I said understanding is the desire to actually seek out the causes of a problem and try to solve it, instead of relying on pat answers and dogmatic solutions. When I say it like that, it sounds very, very easy. And yet few people are actually doing it. So the question naturally arises, why is that the case?
It would be too easy to simply say that people don’t want to think. Even if that was true, why don’t they? People can be thoughtful and can develop opinions based on what they know. But there seems to be few occasions for people to do so. Our entertainment is mindless button-pushing, our work is tedious and devoid of decision-making, and we are not informed of what’s happening in the world (all we have are television 24-hour news channels with no actual content and newspapers filled with irrelevancies, crimes and celebrities). There is not a lot of time or place in people’s lives for idle thoughts or serious debate.
The ideologies that do dominate the media and people’s conversations are basically dedicated to identifying simplistic and false layers to all problems. All problems have layers: what is directly visible, what is indirectly visible but must be deduced, and what is not at all visible to the average observer. It’s pretty hard to get the first one wrong, since everyone can observe it for himself. The other two are vulnerable to reinterpretation, story-telling, and outright lying. The media and other propaganda and ideological outlets do all of these on a regular basis, 24 hours a day. Not only do they style themselves as the experts, but there are few ways for people to independently verify the presented data or assumptions.
There are always two ideologies: that which is theoretical and that which actually exists. There is theoretical capitalism (“you are free to prosper like everyone else”) and there is actually existing capitalism. There is theoretical democracy (“everyone gets a say”) and there is actually existing democracy. There is theoretical failure (“we are all equal, so if you fail it’s your fault”) and there is actually existing failure. There is theoretical globalism (“making the world better”) and there is actually existing neo-liberalism. There is theoretical law enforcement (“stopping people from hurting others”) and actually existing law enforcement.
We are indoctrinated with a theoretical understanding of reality which goes beyond what is directly observable. This theoretical understanding is used to rationalize the injustices of what actually exists, it serves both as an idealization and as a justification. The Ayn Rands and the George Reismans are the ideological stormtroopers for the George Bushes and the Sam Waltons.
There are actually two separate mechanisms used to accomplish this dichotomy. The first is thought-stopping, where a mantra is used to prevent doubt from flourishing (“we live in a class-less society, we are really all equal”), and the second is the separation of people in “us” and “them” (“poor people are lazy, that’s why they’re poor; if they worked as hard as the rest of us, they’d have the same outcomes”).
After a while on this regimen, the laws, policies, commandments, rules and regulations become the shortcuts we use so we don’t have to think. It is a simple logical fact that people who are discouraged from using their own ethical standards will have to rely on some other standards exterior to themselves. The end result is a cowardly populace which cannot defend what’s right, not because they don’t want to, but because they cannot conceive of the laws, policies, commandments, rules or regulations being wrong in themselves and in need of abolition.
From our childhood, we are indoctrinated to be cowards, to not speak up, to refrain from contradicting. When we are very young, our parents assume the role of control (as they have been taught they must in order to make “good children”), rejecting any attempts by the child to assert himself or go against his parents’ will. They generally attempt to hammer a given set of values into the child (although some lucky children get to discover themselves instead of another person’s ideal of themselves). In school, we learn that speaking up exposes us to humiliation, and the lesson of not contradicting authority figures is reinforced in the person of the teacher.
We also learn that competition is the name of the game, and that winning is more important than helping. A competitive culture cannot be anything but a culture of cowards, because all competition is based on games conditions, which turn people’s attention away from, and actually discourages the examination of, injustice inherent to the game and makes everyone concentrate on agreeing and complying with the rules in order to have a chance at winning the game.
Unfortunately, the rising New Age movement also provides us with more reasons to be cowards. In most New Age ideologies, bad things happen because we attract them, everything is an “evolutionary experience” and happens for a reason. Such beliefs can only lead people to ignore the evils in the world and leave others to “sink or swim.” Furthermore, New Age people tend to believe that thinking critical thoughts is hurtful for the individual, which can only destroy one’s personal integrity.
In general, these represent general thought-stoppers, meant for people to trivialize or ignore evil, so those who commit it can remain unpunished:
“What goes around, comes around.” (sometimes true, but a lot of what happens to us is not our own doing)
“If you can’t say anything good, then don’t say anything.” (a favourite of many parents)
“Stop your negative thinking- think positive.”
“It’s all in your attitude.”/”You can make yourself feel good about it, if you just want to.” (that’s true, but isn’t making oneself feel good about something destructive a sort of self-delusion?)
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” (true insofar as legalistic justice goes, but can also be used to push away facts)
“Other people’s evil will be punished in the next life; worry about yourself in this one.”
“As long as the rules are followed, it doesn’t matter what happens to others. You worry too much about other people’s business.” (I’ve been on the receiving end of this one a lot)
These beliefs can make you calmer person, less concerned about the world, and so on, but this is meant to lull you. Whether you realize it or not, these beliefs are used to destroy any resistance you might have, by the criminals around you (bad parents, your bosses, political authorities, religious figures, and so on).
Those who still have some resistance left in them can’t identify the correct causes of the evil that they fight, because they have not been equipped to do so. They generally do not have the education, the intuition, or the knowledge necessary to identify causes. Because they have been taught that individuals are sole responsible for their actions, they fall back on the “if we only had the right people in place…” syndrome, and fight to elect new politicians, new bosses, to be accepted in the system, and so on. But this is a condemnation to failure. They do not confront the system because they are not equipped or willing to do so.
Raising people’s level of confront has to start with liberating them from the games conditions they are stuck in, with the associated mental attitudes, and raising their self-esteem to a level where they can think freely and criticize without excessive self-doubt or fear of being ostracized.