AVALLONE: Whatever Happened To Independent Thinking?

Editor’s Note: A guest post by conservative newspaper columnist, business owner, attorney, husband, and father from Shreveport, Louisiana Louis Avallone.

What ever happened to independent thinking? Or original ideas? When did we stop thinking for ourselves and start letting someone else do our thinking for us?

We are all equals, by right of our birth, and yet so many people, all over the world, are controlled by such a small number of others. Why is it that?

Well, it’s the same reason you didn’t speak up in that meeting when you had a different opinion than the rest, simply because you did not want to appear unsupportive of the group’s efforts. It’s the same reason that the NASA engineers for the Challenger space shuttle pushed ahead with the launch in 1986, even though they knew about faulty parts before lift-off and didn’t want the negative press coverage of their team.

Or when senior military officers at Pearl Harbor ignored warnings from Washington, DC about an invasion in 1941, despite the fact numerous Japanese messages had been intercepted indicating otherwise, because the military brass at Pearl Harbor had already decided against preparing for an attack, believing such was unlikely.

But you see, the ability to steer your life means learning to THINK for yourself, and for too many, the need to BELONG takes precedence, instead. This need to belong can override nearly every rational thought we have because folks in a group are more concerned about maintaining unity, than expressing critical thought, or evaluating the best choices, in any given situation.

Independent thinkers, however, don’t have the same desire to BELONG. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Einstein, Picasso, Galileo – none of them concerned themselves with conforming to popular culture or conventional wisdom. To the contrary, they had a remarkable tendency to explore and find their own meaning in life.

This is easier said, than done, of course.

Learning to think for yourself may mean that you have to turn your back on beliefs you have held dearly, since childhood. It also means that you may be alone and isolated in your opinions, and our culture makes being the “lone man out” very difficult.

I mean, how many in Washington even remember what they believe anymore, when it seems so many just want to “go along to get along,” rather than express any independent thinking, at all.

This is known as “groupthink” and it’s paralyzing our country. A Yale psychologist coined this phrase in 1972. He said you could spot it whenever the “desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion.” It’s like when Nancy Pelosi said the non-sensical phrase, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” or when President Obama promised, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” None of it made sense – but none of needed to – as long as it was consistent with the consensus of their group.

And if anyone should express any thought that is outside their group’s consensus? They are dehumanized. For example, if conservatives are racist, greedy, heartless, and elitist, then how could their opinions possibly deserve any consideration, whatsoever?

If you listen to some folks, you’d think that conservatives would like to reinstate segregation, pollute the drinking water, and take food out of the mouths of starving children. If this is your “groupthink,” though, is it really that far to rationalize opening fire on a congressional GOP baseball practice, injuring five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise?

Or for students at the University of California-Berkeley to set the campus on fire and throw rocks through windows when a conservative speaker is scheduled to appear at the university’s auditorium?

Or for Madonna to appear at a march in Washington and tell the crowd that she’s “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House?”

With groupthink, critical thinking is replaced by irrational actions, statements, etc. and then simply dehumanizing anyone who disagrees.

Yes, groupthink is all around us. From small countries, for example, who irrationally believe that they are a world superpower and might risk going to war with a larger (and more powerful) country, or in our American media, where 90% of the coverage for the White House is negative.

The bottom line is that the greater the groupthink, the less free we become, because we surrender control of our lives to the group. Maybe Sigmund Freud was right, that “(m)ost people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

One of the best predictors of the greatness of a classical composer is the sheer number of compositions that they’ve generated. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart had to generate hundreds and hundreds of compositions in order to get to a much smaller number of masterpieces. The starting point is that if most of us want to be more original, we have to generate more ideas.

Freud points out original thinkers like Leonardo Da Vinci, who had worked more than 16 years on the Mona Lisa, or Martin Luther King Jr, who had been polishing his famous “I have a Dream”-speech until he was actually holding it.

What differentiates them is that they came up with a lot more ideas. So 600, or more than 1,000 in a couple of those cases. The reason for that is you have to generate a lot of variety to be original. If you just come up with a few ideas, your first few are usually the most obvious. You have to rule out the familiar in order to get to the novel. But most people never do that. They fall in love with their first idea, or they end up questioning whether they have the ability to come up with more ideas.

You see independent thinking is freedom, and without it, we’re all slaves or sheep-like masses. According to Sigmund Freud, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

Some of us point out fairly regularly that the left engages in a great deal of projection, accusing their enemies of that in which they themselves engage. Racism, incivility, elitism, greed, cruelty and several others, including, of course, violence.

Learning to think for yourself can mean turning your back on social conditioning, which is a daunting task. We may have to turn our backs on things we have known and accepted as true since childhood, implanted there by a well-meaning relative or teacher. This is the price we pay for our intellectual and spiritual and, as a result, physical freedom.

