Removing mental cobwebs: our moral obligation?

Killed exercising her right to freedom of speech


The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Hermann Goering

As we grow from babies to children, and then on into adulthood, we all develop behavioural and m.ental habits and routines.

These are a form of cognitive short hand, automatic responses that mean we use less energy on unimportant things, and free up our brain to think.

When we give habits mental space, we deal with routine, mundane aspects of our lives out of full awareness. This means we avoid getting overwhelmed by the little things in life, and can save our mental energy for the things that require deeper consideration.

President Obama, upon first entering the White House, is reported to have given the chef a list of the things that he and his family liked to eat, going on to say that he expected to be fed a nutritious diet, but did not need to be consulted about this every day, as some of his predecessors had requested.

Steve Jobs and President Obama both had a “uniform” that they wore nearly every day. Both men felt that using mental energy on unimportant things was a waste of the energy and time that both needed if they were to perform their day jobs to the expected standard.

This demonstrates how two very busy men, in stressful, demanding positions, chose to gain an advantage by consciously developing habits around their day-to-day activities.

When our daily habits become automatic, we put ourselves in a position to save our mental energy and thinking capacity, so that we have more of both available with which to address other, more important, issues and problems.

On the down side, habits can become almost reflexive, stereotyped ways of behaving in response to triggers of which we may remain unaware. The way we act may then be out of our conscious control, and we can put ourselves in the worrying position of finding that behaviours developed to make life easier, have now become complications in our lives.

Driving is a case in point. When we start to learn, we constantly have to think about how we try to control our car. Clutch, brakes and accelerator all have to be in perfect balance to produce enough traction for the car to be able to move. We have to use all our concentration to remain on the road, and as for parking….

Yet, it doesn’t take long until we set off to the shops, preoccupied with another problem, only to find ourselves half way to work with no idea how we got there. In my case I found just how well ingrained habits can become when I wore a jacket for the first time in many years. Even though I had given up smoking thirty years earlier, I found myself tapping the pocket to see if I had my cigarettes with me.

Many habits, which start their lives as helpful shortcuts well suited to our lives, can become dangerous, automatic responses over time. So it becomes important that we reflect on our habits of thought and belief at regular intervals. To challenge our world view every now and then.

We are not born as bigots.

We learn to be like this as we grow up, picking up the ideas and values that we are exposed to, through a process of social osmosis. Serious consequences arise when we act out of these learned beliefs, and fail to challenge our world view to see how well our habitual behavioural and cognitive repertoire fits to the present world.

This was only too apparent in recent events in Charlottesville.

It is too easy to blame others for our current predicament; the Jews in Hitler’s Reich, blacks in America, Muslims for terrorism.

We need to accept the responsibility for our choices and start living in the real world.

Our leaders have a moral duty to expose these inaccurate beliefs to the world, and not to throw fuel on the fire of ignorance.

“Make America Great Again”, was Trump’s promise to the American population, yet most seemed unaware that it was no longer great in the first place, and the same-sex marriage plebiscite that is likely to be held in Australia, are both examples of politicians and governments, who should know better, setting out to appeal to, or worse, to appease, the fundamentalist beliefs of a few of their supporters, at great cost to the many.

In the Australian example there is clear poll evidence that the majority are in favour of allowing same-sex marriage, yet the “liberal” government is insisting on spending $6 for every person living in Australia to hold a postal ballot, which would not be binding.

Racism, white supremacy, any form of fundamentalism, all reflect the empty world of those who believe they are hard done by. In Charlottesville many of the protagonists are still living in a war that ended 150 years ago.

These mental habits of thought and belief inhibit our ability to think clearly or freely. Herein lies a state where we respond to events without conscious thought.

Muslims are seen as a significant threat to the American way of life, even though the American Police kill far more innocent Americans, and even Australians, every year.

I think that it is time for schools to include critical thinking as a key part of their curriculum.

Then we might see fewer tragedies like Charlottesville.

Education is dangerous – every educated person is a future enemy.

Hermann Goering


The Minimalist Mind

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