How to think for yourself

Why should you think for yourself?

Knowledge is Power. Actually, it isn’t. Knowledge is pretty useless. The actions you instigate as a result of having knowledge are what give knowledge value. So if you know why a total eclipse of the sun happens and have the calculations to predict when and where it will happen in the future whilst everyone else doesn’t, you can use that knowledge to attribute power to yourself (should you be that way inclined) and have everyone consider you as some kind of god when you demonstrate your power over the sun.

If you were in thrall to such a manipulative person, being able to think for yourself could prove to be your salvation—or your condemnation if you openly challenge their power.

Someone tells you a story.

The story is like knowledge – benign in its pure form but often the telling of the story is a prelude to some kind of reaction. The story serves as a justification for the action. If the action involves going to war, for example, that could result in the deaths of members of your family, then it would make sense to go beyond merely accepting the story as true and to ask searching questions of it.

Believe no one, assume nothing.

This is the mantra all police detectives should recite. The police rely on evidence to secure a conviction so their job actually demands this approach.

Most of us however, are not police officers so this kind of extreme scepticism is impractical. So what methods can we employ?

The line of least resistance is your worst enemy.

If someone in authority tells you a story, the easiest option is to believe it. Often this is the most sensible thing to do. If a fire officer tells you a building is ablaze and you shouldn’t enter it, there is no reason to challenge this if you can see the flames spouting through the windows. If however the building is a bank and you have cash deposited in it and the figure in authority is the bank manager who insists the building is ablaze when you can’t see any flames or smoke, you might be tempted to wonder if there is something else going on.

View the story as a crime scene.

If all you have to go on is second hand reports, you could be told anything and have no way of knowing if any of it was true. You need evidence. Look for motives when checking the crime scene; why would the bank manager tell this story? Who would benefit from it? How would they benefit? Why is the story being told now?

Look for evidence.

If you see a queue of worried people near the bank clutching passbooks, they might be relevant to the story. Check with them for any insights. You’ve already noticed that there is no evidence of fire (although it could still be contained in the building) so formulate your own hypothesis. This is basically employing the scientific method: you don’t have the answer so you come up with a theory of what might be happening based on the known facts and past experience etc. In this case, you might propose that the bank has become insolvent and is trying to hide the fact to avoid a run on it. These kind of events have happened in the past so by extrapolating from these incidents you can convincingly make the case for the current scenario.

Now you can experiment. Call the fire brigade, ask them if they are dealing with a fire at the said bank. Check with Companies House and ask to look at the financial accounts of the bank – do they appear sound? Don’t forget the accounts might be falsified.

The experiments you conduct to verify or contradict your theory are down to your creativity. This improves with practice.

Game the system.

In this exercise, imagine the worst possible people with the worst possible motives trying to achieve their goals. What might their goals be? How could they cheat the system? What is the culture in the industry? Does your hypothesis allow for cheating in the system? In this exercise, such scenarios as ‘false flag’ incidents become entirely possible but no matter how outlandish the proposal, proving the case is still a requirement.

Your experience is not the whole story.

You may have direct experience of a scene that is being described elsewhere by other people in a way that differs from your experience (newspapers prints stories that claims a bank is ablaze, for example). This should make you want to question the origin of these stories (there needs to be more than one story) as it disagrees with your experience. However, you should be aware of the possibility that your experience could be the one that is exceptional and not reflective of the overall picture. Check your privileges and your biases (not easily done).

Be prepared to change your position.

This is the hardest part of the process. If you have invested a lifetime in believing a particular set of ‘facts’ or opinions then as data or evidence begins to contradict those ‘facts’ (your money is not safe in a bank, for example), modifying your position can feel like losing your identity.

Believe no one, assume nothing.

It goes without saying that you should apply the same critical analysis to this post as you would to any contentious story you might come across and if any of it is found wanting, it should be disregarded. You must decide if the information it contains is relevant to you or not.

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