An Obituary for Original Thought

 Original Thought, age unknown, died Thursday after a long illness. The funeral and burial will be skipped as nobody gives a damn. Any notes of condolence can be mailed to MTV studios in New York where they will be promptly ignored.

Perhaps that is a bit much, but I do wonder where original thought has gone. In today’s society, most of our opinions are based not upon careful consideration on our parts, but on the influences we encounter every day–the media, the church, our peers, our parents. When someone questions these force-fed ideas, they are ostracized and ridicules, often without the strength of will to stand by his or her convictions in the face of scrutiny by the majority. Instead of using our reason and our hearts to interpret what we see and hear, we sit like baby birds in the nest, our mouths and minds open to whatever the meal of opinion is that day.

And why do we do this? What has led us to the degrading position of looking elsewhere for what we should think and feel? In my opinion, laziness is the chief culprit. If someone else, especially someone in a position of perceived authority offers an opinion, surely they must have thought it out properly. Surely the authority figure has a better understanding of what the issue is and what should be done about it. Right? Why should I engage the gears of my brain and actually think about something when a ready-made position is available like a frozen dinner waiting to be microwaved for dinner. We don’t require deeper understanding or a full view of the issue from all sides. All we ask for is a stance that we can heat for 2 minutes, give a quarter turn, and heat for an additional three minutes.

Where have all the philosopher’s gone? There was a time, now in our distant past, when someone could be called a philosopher and not be subject to ridicule. Great thinkers in history, the Kants and the Humes and the Kirkegaards of the world, have all vanished or faded into obscurity. The philosophers of our age are invisible or, worse, relegated to the role of jester in the court of public opinion. Are stand-up comedians like George Carlin our last bastion of free thinking? A person now who would introduce themselves as a philosopher would get, at best, a roll of the eyes and a grin that says “Oh, so you’re not suited for real work?”

The symptoms are most evident in our youth. Ask any but the most exceptional person under the age of 25 about such issues as cloning, North Korea, or Israel, and you’ll receive a blank stare. Trust me, I’ve tried. Having worked with dozens of young people over the years, I am shocked and disgusted by the lack of awareness most of them have about the world. As long as these things don’t interfere with TRL, Sportscenter, or Taco Bell drive thru, they are content to live in complete ignorance of what is going on in the world. America is raising a spoiled, materialistic youth that, much like the current presidential administration, is fine with turning its back on the problems of the world for our false utopia, heedless that such behavior is, in large part, has driven so much of the world against us. The United States, once a beacon of compassion and civility, has denigrated into a global bully, pushing our ideals, our government, our troops, and our religion on those we consider a threat. We have failed in Iraq not because our military was not up to the task, but because our government did not bother to gain some understanding of Islam and the influence is has on every aspect of Muslim life. If the Iraqis had wanted democracy, they would have attained it, just as we did, before we stepped in and forced it upon them. Democracy will not work in a society where there is no separation of church and state, where, in fact, the state is subservient to the church. In the Islamic world, there is God’s law, and that is good enough.

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) said that “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” We are losing that battle, bewitched by the ideas given us by the media, the government, and so many other outlets. We allow ourselves to be relieved of any personal responsibility for how and what we think for fear that our own opinion, arrived at through questioning the world around us and careful deliberation of the facts, will not match the popular opinion set by people in authority with no more right to decide than we have. People who have never cracked open a Bible cry out against sin. People clamor for the legalization of marijuana who have never seen the devastating effect it can have on a person’s life. If you are not for us, as the saying goes, you are against us. With so many opinions born of ignorance and close-mindedness, how can anyone, in good conscience, trust what they believe or feel to the minds of the uninformed?

Perhaps original thought is not dead. Perhaps it has gone into hiding, fleeing from the onslaught of pop culture, pop religion, and pop government. Perhaps it waits in the woods, like a hermit, awaiting a time when it is needed, a time that may never come. Perhaps we are moving toward Durkheim’s theory of a collective consciousness, where all the members of our society share a common understanding and common set of values. But look around you. Look at your neighbors, your coworkers, the people you see on television. Do you truly wish to share one mind with such people?

I’m not advocating blowing up televisions, refusing to pay taxes, or quitting church. All these things have benefits that we cannot otherwise attain. What I do believe, though, is that we should examine what we see and hear, question the information and opinions given us before we adopt them as our own. We should be a part of the world, with its myriad of problems and conflicts, not living in one of our own making. Perhaps then, original thought will creep back into society, take up residence, and offer some hope of reason.

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