Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Who is in Charge of Your Thinking and View of Life?

Today's post is fairly disjointed. It is a random amalgamation of thoughts that I currently have. Thoughts that leave me inexplicably conflicted in he wake of the current Covid-19 virus that has occasioned a global lockdown and led to loss of life, particularly in Italy.

This past weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon watching 'Everest.' It is the tragic tale of a mountaineering disaster that occurred on May 10, 1996 on Mount Everest.
Lives were lost, including that of New Zealander Rob Hall, who headed Aventure Consultants.

It was then that I recalled a day on May 18, 2016, which was just over two decades since this disaster, I had bought 'The Climb.' This is a book co-authored by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston De Walt and it recounts tragic ambitions on Everest. Key among the factors that heralded this fatal disaster were crowded conditions, bad judgment and a bitter storm on the imposing mountain. Much as the expedition was fated for disaster, blind ambition was also to blame.

I am now reading 'The Climb' to better understand how these people vanished into thin air.

* * *

Since the Corona virus started getting out of hand, I have been trying my very best to focus on other things. I have a lovely pal who keeps reminding me to focus on positive outcomes. And this hasn't been the case only recently.
On November 11, 2019, I completely stopped listening to all radio stations, including the BBC World Service (which still remains my top favorite). About 5 years earlier, I had deliberately given away my TV since I opted to only watch video in my time: YouTube, where I get to decide what I watch, and when. And movies and TV series already downloaded on my hard drive.

My reasoning is that the media - mainstream outlets in particular - have this undue ability to not only shape our opinions, but influence both our thinking and perceptions. I know it is all too easy to openly say and brag how you're totally in charge and how nobody can influence how you think. Nobody is impervious, and just last week, I was writing this about lies:

"What is the cost of lies?
It's not that we'll mistake them for the truth, the real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.
What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories."
- Valery A. Legasov.

And some months ago, when I was reading 'Zero to One' by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, I came across the following:

"But advertising matters, because it works. It works on nerds, and it works on you. You may think that you're an exception; that your preferences are authentic, and advertising only works on other people. It's easy to resist the most obvious sales pitches, so we entertain a false confidence in our own independence of mind. But advertising doesn't exist to make you buy a product right away. It exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later. Anyone who can't acknowledge its likely effect on himself is doubly deceived."

Advertising is mediated persuasion, and it works just as propaganda does.

* * *

I started off my day reading 'Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of your Professional and Personal Life' by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. My focus today was Chapter 12: Developing as an Ethical Reasoner.

This comes in the wake of a conversation I had yesterday with my father, about the Kenya airways employee who got suspended for revealig on social media, that a Southern China Airways plane full of passengers had been allowed to land at JKIA at a time when Kenyans were asking the government to no longer allow flights from abroad.

Accordingly, what Ali Gire did was ethical. But it was not procedural.
And this got me thinking: at what point does what is for greater good supercede what is the right or legal thing to do. Remember this is the same dilemma John Grisham was addressing in 'A Time to Kill.' And it is the same issue that Jonathan Haidt, Silvia Koller and Maria Dias try to tackle in their research paper titled 'Affect, Culture and Morality; or is it wrong to eat your dog?'
The central question in this paper is this: Are disgusting or disrespectful actions judged to be moral violations,  even when they are harmless?

Back to ethical reasoning.
The problem I have with modern society, this neoliberal, "woke" world which pontificates and promises endless choice and freedom on one hand, while hindering free expression in the name of political correctness and which is driven by a hypersentive, fault-finding generation of intolerable individuals who cannot accept views that differ from their own.

In essence, we end up moralizing everything. And this moralizing is indeed subjective, which means that it is not based on what is right or wrong, but what is deemed to be good by those who can shout loudest. What they prefer.

This is where ethical principles, which should never be a matter of subjective preference, lose meaning and value.
It follows that ethical concepts should be distinguished from the norms and taboos of society, peer groups, religious teachings, political ideoligies and the law.

* * *

In closing, the above (if it makes any sense at all) is precisely why I am deliberately and actively taking charge of my thinking. First, by carefully curating what media I consume. This may not seem important, but a lot of what the TV and radio stations are feeding us daily is for the most part manipulative and toxic.

Secondly, I have become very wary of Twitter and Facebook timelines. As I wrote again last week, these platforms are inundated with people whose favorite pastime is pointing out the faults of others, with a callous self-righteousness and satirical condescesion through which they take no responsibility at all for anything, while at the same time not suggesting or offering solutions to the malaise that modern society has become. They make zero effort to right wrongs.

All in all, there is a good reason why Henry David Thoreau retreated from society and stayed in the woods for two years. During this time, he not only penned 'Walden' but - I do believe - he also gained a deeper insight into how exactly to take charge of his view of life and his thinking.

* * *

Just as Tupac did years ago, I'm now wondering if heaven's got a ghetto. The more the world changes, the more it stays the same. You need not look far to realize that though we proudly proclaim our "love" for our brothers, we still haven't realized that we can't go nowhere unless we share with each other. For a start, we can stop seeing one another as distant strangers...
Anyways, it seems that step to step, heart to heart, left right left...we all fall down like toy soldiers.


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