The difficulty of thinking…the ease of not.

Bertrand Russell once said that people would do almost anything to avoid having to think. And we do. Consider how we go through most of our days.  Rise, commute, work, commute, dine, sleep. Certainly there are vacillating degrees of how purposefully we interact with our own lives, but mostly, I would say, we do things by rote.  For the most part, the majority of us do not “live our lives deliberately” as Thoreau advised us to–we would make ourselves mad if we did–but what are we sacrificing?

Samuel Beckett wrote that the routine, the habit, the treadmill of our lives is a way of deadening the pain of existence (how wonderfully Beckettian!); breaking out of the routine, the habit, the treadmill is exciting and might mask the pain, but it is temporary and not without risks.  To think deliberately is indeed difficult. But it is what makes us who we are. Our thinking is what separates us from others, what individualizes us.  There is a second kind of truth in the Cartesian “I think therefore I am.”  It is not simply a statement of existence, but one of uniqueness as well, an emphasis on the “I.”  And if we choose not to think, are we waiving our individuality to become simply a part of the herd?

In politics, for example, do we think or do we react? Do we consider the world around us or do we merely accept what we have been trained to accept? Are we so entrenched in our “camps” that we allow their ideas to immediately become ours without the trouble of thinking? Do we even have a personal philosophy?  How many of us could state what it is?  What do we believe in?  When have we last THOUGHT about what we believe?

The avoidance of thinking is hardly a 21st-century phenomenon–it just seems easier to do these days.  The opportunities for distraction, the ease in which we can fill our lives with noise, makes it all too easy to avoid stopping to think.  And like most habits, once we have learned to “not think,” it becomes a very hard habit to break.

But again, what are we sacrificing?

I’m not sure, but I’ll think about it.


3 thoughts on “The difficulty of thinking…the ease of not.

  1. Our hyperfocus on the individual in society today is making us part the herd mentality. We are addicted to our *I* devices (pods, pads, phones), listening to our personal playlist, getting news that we personally select from a news source that most closely resembles our own way of thinking and interacting with our own community of people we already know. The spread of ideas is getting smaller, because ideas are so targeted. So we seem to inevitably keep our earbuds in and our heads down and go along with the herd – stand right, walk left.

    Currently, the herd isn’t doing much of anything positive or negative, but the flood of dystopian novels (in both Young Adult and regular Adult) guesses what could happen if/when someone or some group could harness the “herd of individuals.” Do we ostracize women and the choices they make a la When She Woke? (ok, that’s a little too close to reality these days.) Do we up the ante of reality train wreck TV a la Hunger Games? Or do we literally and figuratively walk around with no privacy as in Super Sad True Love Story? (Recently, we, via the millions views and messages from the cloud, decided to find a bad guy in Africa.)

    I think therefore I am may need to be updated. I think and pay attention.

    • Well said, Moidem. It is interesting that you mention the earbuds. I am teaching currently Farenheit 451, and Bradbury 45 years ago described earbuds (he called them “seashells”) and described the blinder-ing effect they had on the citizens of his world. The dichotomy that you imply is between the “I” and the “society”–a separation that is non-productive, alienating and potentially destructive. However, my point is the lack of deliberate “thinking” smothers the “I” to a degree that it cannot function in society because it has given up its individuality for one that is created by selected news feeds (do not have to think), selected same-thinking media (do not have to think), etc. Easier to have someone we “trust” tell us how to think, than do the actual thinking.

      Anyway, I love your comments, particularly your choice of book examples.

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