The happy result of independent thinking? The ability to steer your life and control the things you experience. Also knowing that it gets easier as you go on, scraping off the rust that never belonged to you.

You see, independent thinkers don’t seem to have the same need to belong that draws many if not most people to join a movement and adopt its belief system. Independent thinkers don’t have that need to belong and conform because they most likely had an upbringing that did not stifle their natural tendency to explore and find their own meaning in life.

The rare few who think clearly and follow their ideas are able to take advantage of things others, for lack of independent thinking, do not see. The result is naturally a pyramid-like hierarchy, with the few shrewd thinkers at the top and the sheep-like masses creating the bulk at the bottom.

If we want to be free of the things that we feel are holding us back, we need to learn to think for ourselves again. This means questioning the things around us and seeing whether the opinions of others are actually true from where we view the world.

Learning to think for yourself can mean turning your back on social conditioning, which is a daunting task. We may have to turn our backs on things we have known and accepted as true since childhood, implanted there by a well-meaning relative or teacher. This is the price we pay for our intellectual and spiritual and, as a result, physical freedom.

The happy result of independent thinking? The ability to steer your life and control the things you experience. Also knowing that it gets easier as you go on, scraping off the rust that never belonged to you.

The biggest win? The overwhelming realisation that, as Bono said, we are one but not the same. And that is absolutely fine.

In his book, Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud discusses the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The primary friction emerges from the conflict between the individual’s search for instinctive freedom and civilization’s contrary demand for conformity and repression of instincts. A child starts out freely expressing his instinct for pleasure and for independence, but often society soon intervenes.

According to Freud, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” This fear of responsibility also applies to independent thinking. When we think independently, we do not conform to mainstream thinking and therefore we must be alone and isolated in our opinions. Civilization makes it difficult to do that, as it pressures us to conform to the conventions of our time.

Independent thinkers don’t seem to have the same need to belong that draws many if not most people to join a movement and adopt its belief system. Independent thinkers don’t have that need to belong and conform because they most likely had an upbringing that did not stifle their natural tendency to explore and find their own meaning in life.

The central theme of my analysis can be summarized in this generalization, which I offer in the spirit of Parkinson’s laws: The more amiability and esprit de corps among the members of a’ policy‐making in‐group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out‐groups.

Then I started to look into similar historic fiascoes that occurred during the administrations of three other American presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt (failure to be prepared for Pearl Harbor), Harry S. Truman (the invasion of North Korea), and Lyndon B. Johnson (escalation of the Vietnam war). Each decision was a group product, issuing from a series of meetings held by a small and cohesive group of government officials and advisers. In each case I found the same kind of detrimental group process that was of decision.

Those who see their opponents as small people may soon see them as hardly people at all. The world witnessed the worst of what dehumanization could do when Hitler killed Jews in a virtual factory process, and even processed some of their remains as raw material for manufacturing.

If liberals’ political enemies are racist, uncivil, elitist, greedy, cruel and violent, they are pretty wretched creatures indeed. And if that’s the case, then one really ought not be overly concerned with the circumstances of their disposition.

According to the left, conservatives would like to reinstate segregation, stone homosexuals and institute a kind of Christian Shariah law in America. So what does it matter if angry mobs drag us from our homes and beat us to death, as members of the Occupy movement have advocated?

Some of us point out fairly regularly that the left engages in a great deal of projection, accusing their enemies of that in which they themselves engage. Racism, incivility, elitism, greed, cruelty and several others, including, of course, violence.

We have all at some point or the other, faced a circumstance where we have had to suppress our true ideals, beliefs, and opinions to avoid arguments, frustrations, resentment, and feeling out-of-place.

How do you decide which ones are the best? Produce more content.

 

If you just come up with a few ideas, your first few are usually the most obvious. You have to rule out the familiar in order to get to the novel. But most people never do that. They fall in love with their first idea, or they end up questioning whether they have the ability to come up with more ideas.

A lack of ideas can generate bad results. To wit…

  • A small country that is isolated from others and that is made up of people who want to believe that the country is a major world superpower. The country may eventually begin to think as a collective whole that they are more powerful than they are and may make a fatal mistake like going to war with a larger and more powerful nation.
  • An isolated group of people from the same racial and ethnic background who do not know any people personally who are different from them. The group may come to distrust or even hate outsiders because they do not understand them and because they want to reinforce the moral superiority and unity of their own group.
  • A group of people who very firmly believe in one particular limited political ideal and who only watch news that supports their ideal and who only associate with people who agree with them. The group may come to hate and distrust people who disagree with them and may come to overestimate their power and influence.
  • A group of employees at a company with a product that is quickly becoming outdated who are unwilling to consider new alternatives to advance in the industry. The employees may collectively live in a world where they can’t understand why their product is not selling and may refuse to acknowledge the economic reality that they cannot survive without advancing.
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