Sunday, December 29, 2013

Question Your Assumptions

It’s hard to have a good argument anymore. People no longer seem to have the time to put thoughts together in an articulate manner. So rushed are we to get as much accomplished as possible, we tend to put our minds on auto pilot. When a button is pushed by someone else’s statement, we go into a pre-programmed mode, unleashing a whole series of assumptions based upon the simplest of statements.

I try to have fun with this tendency. Actually, my first response is to get angry over it, but it wouldn’t do any good. So I tend to post comments on Facebook like: “The fact that the media is overwhelmingly liberal is proof that the free market doesn’t work.” It’s not a statement that anyone can actually agree with, as it seems to offend everyone’s ideology, whatever it may be. It is a paradox, or koan, something to slow down the thought process, make people aware of the assumptions they make and question their validity.

People tend to develop certain ideas early on and never question them. They shape the way we see our lives, determine the paths we follow. That’s not in and of itself a bad thing, but it can limit us. Many people are able to go quite far with limited perception, but where exactly is it taking them? Many people are running a marathon without once stopping to figure out where the finish line is.

And that is exactly the point. It seems rather foolish to follow a path set for oneself as a child without taking the occasional break to reassess the situation. But biases formed early on cause people to do exactly that. They heard something when they were young that made sense to them, and it led them towards a political or religious or whatever viewpoint that defines any argument for them henceforth. It builds around them a world of ideas, with laws every bit as demanding as physical laws. When a certain word like “abortion” or “taxes” is mentioned, it releases a whole lot of associations that may or not apply to the circumstance at hand.

A person’s worldview may be quite accurate, but it never is a substitute for reality: there will always be some discrepancy between the two. When we forget that the ideas we have are merely that, when we forget to question ourselves and our assumptions, we lose the ability to react to unique situations. We become like mollusks, dragging around with us a shell that confines and limits us. We are living beings capable of always growing and progressing, but we run the risk of falling into ruts that determine in which way our living energies are employed.

It is easy enough for the individual to fall into ruts of his own making, but it is easier still for people to fall into ruts designed for them by others. There have always been those who are interested in determining the way you think, and the machinations for propaganda have never been so sophisticated as they are now. Vast sums of money are spent in order to shape the way you cast your vote, even more money spent on assuring that you become a good consumer. It is the rare home that does not have a television or several raising the children, despite the parent’s best intentions. The message, whether it comes from Coke or from Pepsi, is that you need to drink more soft drinks that decay teeth and cause diabetes.

Most of us believe we are not being fooled or manipulated in any way. We all are proud of our individuality, even though we express it in more or less the same way with only minor differentiation. Some of us root for the Broncos and some for the Steelers, but we’re all watching the games, all being implanted with the same commercial messages every few minutes.

Commercial culture is a more dominant mindset than perhaps any the world has ever known. While the church may have ruled the Middle Ages, it did not preach to us in our homes, did not follow us to work. Nor did it employ psychologists to determine which subconscious buttons to push. We are prey to a propaganda machine George Orwell could not have imagined, and yet most of us don’t even realize it’s there, or else believe that we are immune to it. But we are sheep in wolf’s clothing, imagining ourselves to be rugged individualists rather than the pack animals we really are. The great majority of us are not even aware of the subconscious workings that determine our actions, and most of those who are aware are actively employed at making money off of it.

Try this: take your most basic assumptions, and look for a different way of seeing them. Try taking a left the next time you assume you are supposed to turn right. Turn your television to a different channel than the one you are used to, or better yet, turn it off and permit yourself to be alone with your thoughts. If you’re working hard to further your life, make sure the direction you’re heading is the one you’ve chosen, not one that has been chosen for you.

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