A timely New Year’s resolution: Think | OPINION

An odd thing happened in Iowa — or rather, it didn’t happen. You’d think that intellectual triumphs like space exploration and gene splicing would show that we’ve become better thinkers but just the opposite has taken place. If the Iowa primary reflected the nation’s quality of thinking, our mental processes definitely need some work.

It operated like a circular firing squad. Over an entire dispiriting hour, presidential hopefuls threw flak at each other, scoring not so much on their own merits, but on how well they tripped up opponents. It wasn’t a thoughtful exercise. It wasn’t pretty. I sincerely hope children didn’t take those party luminaries as role models.

One flabbergasted commentator said, “I think ...” and then went on to deliver his opinions on the Iowa circus, which fell short of even kissing-cousins to thinking. How many times in a day do we hear someone say, “I think?” I think the eggs are done. I think we’re almost out of gas. I think you need to turn up the thermostat.

A person might suspect that the eggs are done, see that the gas-gauge reads empty or feel chilly enough to want more heat but those observations fall short of real thought. Real thinking seems to be in short supply and that shortage accounts for quite a lot of the social ills afflicting us.

What too often passes for thinking nowadays is the mulling of one-sided arguments. One-sided “thinkers” assemble self-serving positions from one-sided sources clipped selectively from the whole fabric of reality. That sort of thinking is useful in protecting the bottom lines of businesses or pro-sports where survival needs self-serving agendas but it cripples the national debate.

The right side of the Senate abandoned thinking when it vowed to oppose all new forms of taxation. Although voters elected senators to think through tax issues, what did they do? They abdicated their responsibility to think by signing a pledge to not think about taxation issues. They were voted into office to use their brains to reason out issues, not sign away independence. Every senator who signed that pledge deserves a pink slip.

That ideological line down the Senate’s dividing aisle serves to cripple thought. While name-calling and charges of incompetence flow across it like the tide through Deception Pass, real thinking bounces off it. Parties are stuck with group-think that can’t pass for real thought because it draws its nourishment from fellow ditto-heads.

Thinking senators and representatives understand that more can often be learned from enemies than friends. Love your enemies is more than a Biblical injunction to not be a hater. It hints that enemies just might hold some useful thoughts, too. Too bad that party arm-twisters and cash-dispensing lobbyists hold that to a minimum.

Real thinking is flexible though political attack-dogs love to bark at opponents whose thoughts lead them to change course. Waffling, they call it. I call it thinking when a leader charts mid-course corrections in light of changing realities. Against this, block-headed ideologues “stay the course” no matter how ill-advised — as did officers who sent the doomed 600 to their deaths in the tragic Charge of the Light Brigade. Real thinkers adjust. Across 99.9 percent of our species’ history, people thought more flexibly than many do now. Shepherds and nomads weighed daily threats from predators and inclement weather and adjusted. Today’s leaders need to think less like sheep and more like shepherds concerned with their flocks.

For instance, in our colossal vanity we’ve taken to fancying ourselves the only species on the planet capable of thinking. So self-elevated, we’ve made up a self-serving definition for natural areas and wildlife habitat, defining them as, “that land or water that holds no potential for human exploitation.” A neat parallel with D.C. politics arises if you think of humans as a global Congress and all others species as their constituents. The human “congress” thrives by driving its natural world constituents toward extinction.

I once thought that dysfunction in government blossomed from differences in what people think. In time, it became clear that it was more a matter of how differing groups think than what they think. One group lists change as the nastiest six-letter word while the other says, change starts here! One group takes its cues from a dusty album of clippings and old photos. The other welcomes a future where things can be different. One group builds walls of its knowledge to protect itself from the unknown. The other uses pretty much the same knowledge to build roads and bridges into an uncertain future.

But the recent spike in pandering to moneyed interests has made clear that what really skews Congressional members’ voting has less to do with what or how they think and more to do with whether they retain enough independence to think at all.

Comments may be sent to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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