We shall succeed only so far as we continue that most distasteful of all
activity, the intolerable labor of thought.
– Learned Hand, jurist (1872-1961)
Hand’s statement seems like a backhanded universal condemnation of humanity. The hope he offers of success for humanity seems dim, at best.
We are, indeed, surrounded by people who don’t think. They have brain activity, but that is usually the means by which they rationalize their agreement with the dominant authority who provides them with the thoughts they absorb and believe. They don’t actually think anything much for themselves.
Why, if humans are among the most successful species on the planet (we live and survive everywhere we can find food), how could so many of us lack the power to think or give up the ability to think for ourselves? That ability to think allowed us to survive where hundreds and thousands of other species went extinct.
The answer is: we assiduously teach ourselves to avoid thinking. Commercials and other advertising teach us that we don’t need to choose among the many brands of detergents, fashion brands and toothpaste, we only need to choose the brand with the most effective advertising. The best advertising trains us best so we don’t have to think about it.
Our media teach us what to think and believe about politics. There is no such thing as a major media network that does not have a political agenda and party it supports more than the others. They claim neutrality, but practise something quite the opposite.We tend to support the party and its candidates that the media we pay attention to advocate.
Within offices we have unwritten guidelines about what’s right and what’s stylish to wear. It’s unusual in a factory lunchroom to find one person who regularly disagrees with the political stance of the majority. Workers may support different sports teams, but they enjoy the camaraderie and competition of challenging “their” team against those of others of their co-workers.
In schools, as children, often the lesson most consistently taught is to be quiet when others are talking, during a video presentation or at certain other times. While this behaviour is both courteous and a means of learning, it also teaches children that their thoughts and ideas and concepts they may devise are not worthy of airing or of consideration.
Opportunities to express and have accepted their own thoughts are few in some cases non-existent in the classroom. Without those opportunities to express themselves in a receptive environment, kids learn to avoid thinking because they have nowhere to speak up.
That’s thorough teaching, socialization and training. We teach people that they don’t need to think because others will always be prepared to do their thinking for them. Isn’t the teacher or parent always right, at least to themselves?
To a great extent, this practice has worth. Every society in the world has values and beliefs it holds dear and these must be taught to every child and adult so that chaos does not ensue with people robbing each other, killing each other, raping or cheating each other. We need conformity to some extent.
What we don’t need is the thorough lack of thought that so many people give to their lives. A simple example: at gift-giving time (such as Christmas) do we give a child the gift he or she wants or do we consider what gift would best help the child through the next phase of his or her life? That is, do we give a play gift or a learning gift?
In most cases, the gift will be what will satisfy the child. Toys and electronic games break so easily or get cast aside so quickly because the fun but meaningless gifts do not provide what kids naturally know they must have, preparation for their lives as adults. They inherently know what they need, but they ask for the toys they have learned to want from advertising and peer influence.
They have about 20 years to learn how to be competent and knowledgeable adults. By age 20, most young adults know how they should act, what they should do, how they should think. Each of the “shoulds” in the previous sentence results from repeated training: don’t think about this, just do it.
Is thinking such hard work? Very much so. For someone of middle age who has done little of it, thinking independently may be virtually impossible. They don’t know what to do to engage the gears required to think. They may literally lack the neural pathways to think beyond the surface level of any subject. They get used to learning from others what and how they should “think.” They believe what they’re told they should think.
Thinking requires about 33 percent as much energy as heavy lifting. The difference is that thinking can continue for an extended period of time, whereas heavy lifting usually takes place for a brief period of time. Over a one hour period, one person thinking can burn many times more calories than someone doing the average construction job, for example.
What happens from years of brain atrophy? Senility, for one. Senility results from long term lack of use of the brain. Senility is totally preventable. Just think.
Health professionals advise now that people should find many activities that will engage their brains to get them thinking as they get older. It’s a way to greatly reduce, if not totally eliminate, the risk of Alzheimer’s. Just as grass doesn’t grow on a busy street, the lesions of Alzheimer’s may not grow in a busy brain.
Whoda thought? Not nearly enough of us, judging by the increasing numbers of people dying from Alzheimer’s. If you want more evidence, walk down the halls of many nursing homes where patients are left in the halls: watching people walk back and forth along their passageway is the most stimulation the brains of many of them get. There is no brain activity to speak of behind those hollow eyes.
Learned Hand said that “we shall succeed only…” He should have said “we shall survive only…” As individuals and as a species.
The world does not need a flood of more stupid old people to support. Let’s make some changes.
Start with yourself. Being a reader, you are not likely to suffer from senility or Alzheimer’s, but you know people who will. Maybe you can motivate them to change. Think about it.
Some of the most brilliant thoughts these days are coming from elderly people who have recently learned to think for themselves. One thing we could do is to give them a forum to be heard.
Remember, they have been taught since childhood that their thoughts are not worthy and they will not be heard. They need you to listen to them. And maybe to find others who will pay attention as well.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children who can think, instead of socially acceptable automatons who do and think what they are told for their entire lives.
Learn more at http://billallin.com