The foremost duty of a citizen, especially in dangerous times, is to think. Without independent thinkers who are also economically independent of the government, democracy doesn't work.
Remembering and imagining are not thinking. Emotional reactions or ideological reactions are not thinking. Belief in the "word magic" of labels is not thinking. Faith is not thinking.
Thinking is the use of reason to determine the truth as best we can. To do that, we have to shuck emotions, desires and wishes and look at the world in its nakedness as it is, not as we wish it were or as someone else has told us it is.
Reality is not affected by our desires or by our comprehension. We glean data from our senses of that world outside our bodies and use our brains to draw inferences from the data. We have to conform to it; reality will not conform to us.
Clear thinking today is especially difficult, because the present generations of human beings are exposed to information in an unprecedented flood. Some years ago, it was estimated that the average American was exposed to about 15,000 messages per day. I'm sure that number has increased.
Advertising is pervasive with labels, point-of-sale displays and ads in newspapers and on television, radio and the Internet, as well as signs and billboards. Information — much of it false or self-serving or incomplete or trivial — pours out of print publications, television, radio and the Internet.
Information is not truth. It is bits of data that might be true or false or completely useless to know. I've often recommended that people take an information break. Go a week without watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or magazines or surfing the Net. It might be difficult at first, but if you persist, you will be surprised by how normal the world appears once you've cut out the political chatter and the daily roundup of the world's pain and misery.
Another exercise in mind control is that when you are driving, make a conscious effort not to read signs or billboards. Look instead at trees and other natural features. Work for the goal of being able to give someone directions to your house like this: Go three blocks north of the giant magnolia tree, turn east and look for two crab-apple trees.
The most important point is to realize that your mind belongs to you. It is your principal means of survival. Don't rent it out to politicians or political parties or anybody else, including columnists and commentators. All leaders of whatever stripe desire is to persuade you to adopt their agenda. Don't do it. Arrive at your own independent agenda. If your own agenda coincides with theirs, then cooperate. If it doesn't, go your own way.
Next, you should start editing the information that is presented to you. Do you really need to know that Mel Gibson said he's been sober for 65 days? Not unless you're kin or a personal friend. Do you need to know there has been a coup in Thailand? Not unless you plan to visit that country.
Despite all the talk about globalism, in most cases our true interests are local — family, community, region, state and our own country. We should concentrate on these, for here we can make a difference.
While global busybodies worry about rain forests, tribal conflicts in the Sudan and poverty in Africa, our own infrastructure, including public education, is deteriorating. Celebrities who want to hold poor black babies don't have to go to Africa. There are plenty of poor babies of all colors in the U.S.
Think, folks, think.
October 17, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.