Thursday, January 12, 2006

Independent Thought

Are your thoughts really your own? I was thinking the other day just how hard it really is to achieve independent thought in this country. People can walk around in entire ideological bubbles of their own creation by choosing to only read/watch/listen to media that doesn't offend their ideology. ("I can't watch Channel 'Foo', it's from those libberools,", or "I can't read newspaper X, it's owned by evil conservative so-and-so". Or worse, reject whole networks because, omigosh, they have a nationalist bent that's not American - think Al-Jazeera. Nevermind if they actually know anything about Al-Jazeera besides what an AMERICAN network told them.) Even if they happen to bump into memes/facts that directly contradict their ideology, they will usually reject them outright.

I don't discount myself from this. I'm not above the fray. For years, I considered myself a Libertarian (even paying dues) and generally thought most of their ideology to be of sound mind, and applicable to most problems. The problem with ideology of any stripe is that you won't tend to follow the facts - you'll only start with a conclusion, and find the facts that lead you to the foregone conclusion. That's not really thinking - that's more of a reflex[0]. It's really hard to practice independent thought on a day to day basis.

I've been reading a lot the past 3.5 years - one of the most interesting people I've read during that time happens to be Robert Anton Wilson, who is a highly unusual guy. He's known first and foremost for the Illuminatus! Trilogy, but if that's all you ever read of him, you're missing out. He lays out these two rules of thumb that are really quite funny and yet enlightening:

1. Never believe anyone's BS*.
2. Never believe your own BS*.

*BS = Belief System.

This is one especially for you conservative talk radio fans, but also you Air America fans. Us former Liberarians, too.

He talks about deliberately going out and subbing to something in direct contradiction to your worldview or "reality tunnel". So if you are a liberal, sub to National Review. If you are a conservative, sub to The Nation. I found myself listening to Rush Limbaugh-esque Jim Quinn years before I read any RAW. I also drop in on The Savage Nation and Laura Ingraham and Air America from time to time even though I don't strictly hold any of their worldviews as my own. As I read more lately, I find Laura and Savage unintentionally much funnier than I did before, but I still try to give it a chance.

The right wing talk shows rarely give much context to world events, and aren't really up for much of a nuanced argument. Air America, as might be expected, do give a bit more context and nuance at times, but they often degenerate into shout shows just as much as the far right shows. Both of them seem to do a bang-up job of cherry-picking facts to support their Belief System (BS).

[0] Of course, there is the theory that the neo-cortex is just there to rationalize the wants of the reptile brain and the mammalian brain, so it sorta makes sense. We are just domesticated primates who generally forget that, afer all. :)

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