One of nature’s curious ironies is how the defining gift that she bestowed on the human species is so sparingly used by so many of its members. The “sapiens” in homo-sapiens is Latin for “wise,” but judging by the brainless behavior that humans increasingly exhibit, the biological classification for human beings might more aptly be homo-simpsons.
Too many people seem to find rational, analytical thought unpleasant, difficult and too time-consuming. Logic requires a mental discipline that applies a process of inference, inquiry and examination — a process that lazy or easily distracted minds quickly abandon.
Homo-simpsons want quick, short, simple answers to life’s imposing questions. Therefore, they prefer to substitute critical thinking with standard philosophies to which they can adhere without the discomfort of doubt. They are contented with the conventional wisdom. As Oscar Wilde once noted, such people are not really individuals, “their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
There are few instances where the lack of intellectual diligence and the unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom are more apparent than in American political behavior. It certainly explains how George W.Bush could be elected president not just once, but twice. It explains how a nation could be led into a misbegotten and unnecessary war in Iraq, and, most disturbingly, how a nation could so easily be persuaded to surrender its founding principles of civil rights and individual liberty.
Boneheaded public polices and corrupt, incompetent politicians continue to be inflicted upon this nation in great part because so many people have succumbed to the delusion that they are thinking correctly if they accept commonly accepted reasoning and beliefs, especially those endorsed by celebrities and by political and religious leaders.
A recent study conducted by Germany’s Max Planck Institute revealed that people will continue to believe gossip and rumors — especially if those are malicious — even when they are presented with clear evidence refuting the gossip and rumors. The German researchers speculated that people may be genetically programmed to base decisions on hearsay rather than on a rational evaluation of the evidence.
The disastrously lethal and costly war in Iraq may corroborate the German study. Ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, millions of Americans abandoned common sense, did not question authority, and accepted the politically motivated malicious gossip that Iraq was directly involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Additionally, ordinary citizens, much of the mainstream media and most of Congress succumbed to groupthink and accepted the Bush administration’s fallacious assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that would be made available to al-Qaeda terrorists.
Eventually, the rationale offered for continuing the Iraq debacle was the removal of a murderous tyrant and the establishment of democracy in Iraq. If that were the justification for war, Cuba would have been a more convenient place to start spreading democracy. But then, we don’t need Cuba’s sugar, we need oil.
Islamic terrorism against the United States was incited in great measure by the U.S. military presence in the Middle East — there to protect the oil supplies. Ironically, the money that is being spent on the war in Iraq and on the U.S. military presence in the Middle East could be better spent on weaning America from its dependence on foreign oil and on oil in general. For the cost of this war, nearly $500 billion already, how many homes in America could be made energy-independent with solar electric technology? How much research and development of alternate energy could be funded?
American politics and, therefore, its government are dominated by ideologues whose capability for rational thought and analysis is crippled by adherence to dichotomous doctrine — left or right, Democrat or Republican. It is no mystery why nothing that makes much sense gets done in Washington, D.C. — there is little clear, impartial thinking that happens there. We have ciphers in Congress and incompetents in the White House (doh!), but no real leaders, no cynosures guiding the nation to real solutions to its real problems. Just partisan bickering, ideological platitudes, and reckless, salivating, venality.
There are certainly more rational approaches to the issues this nation confronts, but finding them would require many more citizens to have vigorous, independent minds engaged in logical thinking. More people would have to question conventional thinking, especially when it derives from authority figures and calcified ideologies.
When surveying the political landscape our vision has been conditioned to see only left or right, liberal or conservative. What we should be looking for is rational or irrational, intelligence or stupidity. Today, rational discretion is seldom found in the same old places — left or right, Democrat or Republican. We need to look with clear vision in new places. We must stop behaving like homo-simpsons and start living up to our namesake, homo-sapiens.
— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.