On (not) thinking

For some, thinking is way over-rated, but for many, thinking is what keeps us (out) of trouble. The problem with thinking is clear: the thinker must constantly be examining the moral and ethical problems that assault them on daily, if not hourly, basis. One must always weigh the pro’s and con’s of any particular decision and not blindly follow the orders of those who would make you act badly. This last sentence seems simple enough and most people who agree with it, but following its tenant, that all actions have moral and ethical implications in a wider world, is more difficult than that. How often have we made a stupid mistake, said something foolish, done something idiotic, and said, “What was I thinking?!” You cut yourself will cooking because you were too lazy to get the appropriate knife. The answer to that particular question only too often is, “I wasn’t thinking at all.” This is the problem: thinking takes work, so it necessarily violates my number one rule about human beings: we are lazy to the core. We would rather lie on the sofa eating potato chips and drinking beer and watch reruns of “Friends” than do any actual work of any kind–of any kind at all. Often, it is easier to let others do our thinking for us, but this is problematic for a couple of reasons not the least of which is the question of self-interest, and we don’t ask ourselves a basic question: why does this person want me to adopt their position on any given position? Are my interests exactly the same as the person who is trying to persuade me? More often than not, the answer is “no,” but for many people the work of thinking is just too unbearable, to difficult to do, too complicated. I am often amazed by people who claim to follow a political party without really understanding all of the tenants that such a party might adopt. Yet, this is just a small part of the not thinking problem. Most problems that people face on a daily basis are usually much more complex than they think. In fact, most problems–abortion, immigration, tax reform, gay rights, large government, religious freedom, death penalty, gun rights, free speech–are extremely complex, have multiple sides to each argument, cannot be simplified or reduced in a way that makes them understandable or simple. Complexity, then, is what makes thinking so difficult. Some people resort to a maniqueistic or reductive method of viewing the world which divides everything into a black and white, this is wrong, this okay, world, but the problem with that is that very few ethical problems are that simple. The moment you decide to think about something, you assume an ethical responsibility for it, which forces you to become a part of the solution, which is perhaps a good thing. What thinking will do for you is help create a series of cognitive dissonances that will make your life that much tougher. You will be forced to look at real problems, such as childhood hunger in classrooms, and wonder why our politicians live so high on the hog, but they cannot solve the problem of hungry children. Thinking may also lead you to think that this is a problem that must be solved some other way, leaving politicians out of the loop. Of course, you could also adopt a laissez faire attitude about thinking and turn on the television to watch mindless reruns of mindless shows that would have been better off never having been made in the first place. Thinking is always a choice, an uncomfortable one, but a choice. You can let the talking heads on television fill your mind with hate and venom toward your fellow man, or you might read a book, write a poem, sing a new song, design a new piece of cloth, bake cookies, paint a picture, build a new piece of furniture, plant a garden, clean out the garage, fix a broken switch, or do anything that requires a modicum of thinking. If you think, critically is helpful, and don’t let yourself fall into a passive vegetative state of non-thinking, you may not be happier, but you will be more active in whatever you do. Thinking is not for the weak of heart, or for the followers, but everyone can do it.