Thursday, March 10, 2016

Can we solve the problems of the U.S. without thinking about them? Because we really seem to be pretty bad at thinking.

      One of the less remarked things about being human beings is that, though we are capable of rational thought, we don’t like, avoid doing it, and frequently fail when we attempt it.
      When examined, this is not too surprising.  We are part of the animal kingdom, and possess animal brains.  Animal’s brains do usually work well at guiding behavior in a world where they have to find shelter and food, and avoid becoming food, processes that don’t seem to require much abstract reasoning.  Instead, survival in the wild seems to require emotion, awareness, perception, pattern recognition, and association.
      Our brains strongly resemble those of other animals, and we get along fairly well at surviving “in the wild,” which includes primitive human societies.  We have agricultural societies down too.  But the very capacities that make it possible for us to survive in such societies make it hard for us to think about them.  When thinking, we generally have to be ‘interested’ in the subject, which is another way of saying emotionally involved.  But if we’re emotionally involved, we tend to be attracted to some ideas, and repelled by others, leading to all sorts of misunderstandings and errors.
      For example, in order to discuss the origin of WWI rationally, the discussants need to seek answers to questions such as ‘What was the situation at the time?  What did the people involved think the situation was?  Who were the decision makers in the eight countries immediately involved?  What were they trying to accomplish?  And how did they expect to further their goals with the choices they made?’  What usually gets asked instead is ‘Who was to blame for this catastrophe?’  And the answer offered is usually whatever makes the person answering feel good, regardless of the evidence.
      Which brings me to a recent argument between Sarah Hoyt and Vox Day about the word “American”.   What is billed as argument about what “American” means, and who is an “American” turns out to be in large part an argument about the nature of human beings and their societies.  I’ll do at least one post on this tempest in a crock pot, because I think it has indirect bearing on the questions of whether the U.S. can and should be preserved.  But the general question of how we should manage social live with such poor thinking skills really needs examining.

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