Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Abdication of Thought

There's a scene in Oliver Twist where he attacks another boy, an older boy. His "owners" can't figure out why it happened and they call the man they got Oliver from to find out and, maybe, return him. This man blames Oliver's behavior on meat. If they'd just kept Oliver on a nice diet of gruel, he wouldn't be acting so independently.

Now, hold onto that thought. We'll be coming back to it.

Mankind, in general, has never been that big on thinking. Most of us are quite content to sit back and let other people do the thinking for us. It's so much easier to let other people do the thinking, make the decisions, and tell us what to do. And, when we do what we're told, we're saved from any responsibility, and that's good, too, right? "It wasn't my fault; I was just following orders."

Not that everyone is like that or that it's always this way. There have been times when, culturally, we have been more intent on thought and thinking, which is not to say  that everyone thought, but, certainly, more of us did. This, unfortunately, is not one of those times. We are in the grips of a mass abdication of thinking. We're more intent on entertainment and a free ride than we are in thinking and, having thought, doing.

Or maybe it's always been this way. The same small number of thinkers with the mass of humanity just following along. Actually, I know that's true, but it sure doesn't feel that way. It's feels worse now. Maybe it's because no one is calling attention to it. There is no Emerson or Thoreau out there telling us to "think!" And not just to think but to follow our thoughts into action.

It's so endemic that we have at least one presidential candidate out there specifically catering to non-thinkers and non-doers. A candidate who spends his time pointing at the other one saying, "It's his fault," rather than talking about what he's going to do. What he thinks. I'm pretty sure the problem is that he doesn't think. He has none of his own opinions, and, if you look at his voting record, I'm pretty sure you can see the evidence right there. The message here is "you should elect me because I'm not him," not "you should elect me because I can do a better job and here's how."

But this isn't meant as a political statement. It's just an example as to how much we don't think in our society. Often, even our leaders don't do it. I'm sure that's not confined to one party or the other, either.

This lack of thought, lack of promotion of thinking, is in our TV. It's in our movies. And, sadly, it's in our books. You can see it clearly by looking at the things that currently have mass popularity: 50 Shades of Not Thinking and Twilight of Our Minds. Really, it all makes me sad. Traditionally, books have been a place for thoughts, but it seems that that is becoming less and less true.

This is funny: My daughter has this Barbie video in which one of the girl's mothers accuses her of reading too much because it puts thoughts in her head. The mother is a bad guy. Person. Villain. Books should be for thoughts and giving thoughts!

Studies show that TV is almost always bad for thinking. It turns our brains off. Movies, also, are mostly bad for thinking, although we do somewhat engage with them. Books, though, that's where our minds turn on and we think. We think! But we seem determined to drive all thought from books, too. Unless they're fantasizing type thoughts about sparkly chests. Or something.

And all of this brings us back to Oliver Twist, because the rise of obesity in America is just another sign of the lack of thought that's going on and the trend toward more not thinking. What? Yeah, you heard me. Eating too much sugar and carbs not only makes you fat, it turns your brain off. It makes it harder to think and to focus. It makes us all nice, docile little followers that are content to sit around on our lard butts all the time just following along with our consumerist, entertainment culture.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Put down your chocolate and your muffins or whatever it is you're eating and go do some thinking. Or some reading that will make you think. Don't be content with mere popcorn literature. Read something challenging that will engage your mind. Think! And, then, go write something that will make others think, too!


  1. I agree 100%. I noticed the frenzy of YA is dumbing down readers and the classics and/or well-written books are taking a hit as it were.

    There's nothing wrong with YA in that it is entertaining, but as entertainment, it is definitely within the category of "amusement," this not to think.

    Again, there's nothing wrong with any of the above, however, we do really need to cease and desist from believing everything we read has to be for our entertainment.

  2. Or grab a book and go run on the treadmill!
    Someone else talked about how people really are growing dumber. Modern conveniences have made it easier for people to sit back and do nothing. Think of the people in Wall-E. That may be where we are headed.
    As for the obesity part, I refuse to participate.

  3. It's only a matter of time before our country turns into Idiocracy. If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend it. Great satire that sadly might not be that far off.

    Also, the presidential one always kills me. Not just the idea of "elect me because I'm not him," but the idea that the other guy is blatantly trying to destroy the country. You know, like Barack Obama, or Mitt Romney, or whoever the hell else is running is deliberately plotting how to completely and utterly destroy our country like some cliched cartoon villain.

  4. I think Jack Lelain said he was a teenage miscreant due to sugar in his diet - so you may be on to something.

    As for reading. Things that make me think after the book is finished are rare things. The reason I even do the goodreads thing is because so many things I read are forgettable. I talked about my reading mix the other day though and won't go there again. But I think you're right about America. Except that I suspect most people tend to be pretty lowbrow throughout history except for some rare times - I think being aghast at our declining society at least shows you care.

  5. Damn it but I love my fruit loops! I don't smoke. I don't drink. I don't do drugs.....well other than the occasional Xanax for anxiety. Fruit Loops are my only vice! I am however addicted to television. I waste large amounts of time laying around watching television. And if I am not home I record my shows on my DVR....its a disease really. I want to delete every woman on Facebook because if someone tries to explain how thought provoking and romantic Fifty Shades of Grey is one more time I am going to lose it!

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  7. I was just wondering if you had an opinion about the 65-year-old school bus monitor that got bullied by the 8th-grade boys last week. It went viral and she's gotten a huge amount of monetary donations. I'm not asking about your opinion on the money. Rather, I would like to know if you think that children are growing up in an environment where they no longer have any respect for their elders.

    That whole bully thing has started a national discussion. Basically the gist is that kids are no longer taught to think. They are just expected to know but not given skills to think about what it is that they know. They know a banana is a banana, but they have no idea why they eat one or why they should. I know that example is not the best but it's what I could think of at the time of this writing.

    My friend Meg pointed out that she does believe that children no longer respect their elders because we have become a society of consumerism where wages have sunk to such a point that both parents are absent to make ends meet and no one is left to show the kids how to become decent adults.

    As far as television goes, I agree with your statements. However, I was really pleased with the newsroom last night. It's a new series on HBO that promises to offer a different fare that caters to those who love to exercise their brains.

  8. Our television has been on constantly for the last couple of days (due to wildfires being so close to us~ we're keeping track of evacuation orders and such), and it's been getting to me. Too much tv makes me glad I have a garden for me and the little one to work in. And although I'm a big fan of blueberry muffins, I'm also a big fan of our garden spinach...spinach is brain food, right?

  9. Jeremy: Or, at least, not -just- entertainment. There can be substance, too.

    Alex: I do actually think people are growing dumber, mostly thanks to television. SO many people spend so much time in front of the TV, and -all- studies show that TV is bad for thought.

    ABftS: That is a great movie.

    I think I might like to see a cliched cartoon villain in the White House. It would be interesting to see how far he'd get with Congress.

    Rusty: See, he was anti-sugar so long ago, and I think he was completely correct.

    Goodreads is actually how I keep up with what I've read, too.

    Jennifer: I think television is a disease in that it's completely addictive. It really is just like a drug.
    I'll let you have your Fruit Loops, I guess :)

    Michael: Hmm... I hadn't heard about that, and, being out of town last week, I didn't follow up about it, either. But, yes, I think there is a loss of... everything... right now. I was just reading an article about that stuff this morning, in fact.
    Oh, and, also, some of the kids may not know what a banana is. Have you seen that show Food Revolution? (I think that's what it's called anyway.)

    Jess: They do say spinach is a brain food (although I've never checked the veracity of that); it also makes your forearms really huge (if you eat it from a can).