I’ve been contemplating this for a while. This is one of the primary ways we tend to screw up.
By which I mean, “we the people.” The best description I’ve heard of it is from James Burke, a remarkably entertaining science historian, speaking at the end of his original Connections series in 1978, so I’ll quote him here:
It was with that second surge, in the 16th century, that we moved into the era of specialization. People writing about technical subjects in a way that only other scientists would understand. And as their knowledge grew, so did their need for specialist words to describe that knowledge. If there is a gulf today between the man in the street and the scientists and the technologists who change his world every day, that’s where it comes from. It was inevitable; everyday language was inadequate. I mean, you’re a doctor; how do you operate on somebody, when the best description of his condition you have is “a funny feeling in the stomach”? The medical profession talks “mumbo-jumbo” because it needs to be exact. Or, would you rather be dead?
And that’s only a very obvious example. Trouble is, when I’m being cured of something, I don’t care if I don’t understand. But what happens when I do care? When, say, the people we vote for are making decisions that affect our lives deeply? Because that is, after all, when we get our say, isn’t it? When we vote?
But say the issue relates to a bit of science and technology we don’t understand, like how safe is a reactor that somebody wants to build? Or, should we make supersonic airliners? Then, in the absence of knowledge, what is there to appeal to except our emotions? And then the issue becomes national prestige, or good for jobs, or defense of our way of life, or something. And suddenly, you’re not voting for the real issue at all.
And that, it seems to me, is one of the main issues: We’re by and large not voting on the real issues any more, but based on our unthinking emotional reactions to what we’re being told about issues. And here, as it was in the Middle Ages, the Church (of whatever credo) is stepping in, telling people that if they don’t react in these certain ways, they’ll be denied Paradise.
I think that when it comes down to it, the one underlying factor is that we (speaking generally) are ceding to others the responsibility of thinking. It’s all to easy to let somebody else tell you what to do, because that means you don’t need to spend any time or effort deciding what to do. The problem is that outside of my immediate family–and not necessarily even all of them, or all the time–I can think of only one person in the world who has my best long-term interests in mind. That person would be me. Which means that if I want what’s best for me, I need to do a series of things. First, I need to decide what is best for me. Then I have to decide how to get it.
This all breaks down in one important way, though: society works best when it works cohesively, when we all work together towards what is best not for me, but for us. While those two goals won’t always line up exactly, I’d venture a guess that they’re pretty close pretty often–call it over 85% of the time. The really cool thing is that a synergy starts to develop, and as our society’s fortunes improve, so do our personal fortunes. And an amazing thing: the formula is the same. Decide what’s best. Then decide how to go about it.
So, the resolution I mentioned in the title to this post? It’s one I believe would help us as a nation, not to mention as individuals (and preppers): Cast off the intellectual laziness, and be free-thinking individuals again.