I've been thinking about thinking. I've been thinking about having opinions,...
We like to think of ourselves as rational, but most of what we know we know because someone told us it was so. I did not "think" that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other sides. I actually don't care what the square of the hypotenuse is. But I proved it to myself using tools that someone else gave me. They could even have been lying about the tools. But I doubt it. They seemed like nice people.
"They seemed like nice people" is a methodology of thought, one we use a lot. It's not that bad a mental shortcut; you gotta trust somebody in a crowded world. It helps when the people who tell you things are not asking for money. It always helps to ask "Cui bono?" before taking a new opinion on board.
Have you noticed how much American advertising is devoted to disguising the answer to the "cui bono" question? We want to save the Earth. We take forests seriously. We care about you. We're doing our darnedest to help you be the person you always knew you thought you wanted to be.
So let me ask you a question: What is your opinion of the version of the health care bill that has recently passed the House of Representatives? How did you form that opinion? Did you read the bill? (Of course not; no one read the bill, not even the people who voted on it.) So did you choose experts who seemed like nice people and decide to think what they thought? Perhaps you read an analysis or two written by people who had also not read the bill but whose opinions are often in line with yours?
Well, fine; you are not alone. I only point out that making a decision that way is not really thinking; it's more like agreeing. You are a self-identified member of a group that believes the things it believes.
Not that your own opinions are entirely irrelevant. You believe, perhaps, that the government can do a better job of running health care than the private insurance companies. Well, then, probably you support the bill, even though you have no idea whether the bill in fact gives government the power to take the insurance companies to task - or the will to use that power even if it has it. But the people who often believe what you believe are mostly in favor of the bill, so you are too.
Or perhaps you believe that the bill is a form of socialism, which stifles individual initiative and puts the government in the position of promising more than it can afford, sending the nation into a still worse financial crisis. You, in fact, have no idea whether the bill is "socialistic" under any definition of the term, because you haven't read it, but people who often believe what you believe are against the bill, so you are too.
You may become very passionate about your beliefs, and that's OK. Just don't pretend that you "know" about the health care bill, because you don't. I'm betting there are 893 unintended consequences lurking in the bill, and God knows what havoc they'll wreak. To say nothing of intended consequen-ces, little depth charges placed there by smart lobbyists, that we'll find out about six months from now. So it might be a good idea to acknowledge your ignorance. That would be the rational thing to do. Of course, I'm rational, but I'm really not sure about you.
Or say that you are in favor of same-sex marriage because you believe in personal liberty, the right of any adult human to marry any other adult human. But then there are people who believe that we have the right to own as many guns as we want because that is the way to preserve personal liberty. Maybe you believe in one of those things but not the other. Can you think your way out of the dilemma? And anyway, no one believes in absolute personal liberty, because then we'd have naked people running red lights, and no one wants that.
I'm reasonably sure that I believe what I think, but if I'm wrong I want you to forget all about this.
Well ... all right, so I'm being foolish. Well, all right, let people know about the dreams and wishes you wish in the night when lights are low. Well, all right! Well, all right: We'll live and love with email@example.com.
This article appeared on page E - 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle