Thursday, September 1, 2011

To Think or not to Think.

[Reason] is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort.
Ayn Rand “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 20.

I've come to believe that metacognition is what keeps me going.  In other words, thinking on how we think.  Working retail is not so bad when you are seeing in every selection and deselection the thoughts behind each customer. For instance, the squalling kids who just want their parents to buy them something, not out of hunger or desire for the object, but merely for the attention that they get as their parents' hand them the trinket.  Materialism is actually a sign of love.  Or perhaps the children who open up the box or the toy in the middle of the floor and start playing with it, as if it were their own, without realization that what they have isn't theirs to begin with.  Of course, that has nothing to do with ownership, but frankly because they could care less about the object they have in their hands.  It's the idea of material inflation.  The more we have, the less we care about what we have. 

Then there's the customer who must decide what they want by eliminating everything else from sight first hand.  I found a couple of interesting examples one day while working in the kids' section.  The parent kept asking the child, "What do you want? Make up your mind."  The obvious answer to this is, she wants everything.  And when she kept changing her mind, much to the consternation of her mom, she realized it was upsetting her mom, so she kept at it, playing a game of ambivalence just to see if she could.  Pressing her mom's buttons.  Because she truly did want everything.  The only way to ask the question is, "What do you not want?  Because then she is forced to eliminate everything she truly doesn't want and then pick from those remaining.  It sounds really hard, but it's not.... trust me.   Because I see it everyday.  At the grocery store, I would have customers come up to the register with 100's of dollars of groceries, but only have $30.  Therefore they would then decide, having eliminated the rest of the store, what they don'twant from the rest, and keep on filtering out the "No's" until they have reached their financial goal.  It's often the duality of thought that makes the little decisions of life interesting, because what you are really thinking is the exact opposite of what you think you are thinking. 

So when I realized the "duality" of thought is actually quite wonderful to think about, I ran across the Ayn Rand quote above.  Sometimes, in thinking things through, we are actually not thinking at all.  Letting our inhibitions and self-control go.  This can easily be seen in the riots after sporting events, (which I've talked about before), where what they are thinking, what they are truly thinking, and the fact that they are basically not thinking at all, are different.  Take the past riots in London.  They started because of a racial issue in one of London's suburbs, but soon, it became more about the class structure in Great Britain brought about by entitlement spending and a Progressive government that has felt the strain on its budget much like the rest of the world.  In other words, the riots were about the cuts in government hand-outs, although they were supposed to be about police brutality and race.  What actually happened was that the youth of Great Britain wanted to be seen rioting and have fun while getting on YouTube, all the while stealing and taking advantage of lawlessness to attain material things that they would have had to pay money for.  In other words, they weren't thinking at all.  It all went to the subconscious "monster" that Jung talked about, that below the rational thoughts of the human mind there is the base desires of an animal that decrees those desires are above all else.  And those who cannot control their subconscious demons are doomed to act in those manners, and will generally end up in jail, or worse.  

So it came to pass, that after I saw this quote, two stories popped up online to illustrate my point.  I am all for putting media in my blogs when it supports my ideas, and these work wonders.  First, the story in Australia, where a teenager decides to run out in front of a train.  He didn't have anyone with a camera, so being on YouTube wasn't his motive.  He wasn't suicidal, cause he wouldn't have dodged the locomotive. He simply wanted to see if he could do it.  And that isn't thinking at all!  That's not to say that we all haven't done stupid things without thinking (or perhaps with thinking, as he had to time his rush across the tracks to the point where he would almost but not quite get hit by it), and I've done a couple of insane things.   I remember one time I had done something or another, and my dad got really mad and was coming down the hallway.  So I decided to see what would happen if I tripped him.  So I stuck my leg out...and he tripped.  There was no thinking involved in the act, just pure stupidity.... much like touching the base of an iron, or sticking your finger in the car cigarette lighter (both of which I've done).  It's an infantile move, just to experience something, the rush of adrenaline, the heat of the flame, the cold on the tongue as you lick a metal pole ("I double dog dare ya!").  It's what we do.  And as we get older, the desire to do something just to satisfy the curiosity of the subconscious mind, it is replaced by the discipline of conscious thought.  Except..... sometimes that doesn't work.  We go skydiving, or bungee jumping, or we walk across the Oconee River train track bridge just to see if we can do it.

Does the human mind have the ability to think at all?  Are we simply holding back the battering ram of the subconscious mind as it attempts to break down the barriers we've put in it's way?  And when we speak of today's youth, languishing in public schools or in universities, are they just as apt to study for their PhD as visit the bars every night and get themselves killed in car wrecks or wind up vomiting in the public bathrooms in their dorms? Is there any hope for the human race when thinking is not considered "cool?" Public opinion thinking people has probably not been as low as it has today, unless we count the Medieval times when the Lords or the Church kept people under their stern watch. Those that are famous have become stupid on purpose, and those that are intelligent are made fun of.  Look at the sit-coms of today's television.  Those that are intelligent are naturally nerds, probably gay, and social outcasts.  Those that are dumb are so often rich and usually wind up getting their way despite any lack of "smarticals." 

The answer is, I think, "yes."  There are some people in this world who will overcome the outside world and use their minds to become producers and masters.  Makers and Philosophers.  And they will sit atop the towers of the cities and look down on us in pity, perhaps humorously, as Mustapha did in Brave New World, while the primitives are easily manipulated, controlled, by those who would keep them enslaved by contentment in mediocrity.  Take, for instance, the next story below, about a boy who, being only 12, has read books and educated himself about medicine and the like.  As he was watching TV at 2 in the morning, a show about showgirls (probably Real Sex on HBO,) he heard his mom, 9 months pregnant, call for him.  She was giving birth.  I would have froze, called 911, and panicked, but this particular child delivered the baby there in his home, using the information he had read in his studies.  So there is hope, after all, that today's world will not slip into the mindless, unthinking, audience of the flickering TVs that shine lights in strobe effects out the windows. 

There might be a few men or women that will use the mind to progress past the conveniences they have been given and venture forth, and the thoughts will not be of desires alone, but to apply knowledge towards a goal, permanent, miraculous, that will satiate the needs of both conscious and subconscious minds. 

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