Think Harder

In this day and age of 24/7 hot takes on every subject imaginable, a serious presidential run by Donald Trump, and endless clickbait listicles and “think pieces,” I find that deep, difficult, and critical thought is a disappointingly rare occurrence in the general social conversation.

In agreeing with me on that point, many will say that technology and modern culture is to blame. Back in my day…(the argument is so common, it needs not to be discussed here — attention spans are ticking away, people).

In disagreeing with me on that point, many could say that literacy rates are at all-time highs, scientific achievements are happening at an unprecedentedly brisk pace, and general intelligence continues on at an upward swing undeterred by any anecdotal evidence of decreasingly complex thought. Good points, I’d say. I would qualify the points by saying that these intellectual gains are somewhat more concentrated among an elite portion of society and are not so strongly observed for the general masses, but in general I cannot deny these points.

My qualm is that there is a very real movement that is stunting the intellectual growth and critical thinking elements of your average person. We may be smart, but we should be smarter.

In 2016, the average person is faced with information about more issues and challenges than ever before and should accordingly be thinking harder and more effectively than ever before given the greater access to information, and therefore knowledge (People don’t think it works that easily, but it should). Instead, shallow thought remains (and grows more?) popular…

Put simply, people need to think harder about those subjects which deserve more thought.

Yes, of course, to be crippled into inaction by overthinking and pedantry is a truly deplorable waste of time, but I am not concerned with that side of the thought process spectrum at this time.

To illustrate my point more clearly, I return to my initial examples:

Hot takes: It is very useful to have access to immediate information and analysis of various events, especially coming from sources who are knowledgeable and critically-thinking about the subject at hand.

Each individual hot take (even from an expert, let alone a clickbaity Twitter feed) needs to be taken with a grain of salt, due to the fact that the reader knows the author did not have much time to think about their take. This grain of salt is being ignored by many it seems and hot takes are being ingrained into the actual fabric of social thought to disastrous result. Nearly useless uninformed opinions are drowning out more-informed ones, which aren’t even that objectively well-informed in the first place.

People seek out hot takes they agree with and lambaste those they do not, without researching either take and putting critical thought into the equation. The “gut feeling” is trampling “data,” “research,” and “deep, objective thought” when all should be working together.

Donald Trump: The Donald has a very good Twitter if you want an example of blind worship of hot takes. Some of his espoused views are objectively troubling certainly, but I am more concerned with the way in which he has gained his popularity than his actual “policies.” (Not getting into politics here!)

It’s been well-documented that he aims to keep his diction short and blunt, as this type of talk resonates with many voters. His bombastic proclamations about walls, women, and Muslims are pointed and clear, but have no policy detail behind them. Coupled with his well-documented past as a clearly left-leaning liberal, one would think that policy concerns would be top of mind for his potential supporters.

Not so, of course. His supporters point to his “leadership qualities” and his “straight-talk” as his primary appeals as a candidate. His detractors are not blameless here either as they usually settle for hypocritically simple jokes about his skin color/hair/facial expressions/family or inane hot takes about his candidacy that lack any depth or room for thought exploration.

Simple thought equates to more polarized thought, as neither side in the argument even considers the merits of the other side or the mere existence of a middle ground.

Beyond The Donald, this sort of hashtag argumentation has crippled the American political system in terms of its ability to truly serve the American public and protect average Americans from private interests. (Grain of salt, this is almost a hot take as I’m not backing up this claim in this piece, but perhaps in the future.)

Simple “think pieces”: It is sad that “think pieces” have devolved to Elite Daily articles titled: “5 Unavoidable Signs It’s Time To Give Everything Up And Travel The World” or “12 Things Your Dog Can Teach You About Finding The Right Partner.” The meme-ification of some already well-trodden advice is a particularly sad sight. How many insightful blog posts and Instagram picture captions do we need to shallowly espouse this wisdom?:

  • “Don’t care about what other people think!”
  • “Failure is all in your head!”
  • “Live in the moment!”
  • “People that don’t appreciate you don’t matter!”
  • “Friends are good!”

At a surface level, there’s nothing wrong with these pieces of advice. And that’s the problem! The advice is superficial and lacks the ability to be challenged. While there is nothing wrong with this general advice, really, the fact that the authors are lauded as intellectually deep for these kinds of posts is disappointing. It is not so much that these statements are “bad” or “wrong,” the problem is they are taking away attention from other matters which deserve greater thought and depth. Admiration and lauding of this shallow writing only fuels more shallow writing and thought.

Perhaps I should give the authors more credit. Maybe they are just trying to stir discussion and not be the be-all end-all center for debate.

Perhaps not.

Thoughts need not be overly complex and contrived and writing need not be overly long and complicated to be important. I am just imploring people to think more deeply before wasting their time producing or encouraging simple and obvious thinking.

Individuals and society in general have an endless source of thought subjects which need to be approached with critical, energetic, and challenging thought. We can’t waste our time thinking about the same inane advice, generic platitudes, and mindlessly provocative hot takes day after day. We must go further. We must think harder.