Who Thinks for Themselves Anymore?

            If most people were asked to say what they were thinking, they’d be speechless. Who thinks for themselves anymore?

            Over the last few decades, behavioral economists and evolutionary psychologists have demonstrated that most human decisions are based on emotional reactions and heuristic shortcuts rather than rational analysis, and are woefully inadequate for dealing with life in the real world.

            Has the idea of individual thinking become a myth? People rarely think for themselves anymore. Instead, they think in groups. Just as it takes a tribe to raise a child, it also takes a tribe to invent a tool, solve a conflict or cure a disease. No individual knows everything it takes to build a cathedral, an atom bomb or an aircraft. What gave Homo sapiens an edge over all other animals and turned us into the masters of the planet was not our individual rationality, but our unparalleled ability to think together in large groups.

            Today, individual humans know surprisingly little about the world. As time has gone by, they have come to know less and less. What they do is rely on the expertise of others for almost all their needs. People think they know a lot, even though individually they know very little, because they treat knowledge or information in possession of others as if it were their own.

            But the real problem here is that providing people with more and better information isn’t going to change their minds. Why? Because their ideas and viewpoints are shaped by their individual thinking but by communal groupthink, and they cling to these collective views because it’s safer to be part of group dogma and be wrong than risk thinking for themselves and being wrong. So, bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance isn’t going to work; in fact, it will only make them angry. Most people don’t like a lot of facts, but they also don’t like to be made to feel they’re stupid.

            In the coming years, the world is going to become far more complex than it is today. Individuals will consequently know less and less about technological gadgets, the economic currents and the political dynamics that shape the world.

            How are we to expect these people who are so ignorant and susceptible to manipulation to be intelligent voters? Providing them with more and better facts isn’t going to solve the problem.