Do not be afraid to think for yourself. Modern America faces challenges – domestic and international, economic, political, and moral. That fact is not new, even if issues are. Thinking for yourself is one of the biggest privileges we enjoy in a free society. It is also a duty, since only by using that freedom, do we preserve our free and good society.
The swirl and whir of politically charged media threatens to distract us every day. Let us be honest. The click-clack of constant joust-and-attack disrupts our power to think, erodes confidence in our own judgment, causes hesitation rather than willingness to act on independent thought.
That peril – loss of independent thought – is, believe it or not, a threat to our society’s long-term balance and survival. It threatens the openness of society since oppression of independent thinking, by definition, closes a society. Just ask citizens of the former Soviet Union, modern day Venezuela, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Iran, pseudo-theocracies in the Middle East, or Communist China.
If we lose an appreciation for independent thinking, we lose the power of self-correction. We lose an important reference point – like losing history itself – for setting our bearings. We begin to forget, fall into a pattern of believing all we hear, doubting what works, what is right and not right. We lose our perspective. In losing perspective, we lose our courage and the ability to defend freedoms.
Let us go deeper. The point is not just that we lose perspective on solving today’s problems, putting COVID-19 behind us, restarting the economy, resolving racial tensions, stopping the creep of socialism.
If we lose a determination to preserve free thought, the sort shared by those who passed that privilege to us, we lose the readjusting process on which the entire republic depends for survival.
Too often today, we are swept up in bombastic headlines, twisted by self-assured – yet often inexperienced – members of a “new media,” activist newsrooms with no interest in history or critical thinking, digital giants quick to censor, and the chop and bob, dodge and drift of social media.
All this adds up to a blinking, red light. At risk is the very idea of independent thought. On college campuses, we see “force them to resign,” “ban the club” and “cancel culture.” The aim is to silence students and professors who offer historically, morally, economically, and politically diverse views.
In newsrooms, the same affliction is creating a semi-socialist herd mentality, deposing old editors, disavowing practices, disposing divergent opinions, closing the Supreme Court ‘s “marketplace of ideas.”
Among politicians, we see buffoonery and demagoguery – that is, stupidity, over-emotionalism, and self-worship – replacing rational discussion, patience, respect, and adult leadership. Over time, Congress, governors, and mayors are tipping toward overriding constitutional rights for political gain.
Many of us watch in disbelief as traditional American principles, such as free speech, free markets, free assembly, freedom of worship, due process, rule of law, civic order for civil conversation on civil rights, respect for law enforcement, public safety, border and national security, have been eroded.
We are not happy, seeing a presidential election questioned, undermined and – if facts bear out criminal charges – for a former administration seeking to block a political rival from assuming office.
We are not happy seeing democratic institutions derided and misused, House committees dropping due process in a rush for impeachment – unsupported, as it turns out, by testimony they had at the time.
We are not happy with misuse of the foreign intelligence surveillance process or mass unmasking of phone calls with American citizens – including Trump campaign personnel. We are not happy with coordinated, indefensible, often illegal press leaks promoting untruthful positions and politicians.
Most recently, as the nation struggles to reassess, reevaluate, and reprioritize “equal protection” under the law, improve race relations, and reconsider use of force policies, an over-zealous, over-emotional, and activist press corps – most not alive in the 1960s – has become a source of new division.
Headlines scream to “disband” and “defund” the police, those precious 900,000 citizens who keep peace for the 350 million. The lunacy of this idea, the notion that any civilized society can exist without enforcing laws, is beyond comprehension. Yet here we are.
In the context of a society suffering fissures that began decades ago, made deeper by the unchecked rise of irresponsible political and media leaders, we are reduced to basics. We must pause long enough to think about where our society is, how we got here, and how we get out.
In short, while the world screams at you to forget life experiences, what you have learned to value, including self-reliance, honesty and integrity, common sense and good judgment, rational evaluation and walking a circle around the bombastic and irrational, you have a choice.
The choice is about how you will conduct your own thinking. More accurately, it is about whether you will conduct your own thinking. Do not be afraid to think for yourself. If ever we needed it, we do now.
When fear arises that you will be judged, could err and not be allowed to correct, may say something not well-received, or could be professionally threatened, trust yourself. Provoking is unproductive, but so is standing silent in the face of wrongs, or abandoning life lessons learned.
American writer and independent thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Trust thyself – every heart vibrates to that iron string.” True enough, and here is another secret. Independent thinking by citizens is what keeps our republic strong. Our greatness as a people depends on our goodness, which depends on moral compass and how much we trust ourselves.
The Frenchman, Alex de Tocqueville, observed of America: The “secret of her genius and power” is that “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” The corollary is that our national goodness, depends on individual goodness, which depends – at the end of the day – on trusting our own judgment, and thinking for ourselves.
Independent thought – no matter what rages against it – is what preserves a free and good society. So, do not be afraid to think for yourself. Do not doubt your capacity for reasoning, reach-back, goodness and grounding, your reliance on history and hard-won life experience to think for yourself. You have it, you need it, and our nation needs us to use it. You might say, it is a patriotic duty.