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Need for Independent Thought

Posted on Friday, November 10, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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19 Comments
Uniqueness and independence. Dissidence. Stand out from crowd. Thought leader. Red wooden figure different from other.

Have you noticed? Politicians and media trippingly embrace extremes and urge us to as well. They demand we accept politically charged assumptions and ungrounded conclusions. We are told the sky is falling, the world is ending, the government is right, and half of us are the enemy. You have to be “all in,” or you are out, love this, hate that, follow the crowd, or you are a chump. Well, here is to chumps – those who think for themselves!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his courageous 19th-century writings, including Nature, The American Scholar, and Essays on Self Reliance, made a pitch for you being you, for you being authentic, real, seeking truth on your own terms, all of us conducting inquiries as if we alone decided, not accepting what others tell us.

He argued for rejecting what the media – in his day and in future days – push, instead using our individual discernment and life experience to arrive at an understanding, tapping our creative side, ignoring what society insists we must think, must say, must do and be, in favor of being a non-conformist, an individual.

Emerson wrote: “To believe our own thought…is genius. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages…In every work of genius, we recognize majesty [and] great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this…They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility, most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.”

He famously wrote, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string” and “Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist,” by which he meant should search for truth on his own, be uncowed by the crowd.

He wrote in greater depth about how integrity is best preserved, along with self-respect, and how greatness comes from the courage to think and act for oneself, the gumption to be uncompelled by the crowd. 

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.”

He continued: “It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion, as it is easy in solitude to live after your own – but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Having recently re-read his Essays on Self-Reliance, Emerson refreshingly tells us what we ought to know and ought to embrace, but somehow, what gets soft over time and what we fail to say to ourselves.

“For non-conformity, the world whips you with its displeasure…the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, disguise no God, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.”

He also cautions against becoming content in an unexamined or easily repeated view, which over time may best be reexamined, given context, or remade to fit a new reality. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers, and divines.”

Like our founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention, who often changed their minds in pursuit of the right answer or right wording for one of the Articles or Amendments, we must be unafraid to examine what we think we know and think about it again.

As Emerson reminds us, “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks…See the line from a sufficient distance and it straightens itself to the average tendency; your genuine action will explain your other genuine actions, your conformity explains nothing.”

Finally, he reminds us – as what they called a transcendental or spiritual thinker – to seek light, not darkness. “Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye maketh, but the soul is light, where it is, is day; where it was is night.”

Arguing for life in the present, fully engaged, welcoming independent thought and action, he notes that “Man is timid and apologetic…He dares not say ‘I think, ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or blowing rose…He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

What these essays really say, at times controversial yet powerful, is that we are each given the power to examine life and to see – for lack of a better summing phrase – common sense or truth. We are obligated, by life itself, to seek truth independent-mindedly.

In his speech, The American Scholar, Emerson argued a truly free and independent man must grow up – and he urged America to grow up – “not parrot other men’s thinking,” but look at the world around him and “settle its value in his mind.” 

Fellow scholar Oliver Wendal Holmes Sr. called that specific speech “America’s intellectual Declaration of Independence,” a clarion call for all time to independent thought and action in a harried, cluttered world. If that call was relevant a hundred and fifty years ago, it is only more relevant now, have you noticed?

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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PaulE
PaulE
5 months ago

RBC,

Another excellent article and one I completely agree with. Critical thinking skills are all but extinct in this country as large swaths of the public robotically follow whatever the MSM and the political class tell them to think. Independent research of the facts and subjects discussed by the general public to ascertain the truth behind the claims out forth by those in the biased media and in government is almost never done anymore.

The most outrageous lies and distortion of facts are now blindly accepted as truth by an incredibly large percentage of the unthinking and unquestioning public. The Marxist goal of dumbing-down the American public to the point where they will follow nearly anything the left puts forth as been a resounding success.

How both Putin and Xi must laugh about the engineered decline of the United States every time they speak to each other. There is no need for either of them to ever fire a single shot at the United States, because based on the trajectory we’re currently on, the politicians and media on the left will soon be able to convince an unthinking American populace that handing everything over to either China or one of their many international proxies is the greatest thing to ensure America’s future. Think it can’t be done? Just look at how well a large segment of the population has been conditioned to think that murderous savages, known as Hamas, who butchered women and children, are actually the victims and mass genocide of Israel should be supported. As the Chinese like to say as an insult “May you live in interesting times”. Well, we certainly are.

