Who’s Thinking for You?

I’m forced to believe that we live in a mostly schizophrenic world. We are assaulted day and night by “news” however one wishes to interpret that. Mostly it’s not news at all, but one form or another of someone’s truth, deception, or best guess.

Add to that the never-ending drumming of product, product, product, and it’s no wonder we drown ourselves in food, drugs, alcohol, and any of a number of addictions, all intended to shut out the cacophony.

It’s simply too much. We try to make sense of it all, and we fairly cannot.

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton lately. A book called Seeds, containing paragraphs from his many writings grouped around common themes. Merton’s take on society is scathing, and frankly works today as it did in the 50’s and 60’s when he did much of his writing amid the “Cold War.” Supplant “terrorism” for Cold War, and nothing much has changed.

He suggests that one of our greatest illusions is that we think. We don’t he argues, we simply think that we could think if we needed to. But we don’t have to. We simply wait until someone says something that “makes sense” given our history, and then attach ourselves to it. Their thoughts become ours, their ideology ours. All the better if it is a group.

Our lives are now composed of slogans, formulas, ideologies, and declarations. We know the jingles to every advertising product. We want “things” because we have been carefully taught to want them. News passes by like a ticker tape, we have only a few hours, at most days, to digest, before another “event” captures our attention and must be fit into the drama of our lives.

Merton argues that we give up our responsibility to think because we want to. We believe the propaganda because it’s easy, it gives us the illusion that we are thinking while we devote our time and energy to living up to the “lives” we’ve been taught make us successful.

An example is the Iraq war. Now I didn’t buy the propaganda at all, I was pretty darn sure this was the wrong war for the wrong reasons. Yet, I was hopeful that all the claims about why it was necessary would be true. Why? Because like all Americans (or most I should say), I was deeply pained by 9/11. I wanted an “answer”, an enemy that could be grasped and throttled.

We may have an unease about a lot of the propaganda we hear and read, but we tell ourselves that “our” side is by and large better than the other side.

I’m about Bin Laden’d out. First I had to work through the issue of America’s jubilant response. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Since then we have had to confront the “deathers”, those insidious and nearly legally insane folks who truly believe this is all a fake to deter us from the real issue–that Barack Obama is an illegitimate usurper in the White House.

These deathers are easily dismissed of course, since even Al Q!aeda has declared their leader is in fact dead.

Fox Noise, caught in a no-win situation, praised the action for about thirty-six hours. Then came their twisting of the facts to cast doubts about the whole affair. The White House handled the information “poorly”, even though “facts” were clamoured for well before any debriefing had occurred. As natural discrepancies on details emerged, Fox got more and more suspicious of the competence of “this President” The Blaze headlined: “Obama can’t make up his mind; Panetta gives order for mission.” The suggestion is obvious although it cannot be more of a lie.

Soon we were back into the issue of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, the propaganda euphemism, the polite way of saying torture. The right was bringing out its guns to “show” that Obama’s moment in the sun would not have been possible without the waterboarding that the Bushites were condemned for.

Suddenly, we are back to debating the relative “value” of torture. If torture lead to finding Osama, them of course, moral issues no longer matter. Really?

Just as quickly come the complaints that the American people should not give so much credit to Obama. Rather the great George W deserved the “real” credit. It was he of course who announced our “goal” of finding Bin Laden. No mention of course that he fairly laid that aside in his quest to take down Iraq for the neo-cons. No mention that we lost our opportunity to stay on the track while fresh.

The debate still goes on over the “pictures”. The right finds this a great argument–its cathartically necessary they claim. We must “prove” beyond any shadow of doubt. All the while of course, they know he is dead, but that is no reason not to *wink wink nod nod* to their deather base for whom the lack of pictures is just more evidence that it is all a lie.

And far in the background, barely mentioned, are those, like Michael Moore, and certain religious personages who remind us that we have not even begun to discuss the morality of this “assassination.” Everyone admits there was no real effort or desire to “take him alive”. That opened up a whole can of worms that few wished to take on.

How do we live with ideals when we so conveniently flout them for expediency’s sake? Is it any wonder than the world shakes its head in dismay at our wagging the moral finger at anyone else while we take the path of least resistance.

Yet, we make, at best passing offers of argument on all these issues. We don’t have time, we can already see a new event looming on the horizon. Clear the decks, make ready for our next round of “thinking” and don’t forget to pick up milk on your way home.

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14 comments on “Who’s Thinking for You?

