It seems the world is getting more complicated isn’t it? I’m sure 500 years ago most of the information people knew was gained mostly firsthand. They knew things like a trade, or farming from actually doing it. They knew about people based on their interactions with them. Still, even then we tended to group ideas into certain categories.
A typical example of this would be found in politics. People have been organizing into political parties for as long as we have had governments. A political party is a group of people who have certain beliefs in common. This can be useful in political campaigns because if your party is popular, you can just say you are affiliated with them without having to introduce yourself to the voters in detail. They just assume that you have the same ideas as the party. That’s Proxy Thinking because the voters don’t have to think about a candidate, they can just apply preconceptions to them.
Another example of how we see the group rather than the person is with credentials. A person with a Nobel Prize can still be wrong can’t they? And yet, many people in society look at where you went to school and what degree you got as a proxy of your value. Nowhere is this more evident than in academia itself. That has a deep level of proxy thinking. Have you a Ph.D? Have you published? Are you tenure? Are you just a TA or Adjunct? It’s a vicious pecking order that relieves the participants of actually having to listen to someone else’s idea who isn’t on the same academic strata. How many of you had a college professor who was never wrong (in their own mind)?
I think with the rise of mass social media in the last 10 years there is a trend towards doing this more and more in society. People just are too busy I guess to form their own opinions. They seem happy to just lump people in together rather than treat them as individuals. Often these beliefs are imported from trusted news sources. By trusted I don’t mean they are actually truthful, it’s just that some people trust them and believe what they say. So, if you get your news exclusively from The Daily Show for example, you will have a certain opinion of things. Or if you watch just Fox News you will get a different take. Neither one is exclusively the truth however because they are catering to their own audiences. With so many choices in information sources, people are becoming more selective, but they are selecting sources that reinforce their own beliefs. If I agree with almost everything on the Daily Show, I stop questioning what they tell me. I have then outsourced my thinking to them, or with my new term, I am thinking by proxy. They do the thinking, I just internalize it. It’s fast food thinking.
I noticed this happening last year in the election because I was never able to have a good conversation with somebody with opposing political views. Every time I tried to, I just got a mash up of talking points that I had previously read online. It wasn’t that they disagreed with what I was saying, they didn’t even listen because I had already been grouped with the enemy by their sources of information. This is important because if you regard the other person as evil then you won’t even listen to the message. Why would you?
You can either destroy the message or the messenger. Destroying a person is infinitely easier than destroying an idea. This is especially true in this day and age where people don’t even listen to the argument. If you go back even 30 years you will see actual debates where the opponents did not attack each other personally.
Here’s an example.
You just don’t see that on TV that much anymore.
Rather than promote the truth, the Internet has split our culture into several different ideological shards. None of them are really thinking about the truth, they are just following the pack and attacking who they are told.
This then brings me to school. How many times in school are students allowed to question what they are told? How many times are they allowed to question the sources of the information? Never as I recall it. There wasn’t time to develop information yourself. Instead it is just learn this, test, learn this, test. Pay attention, do your work, this is right, this is wrong, just absorb it. The test is coming, there’s no time to think, just learn! It is the nature of mass education. I’m hoping that we can come up with a better system that will allow each person to do their own thinking, rather than giving somebody else a proxy to do the thinking for us. I’m not sure the country will survive without it.
“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” - Thomas Jefferson