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.