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The Last Contrarian
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Why people (even educated ones) can’t think!

08 April 2014, 07:53

“The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.” – Thomas Sowell

Those sentences by Thomas Sowell are more to the point and descriptive than what I bet I’ll be able to achieve in well over two thousand words dedicated to the remainder of this article. But let me give it the old College try.

I’d wager a bet that when neuroscientists finally map the pattern of brain activity that constitutes thinking (the sort of mental process that we glimpsed through people like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, Hitchens, Sowell, Friedman… to name but a very few), we may find the pattern alarmingly—though I’d say predictably—absent from most members of our species.

I’m not saying this to make a statement of superiority for the academic or intellectual elite. There is more to this subject than meets the eye, as I hope I will adequately detail for the reader.

The fact is that the daily toil most people have for a life simply does not command them to think. Why would they when they simply need to stack shelves, punch at keys, sign orders, or give orders.

Even in my field of engineering, very few engineers mentally operate at a level where one could say that they are truly thinking in original ways. Sure, they are wrestling with complex problems (some astoundingly complex) while chalking down their ideas in complex mathematics, but so often they are merely conducting ‘academic rituals,’ and this preoccupation often causes them to miss the obvious solution (or further hindrance) staring them blankly in the face—and at close range, I might add.

I’ve been shocked by how otherwise plain people can sometimes see these pitfalls or solutions that some of the brightest engineers are seemingly insensate to. And you should see the reaction when someone dares tell Mr. or Mrs. Infallible about the glaringly obvious flaw or potential in their magnificently crafted ideas.

This blindness to the obvious is the result of the fact that one can live one’s entire life in the 21st-century without ever having to use one’s own brain. (Note that last bit: ‘one’s OWN brain.’) This is because we have heads full of knowledge invented and understood mostly other people, but very little wisdom with which to apply that knowledge. Wisdom, of course, rebels against the common definition people ascribe to it and its origin, which is ‘wisdom comes from age/experience/observation.’

Wisdom plainly comes from thinking extensively and critically about that which has been observed or experienced. Wisdom does not magically float towards you as you put decades of your life behind you. To claim such is to assume that mindlessly repeating certain behavioural patterns somehow magically conjures an innate comprehension of concepts not covered by those behavioural patterns. This sounds like ‘over unity’ devices to me; where more energy comes out of the system than is put into it. This defies all rationality, so it must be suspected!

But it is not good enough to state the obvious flaws in our species inability to think (self-imposed, mind you) without pointing out what we have to thank for this troublesome condition having manifest so thoroughly and for so long that we’d sooner laugh at the idea of thinking critically than actually giving it an honest try.

This condition of mental lethargy is now so bad that most people think that facts and evidence are merely fragments of someone else’s opinion.

Now let us look more closely what got us to this embarrassing point in our species’ development.

What passes for an education today is actually an outdated method of learning that came into fashion at the inception of the Industrial Age. What we all had to endure for roughly 12 years in public or private schooling is an education system designed to rapidly equip the common person with the sort of skills they would need to competently work in factories or farms back in the 1800s.

The best public schools in the world are teaching tomorrow’s heirs of society the same sort of skills that sufficed for their great-great grandparents, who most likely were rural people who wanted to get jobs in or near the major cities when the Industrial Age began to promise new wealth and prosperity to the marginally skilled. If you think I am being dramatic, consider the fact that no school teaches children how to program—an essential skill without which one can hardly work in any of the engineering fields. And no matter what your field is, if you can program, you can practically perform magic compared to your peers, as you can build tools that help you work smarter and more efficiently.

Now go and open any schoolbook or University book and look at when that thing was printed. Many of those books are filled with well-known errors that are still being propagated into new generations because some academics’ egos are flattered by having their deductions in print and polluting the minds that will have to learn, on the job usually, that some of the fundamentals they were taught in school and University are DEAD WRONG!

I’ve met many people who were taught, in no uncertain terms, that any number divided by Zero is Zero. Oh my goodness, indeed! Some even think X^0 is X or 0 (X^0 = 1 unless X is 0, then you end up in lengthy debates with mathematicians)—this is mathematical heresy! Another common mathematical error that people are taught in school is that, for example, 3 .999… is smaller (<) than 4. In fact, 3.999... is equal (=) to 4, and you can prove it with basic algebra. But these errors are what your children are frequently taught in school … and all in the name of ‘education,’ because we know their future success so critically depends on them being ‘educated.’

Now you know why some people think the earth is 6000 years old. How can we expect people to know any better when they receive garbage for an education? But the lobbyists (merely bored housewives with nothing to do other than clumping together in support of or in opposition to some concept in society) will say that ‘it’s the effort that counts.’ Nonsense! In the real world, RESULTS count, not the intentions behind them, and most certainly not the effort behind them either!

If you program an autopilot to land a commercial jet filled with hundreds of people on the assumption that any number divided by Zero is Zero, you are going to kill scores of people! Luckily, the more experienced engineers stand between these ill-equipped idealists implementing their ‘fresh ideas’ … to the detriment of us all.

University is much more accurate and thorough in what knowledge and facts it teaches students, but it still does not actively strive to quicken the mind universally as was customary for places of higher learning in the latter days of the Ancient Greek civilization (from which Western Civilization pirated almost everything to which it owes its historical success). Where once Universities were bastions filled with the top 10% of the intellectual elite (not just the economic or academic elite … or, as of late, the pigmental elite), like in the days of Plato—who, by the way, invented the concept of the University—now anyone who can pay the signup fees will get their degree … eventually.