SusanW
SusanW
5 months ago

Thank you, Bobby, for another important reminder of what we must all practice and value each and every day. Free thinking. I’ve devoted my life to teaching our youth how to think on their own and only except the “truth” after looking at it from many different angles. As Leo Tolstoy so thoughtfully said, “ Free thinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.” In today’s complex and distorted world, it is more important than ever to listen carefully and without bias, before responding to another’s way of thinking. As Albert Einstein so wisely said, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” So true! Let’s not forget that God brought us all into this world with kind and loving hearts.
“ Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
5 months ago

Thanks for writing this article about the wisdom of Emerson , it is appreciated. The saying ” Know Thyself ” has surely gotten a great deal of mileage over the years, ( over the centuries ) and I do believe is closely connected to the idea of being true to ourselves ; it would follow that being true with ourselves would be required from time to time , that is another way of saying it is important to be able to recognize and correct mistakes. It is good that you mentioned how that was done at the Constitutional Convention , by the Founders at that time. It would be great if many men and women in leadership positions read and gave serious thought to this article as it has many applications at present and the preservation of freedom and the value of independent thought are essential in order to keep the United States of America on the right course. The Oliver Wendell Holmes comment about how the Emerson speech ” The American Scholar ” was America’s Intellectual Declaration of Independence – that is really good, very appropriate thinking in that observation. Well done with this important writing Robert.

A Voter
A Voter
5 months ago

Take your children out of public schools. That is where the brainwashing begins. It is also were children are being taught to not think. Rather they are taught to simply do.

Emer
Emer
5 months ago

Emerson is the great American philosopher. When our great grandparents took the children out at mid-night to admire the heavens, when they taught us to recognize the call of a blue-jay and the song of a cardinal, when they pointed out the beauty of nature and how we could become at one with the stars it was Emerson’s transcendentalism. The ideas inspired many to admire nature and to see the beauty all around us.

dac
dac
5 months ago

Thank you again RBC, for yet another perspective on life.
“We are obligated, by life itself, to seek truth independently-minded.” I believe this is so “true.”
I also believe that we need to seek truth. It is not always apparent. Definitely not always in what some people try to pawn off as truth.
I was raised to have total respect for those in authority. Somewhere in life I realized that all in authority do not deserve that respect. Some do. Some are just people in a position, for some reason, that are just, well, full of sheep dip.

I don’t think all conspiracy theories are far fetched. Sometimes when you see smoke there actually is a fire.
Sometimes the truth is there if you look for it, in the right places.
Dan

anna hubert
anna hubert
5 months ago

“Experts” were pointing us in the right direction for decades We trusted their guidance because after all if they did not know who did? The result of that is a disaster we are facing now Every aspect of our lives has been affected Worst part is the heard mentality it resulted in We are not allowed to use our judgement but follow the orders If an expert declares the sky to be green it will be green Self reliance and self responsibility does not go with the collective society which is the aim of this game

Melinda
Melinda
5 months ago

I am often at odds with my family and many commenters because I tend to be moderate in my views and try to be thoughtful when thinking about issues. That doesn’t seem to be a popular mode these days, but I wasn’t popular as a teen or an adult, and it hasn’t affected my ability to function or my self esteem.

Rik
Rik
5 months ago

I am definitely my own person! . . . I might not always view all the facts because I might already have a preconceived opinion and I trust my ability to act steadfully loyal to it. Yet, if proven wrong I will look to adjust my opinion. But I can also be very stubborn to change if I think I’m very right! I also will challenge people who I disagree with as Far Left Liberals have discovered.

Jeri
Jeri
5 months ago

I respect each individual’s independent thoughts. Within the laws of America, think what you want, do what you want, be what you want, say what you want, act how you want, I think you get the drift. Here is where others have a problem with me. I have zero interest in the consequences you experience for your choices. I refuse to be a bleeding heart. If your actions/choices get you in a pickle, I very simply don’t care. You didn’t care about what you did to yourself why should I care about you if you don’t care about you? God Bless and good luck with your choices. I am not interested in using my time, energy and/or money to come to your rescue. I owe you nothing, you owe me nothing. Not much else I can say, except go for it.

John Shipway
John Shipway
5 months ago

i will believe AMAC desires independent thought and speech as soon as they dare mention that perhaps it isn’t all that “cool” to sit back and help assist Israel in slaughtering children in their supposed efforts to get at HAMAS…….a group Israel along with the USA founded. Don’t believe me, look into it yourself. The US had HAMAS members on payroll as agents used to try to overthrow the leader of Syria Mr. Assad. Didn’t work like most things America attempts, but our wise politicians sure gave it a try.
Almost everything we have been taught has been either completely false or a goodly portion of it is.

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