coming to their own conclusions they will take various positions. Some will accept the approved narrative, others would subscribe to other means.
This does not mean there are only two ways forward. There is only one umbrella under which to comply, but there are as many forms of resistance as there are resisters.
Beyond each person’s preferred way of thinking, there are institutional forces preying on the public. In a corporatist political structure, where there are profits that can be made, industries move to make those profits. At this time various forces are allied with government to benefit from public fear and the compliance it generates.
A large segment of the population has shown itself willing to follow orders without question. We see corporations jostling for the right to add their agenda to the rules. It’s a profiteers dream. The current profiteers are pharmaceutical companies, the media, and cartels that can benefit from public health products, services, and mandates.
The clearest narratives have the most selling power. The public already believes in technology and the benevolence of authority. It has been easy to subvert scientific judgement because the public only knows science in the form of the edicts of various authorities. Essentially, the public doesn’t know science at all.
Individuals have the illusion they are discerning people. Unless you apply discerning criteria, you’re not discerning. Echoing the opinions of others, no matter how certified they are, is not thinking for yourself.
People who are too poorly informed to argue a position don’t have a position. They are followers of whomever provides their opinion. In our specialist society, we’ve been trained to follow those who claim to speak for specialists. In some cases, such as various mouthpiece organizations, they claim to be specialists. Unless you can trace results to data, you’re not being scientific. Few people even know what this means.
Those hocking science, mostly in the Mainstream Media, are violating the tenets of science. They’re doing this for profit. Mainstream media never adhered to truth and has always accepted the deception of the laudable consensus.
“The ‘Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic’ (April, 1954) as it is called has become a textbook case of collective delusion. Although natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.”
— Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_windshield_pitting_epidemic
Lacking a method of thinking, people follow external directions. They’ll do as their told, follow each other, and respond to their fears. Mass hysteria has its origins in fear and ignorance.
The Covid-19 situation is no longer a pandemic, it’s a social delusion. The delusion itself can be likened to a virus since it exploits social opportunities for the benefit of vested interests.
It’s not clear how the hysteria will play out, but blame for it is easy to assign to peoples’ limited ways of thinking. This begins with the educational system which discourages independent thinking at even the highest levels.
We might be inclined to blame the uneducated, but our institutional-based system discourages everyone from examining their beliefs. I made this point in front of a room full of scientists at MIT ten years ago in the presentation Sorcery for Scientists. The Covid-19 hysteria has become a kind of sorcery.
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