  1. Ahab says:

    Thomas Merton’s writings on propaganda and critical thought sounds very interesting, and I confess I’m was more familiar with him as a religion scholar.

    I have a feeling you’d enjoy a book called THE TRUE BELIEVER. Are you familiar with it?

    • Sherry says:

      I am not ahab…I shall look it up! Merton was always in a bit of trouble over his “political” commentary. I am amazed at how clearly he saw how our society truly does us a huge disservice and how technology has become our ruler, for its own sake…for someone who sequestered himself from the world, he certainly understood it well.

  2. okjimm says:

    “True Believer” Eric Hofer 1951 Eric was a longshoresman-philospher who studied the the rise and fall of mass movements and personality traits involved. SHERRY read that book!! a sample of Eric

    “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
    Eric Hoffer

  3. Middle Seaman says:

    My feeling is that most people gain enormous satisfaction out of adhering the common view. My belief is that they do it unaware of the ramification of their adherence. You can see this behavior in politics as well as at work, research, etc.

    Other people tend to evaluate each case without the commentary of the mainstream. My belief is that these people also do it unaware of the ramification of the explicit evaluation.

    The vast majority of individuals belong to the first group. And that basically is what the post is about.

  4. Tony says:

    Eric Hofer, uneducated immigrant Longshoreman was an Awesome Observer, mind-opening analyst of the 1950’s, with own TV Series in the 1960’s. But he touched on too many Sensitive (‘liberal’) ideas, and “The Powers” that loved the Viet War killed his advetisers support for TV, and Eric died prematurelly, soon after, in what may have been “Suspicious Circumstances”. Big Money Special Interests Own/Rule our Media and Congress also now. ————————————————————————————————————–‘Enhanced Interrogation’ was Universally Known/Listed as a War Crime/Torture; until Non-Veteran Dick Chaney spun U.S. Law interpretation, and is still spinning it as justified, Falselly claiming it as leading to Bin Laden’s Death. GWBush indeed Stopped the CIA Search for Bin Laden, dismantling the CIA Serarch for him, to ‘justify’ several Unjustifiable Uses of Our Main 21st Century National Priority: U.S. Military Power Paramount in the World. Key No-Veteran Republican Leaders in 1999 met to decide our 21st Century Priorities: Conquer Iraq, and ‘muslim Countries Intio ‘democracies: Condalice Rice, Non-Veteran Flight Trainer Lehman, Wolfowitz (who Avioded Both Isreali And USA Viet wars, etc., etc.

  5. Moe says:

    Sherry – I think many of the answers to ‘why do we do what we do’ and then live with it can be found in Joseph Campbell’s “the Power of Myth”. Mythology itself, like the ancient scriptures inform our sense of morality.

    Have we not, in our own lives, watched the easy, unchallenged covnersion of Americans from ‘citizens’ to either ‘consumers’ or ‘taxpayers’. We are the American consumer. The American taxpayer. I don’t know when I last heard the American citizen. (Oh, and there’s the American Family, which makes my teeth hurt – as if individual people are not impacted by the world around them.)

    • Sherry says:

      I hear ya Moe. I think Campbell was brilliant in his analysis. And I am so sick of politicians speaking “for” the American people. The American people believe, want, are against. Bah…99% of the time they aren’t speaking for me at all. They see us as blocks of voters only.

  6. pepsoid says:

    Hofer’s & Campbell’s books are now on my “I plan to read” shelf on Shelfari – bringing the total to 70. How am I ever to find the time?!

    * * *

    It saddens me to say I feel you are correct in saying that most people can’t think for themselves. Could they ever? Probably not, but with the 21st century’s information overload, probably now even less so. Is it any wonder both the UK and the US can’t break out of their 2-party political system? And that it seems inconceivable to most people to see any possibilities beyond the “truths” our Great and Good leaders spout daily?

    • Moe says:

      Over the next decade I expect to hear more and more disussion about whether we are ‘governable’ as we’re currently structured.

      One example: a Senator from a state with 500,000 people can – for decades – thwart a few hundred million other people – that’s a system failure that needs addressing and we seem unable to do ti.

      • Sherry says:

        We all can point to any number of reasons why our current system no longer works. But the vested interests I think make it exceedingly unlikely that change will occur. Start with the electoral college and you can see that things aren’t likely to be altered any time soon.

    • Sherry says:

      The information overload means that more of us are depending on few sources to synthesize the news for us, tell us what it all means. We are being reduced to slogans instead of actual knowledge. Look how successful our Republican party has been in this for its rather illiterate followers? Damn successful…

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