By Dr David Laing Dawson
It is very difficult to pinpoint the nature of thought.
We like to believe that our cognitive processes, our internal ruminations, our ability to formulate abstractly in metaphor and in simile, our ability to induce and deduce, to follow a train of argument to a logical conclusion – we like to believe that all this is inherently human and that most of us use these abilities to modify our words and guide our behaviours.
But it is pretty clear after we have spent some time on this earth, that much thinking is a form of after-the-fact rationalization. That is we have already acted or spoken, and now we must think of ways of supporting, explaining or justifying what we just said or did or “believe”. We remain, primarily, biological and social animals, responding to the dictates of our instincts and our social imperatives. And by social imperatives I mean those social initiatives and responses driven by our biology. The same biology that drove our social behaviour in the jungles, in the forests, in the deserts.
Our biological instincts and our social biology care little for truth, for compassion, for consideration, for nuance, for complexity. They care little for members of another tribe. They care little for the distant future.
We start this way as children. As children what we say and do is driven by biology and social imperative. Our behaviour as children is not driven by thought or careful formulation.
As children when we behave badly and are questioned about it we launch into the kinds of rationalizations and evasions that only a child could and might consider within the limits of his or her vocabulary.
But we progress. As teenagers we develop some basic reasoning power, some thoughtful reasoning power. This can lead to the marvelous idealism of youth, and/or stupid behaviour founded on inexperienced reasoning. (If I jump off this roof into the swimming pool there is only a 5% chance that I will kill myself or break my neck) An experienced adult would know that a 5% chance of dying is a risk only worth taking when being treated for cancer or escaping from Syria. Not so the teenager or inexperienced youth.
Some adults give extensive “thought” to actions, to words, weighing the evidence and considering the complexities and nuances.
We want our leaders to do this, our mayors, our governors, our premiers, our presidents.
For some adults “thought” is seldom more than after-the-fact rationalization.
In a previous blog I wrote that Donald Trump’s speech and thought patterns are those of a 14 year-old boy or girl. I have since listened to more of his off-the-cuff palaver. Now I don’t think it reaches the level of a 14 year-old still attending school. Much of it is pre-teen. Much of what he says is of the moment, an impulse, usually no more profound than “I want cookie.” “I hate my sister” or “Criminals are bad people.”
When questioned about any of this he remains pre-teens, child-like, simply repeating himself, or offering a contradictory statement, or switching topics and going on the offensive. I detect no thinking whatsoever.
He does have one bit of commercial sophistication, though. He knows to repeat a descriptor several times, till it replaces our thinking with an echo. As in, “She’s corrupt, folks. Corrupt, corrupt, corrupt.”
We are all mesmerized by this phenomenon.
But please, my American friends, if you want to continue to live at least as well as you do now, if you want a country for your children and grandchildren to inherit, please do not let this man-child take the reigns of power.