There are several crises humankind is currently faced with: the environment crisis, the inequality crisis, and the crisis in democracy. All these may be traced back to money and power – in one way or another – but I believe that their real origins go deeper. The crisis we’re faced with today has to do with our psychology: our conditioning, which results in the patterns and blueprints of our thought processes, and the role emotions play in our decision-making. The underlying crisis is our unwillingness to think critically, to question what we believe to be true. This results in many remarkable non sequiturs residing in people’s minds, without the hosts even being aware of their conclusions’ fallacious, naïve, or – sometimes altogether missing – logic. This, in turn, leads people on wild goose chases when they want to change something, and the real problems never get addressed.
At the root of this “crisis of uncritical thinking” is our primal fight-or-flight mechanism, which gets triggered by fear. Scientific studies show that we make our decisions based on emotions, and only then use logic to justify the decision we’ve already made. If we understand exactly how this mechanism is exploited, we will be able to do something about it. Otherwise we will keep being manipulated and our outrage will continue to be misdirected.
The “flight” part of the mechanism, which often plays into people’s decision to dismiss inconvenient facts and believe in lies, is the fear of powerlessness – the idea that “the scale of the issue is so enormous, that it’s beyond my capacity to do anything about it.” Variations of this thought give rise to certain coping mechanisms, where people choose to downplay the scope of the problem and focus on specific details and individual incidents that can be explained away, instead of daring to look at the bigger picture and acknowledging the real – system-level – challenges.
The “fight” part of the mechanism has to do with our by-default self-identification with the beliefs and perspectives we hold on to. If you believe that “you are your mind” and “your mind is comprised of your perspectives and beliefs”, then what follows is that “you are your perspectives and beliefs.” With this mindset, whenever you will encounter a perspective that differs from the perspective you hold, you will view it as a personal attack. In this case you will want to defend your ground or even retaliate – to prove the opposing perspective wrong, attack the perpetrator’s competence in the matter, etc. The fear responsible for making the decision to defend your point of view – even when opposing evidence seems compelling – is the fear of losing your identity. Try this – next time someone presents an opposing view on a subject that matters to you, pay attention to what begins to happen in your body.
How do you acquire your beliefs? During your maturing process, you acquire your beliefs from your parents, from school and from the society in general. The motive in all three cases – ostensibly for your own well-being – is to make you fit in, to make you think and act like everyone else. No one wants to deal with a nonconformist. Even the term “well-adjusted person” implies that the society is fine – it’s the individual that must be adjusted. But the society is far from fine. In fact, if you reflect on all of the broken logic that’s by and large considered normal today, you’ll see that the society is quite insane. Most of humankind’s systems and institutions are now entirely turned on their heads and serving the opposite of their intended purpose.
Consider the kind of lying that results in millions of people killed. You’d probably say that in order to perpetuate those kinds of lies, one has to be a monster, devoid of any morals or compassion. But this is far from the truth. A normal, compassionate person – who does not think critically – easily buys in to the lie that “this is for a greater good,” his compassion is redirected toward a different – his own – group of people who must be protected, and the results are well-documented accounts of genocide and war for profit.
We can all agree on the fact that people lie to get what they want, but everyone has their own idea of where the moral boundaries are – that is, how far people will go to manipulate others, and how heinous can be their lies. Part of the reason why it took so long for the international community to act and stop the Holocaust, for example, was that people simply did not believe that such atrocity could be real. Systematic genocide is so far outside of most people’s moral boundaries, that for a long time countless and detailed eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust were being dismissed as fake.
“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”– A. Hitler
It’s easy to dismiss the idea that – in this day and age – psychopaths could rise to the highest positions of power and slowly game the system in such a way, that it only admits psychopaths to rule over masses – as a conspiracy theory. But, if you think about it, it doesn’t have to be a conspiracy at all. Rather, it’s a natural course of events in a relationship between the 1% of the human population with a genetic inability to empathize or to feel remorse, and the remaining 99% who believe and propagate the lies of the 1% and suffer the consequences. The vast majority of the information directed at the masses through mainstream media, news and film is drenched with fear, which is the most effective way of manipulating the public. What we’re seeing today is the slow but consistent chipping away at people’s freedoms, human rights and dignity, in exchange for a fleeting feeling of protection from the “benevolent” authority.
Most of us have been through at least a decade of conformity conditioning in school, where we were trained to sit still for hours at a time – to prepare for the monotony of the nine-to-five – and to follow orders, using the timeless reward-or-punishment dichotomy – to learn to obey and idolize authority. It’s never too late to unlearn all of that, to start using your head, and to listen to your own truth. I’m not saying that just by thinking critically you will – all of a sudden – be able to tell a lie from the truth, and that it would be impossible to manipulate you. Everyone slips up once in a while, and that’s okay. But in this age of manipulation and deceit, thinking critically is a requirement for your survival and the survival of your children.