What does it mean to think for yourself?
Even as the seemingly monolithic infrastructure of the post-war world comes crumbling down around our heads, homogeneity continues to spread like some vast, insidious fungus across the cultural terrain of the Western World. We are told that the interactive, five-hundred-channel universe is causing us to break down into ever more insular clans; isolated tribes centered on coincidental collective interests. They tell us we are becoming strangers in our own communities. We ignore our neighbors in order to hold long e-mail discussions about the injustice of Australian gun laws with some invisible digital kid from Singapore, or we go on chat-lines and debate the ethics of Kirk’s alteration of the programming for the Kobiashi Maru. Politically, they tell us, we are breaking down into smaller, more aggressive ‘special interest’ factions, hell-bent on getting the vast, innocent, Norman Rockwell majority to bend over and accept some wild, anarcho-communist-feminist-homosexual-ecoextremist agenda. On the other side of the coin, we have a bunch of illiterate yokels, armed to the gills, burning crosses in barren fields, pumping round after round into dummies dressed like ATF officers. We are, the pundits say, going through a global identity crisis.
And yet… take a look around you. On your way to work today, count the corporate coffee boutiques. On your way back home, count the Walmarts. Spend a minute going from station to station on your FM dial. Sameness creeps. The corporate beast sweeps individuality under the carpet, replacing it with vacuum-packed, heat-and-serve, psychometrically-tailored franchise outlets. And we fit so easily into these preordained slots because, since birth, we have been twisted and massaged and compacted in a vast, generation-spanning, collective molestation. We have been told that we don’t share enough in common, but the majority of us are as indistinguishable from each other as the assembly-line cylinders of chunky-style dogfood that we have become.
They know that allowing people to think for themselves can be a dangerous thing. For instance, thinking for one’s self can lead to long, lonely nights in the basement, converting semi-automatic rifles to full auto, mixing up home-made napalm, and thinking up ever more explosive and/or virulent methods of outwardly expressing one’s vague yet undeniable rage and disappointment at a society seemingly oblivious to the wishes of all but the wealthiest of the power elite. They do their best to supply any potential loose cannons with an endless stream of mind-numbing, stultifying opiate in the form of round-the-clock television programming. You can’t build bombs if you’re busy watching Friends. You’ll never find the time to develop that new strain of anthrax when you’re otherwise preoccupied by the pseudo-sexual shenanigans of Niles and Daphne. These days – media-fed paranoia to the contrary – acts of cultural rebellion are so rare as to be statistically insignificant. They are very good at what they do.
Aristotle said that any man who is truly alone is either a beast or a god, but certainly not a man. As we struggle to make our way through the psychic flux of everyday life, the key to true, liberating independence of thought lies not in total independence from your fellow man, which is an impossibility. It lies in learning to recognize the difference between being enlightened and having your chain pulled. It lies in developing the skills necessary to accurately judge information based on facts, logic and reason. It lies in learning to let go of beliefs that you know to be false, but to which you cling out of either habit, convenience or superstition.
Ignorance is bliss. Thinking for yourself is hard work.