Some parents may already be darting for the comments box to rebuke me with a line akin to the following: “But Contrarian! My daughter had straight As and she still could not get a seat at university!” Yes, but have you tried signing her up for a correspondence degree? Not only will she be accepted without much scrutiny, but she will receive her scroll invariably. She will also be much better off for doing a correspondence degree on her own than completing the same one offered (for tenfold the price) on campus—where her days will be spent paying homage to her ‘brilliant’ and ‘infallible’ professors, while she is brainwashed into mindlessly repeating the self-flattering rituals of academia.

Whichever course she takes, the clone factory will, eventually, eject her ‘scroll in hand’ … after which she will have an ego so big she’ll go into the world thinking that she is due a five-figure monthly salary, a company car, and an extensive  medical /pension scheme. When her unrealistic expectations are inevitably crushed under the unyielding heel of reality, she may end up like most degree holders I know: dejectedly flipping burgers at Burger King and forever voting for a political party that promises to give her what she ‘deserves.’ She deserves to prove herself in the real world before expecting such prestigious reward; the real world, after all, is not the academic world where people make a living from holding high opinions of themselves.

And who can blame these kids for having such extremely high opinions of themselves and their academic qualifications, when the education system had been brainwashing them and their parents—for decades now—into the idea that an illustrious academic career guarantees superior economic success. BULLSHIT! I can show you teenagers who are better at running a startup company than most PhD holders I know. Academic prowess, like IQ, is—statistically speaking—no indicator of future economic success, and more often encumbers students or their parents with enormous financial debts to be paid off for years to come!

Bear in mind that a tertiary education in South Africa costs but pennies compared to what the same education costs in a country like America. I’ve met graduates from esteemed American Universities and Colleges who are STILL mired in debt from their student loans (I’m talking about people my age, almost 30), while I am pocketing my entire salary and spending it on expensive vices. In America, getting parents to expunge their life’s savings on securing their children a University or College degree is a MUTIBILLION-DOLLAR industry.

Privately-funded education is one of the biggest, and, ironically, completely legal as well as government endorsed, scams in modern-day history … and it shows no sign of receding from the social and economic landscapes—yet some of the richest people in the world (and people who otherwise have had a demonstrable effect on civilization) have not gone near a University, or had prematurely dropped out of their degree programs. I’m talking about the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerbergs, and Steve Jobs of the world, to name but a very few.

I’m sorry—and yes, I speak from experience—but the education system in its present form is not something that gets the gears in one’s mind spinning; thus we are left to wait for the advances in civilization to be made milimetrically by those who figure out on their own how to get their minds working, and then we benefit from their mental deductions.

Much of ‘education’ is nothing more than ritual, with prescribed and preapproved batches of politically correct knowledge disseminated as ‘THE TRUTH,’ and which nobody is allowed to question—lest the brainless echoers of this gunk (the teachers ) be shown to have no grasp of the very subject matter they teach.

I would never dismiss a person’s academic qualifications, but I would also never give them any special consideration or reverence for it. Having a distinguished degree is an achievement, but it still does not guarantee that the holder has mastered the fine art of thinking and thinking critically. More often, I see that degrees are nothing more than air pumps that inflate otherwise empty heads and egos. (And, yes, I will admit that I have suffered much the same for having run the academic gauntlet myself.)

So while I have in the past spoken and argued at length about the superior cognitive abilities of intellectuals and ‘educated people,’ I hope I have, with this article, reaffirmed a  core conviction I stand by: none of these academic decorations some of us have gathered guarantee that the bearer will ever be a great thinker. And if you can think, why do you need these scrolls of paper—unless someone just wants to make sure you paid your dues to the system, and you are content to go along with the act?  But if you can’t think, then you are merely an organic relay for someone else’s thinking (this is the origin of religion) ... a husk, in essence, a slave to someone else’s convictions—the essence of what it means to be religious/superstitious.

I predict that the day people can think for themselves, the age-old camps of personal conviction and opinion will lay bare and ruined, while those who cracked the whip of conformity will swing from makeshift gallows. The day people can think for themselves, the ineptocrats (a term I coined, so credit me if you use it) will be flushed out of the system at all levels by empowered voters who won’t be coerced or bribed into voting a certain way. The day people can think for themselves, the priests will no longer kneel down humbly before the common man, only to attach the ball and chain of superstition on him—thereby rendering him a serf, for life, to an even older and more sinister system of thought control. The day people can think for themselves, the age-old convictions of superiority, racism, aristocracy, intellectualism, and tribalism will come down like the Berlin wall, and mankind will finally be able to freely interact with himself without restraint by these fabricated and antiquated ideological borders that those who have always gained from dividing people had erected long ago.

So while I have no time for arguing with human husks (choosing rather to dismiss them and their echoed arguments outright with rapid personal insults), I am always ready to be on the receiving end of a humbling intellectual beating from those even more versed in the art of thinking. That is how one learns this mental form of self-defense.

Thus, I conclude with an echo: The ability to think for oneself—within the framework of evidence, reason, and fact, so as to come to realistic conclusions, not fantastical ones—is, in my humble opinion, the only ability any of us needs master in our lifetimes, and the source from which all of invention, advancement, prosperity, knowledge, and wisdom flow. So the sooner we do away with brainwashing people in the name of ‘education,’ in the bowels of these intellectual concentration camps that now answer to no one but themselves, the better off society will be!

But … that is, perhaps, why nobody has even attempted to awaken the pure thought process in the general population. Too many benefit from the unbalanced system which now runs every developed nation on earth. Yet some optimistic historians dare say that Western Civilization had already emerged from the Dark Ages centuries ago. What an ego-massaging joke this claim is!

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