Maybe we’re feebleminded

March 19, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

As a nation, we seem to be making one boneheaded decision after another.

Iraq has to be the top of that list. We attacked Iraq because we couldn’t let “them” get away with what “they” did on September 11. I have heard numerous seemingly intelligent people utter this other nonsense. The only way this justification works, however, is if all people living in the Middle East are the same. There’s no basis for believing that everyone in the Middle East is “the same,” yet this truly seems to be the foundation of the thought process of many people. Someone from the Middle East attacked us, therefore we must attack someone in the Middle East. And by someone they mean anyone.

By this same logic, when someone in my neighborhood steals my car, I am justified asking the police to throw anyone from my neighborhood in prison. Anyone at all! The important thing is that I am mad or frustrated or embarrassed and I want to cast judgment some more quickly and see something done.

It’s truly amazing that intelligent people can fall for this kind of thinking, but many of us do.

Perhaps it’s because we have trouble categorizing. Take, for instance, the category “the poor.” I know many right-leaning people who claim that all poor people are deservedly poor. And they are lazy, as well as immoral and stupid. This allows many social conservatives to justify social Darwinism at the highest levels of government.

On the other hand, I know many left-leaning people who claim that they’ve never met a poor person who deserves to be poor. This is utter nonsense too. As though some poor people haven’t become poor because they’ve made long strings of horrible choices. As though no poor people are lazy or reckless.  These are the same people who think that all criminals are innocent.

The answer, of course, lies in the middle. There’s a wide variety of poor people and there is no easy way to cast judgment upon all poor people in one wide stroke.

In America, however, we thrive on making these types of over-generalizations. We love to talk about the way black people are. And rich people. And scientists and priests and gays and women and Italians and politicians, as well as teenagers, lawyers, executives and immigrants.  Oh, and don’t forget, people from the Middle East.  It slows us down when we have to acknowledge that every one of these categories and compasses a huge number of diverse individuals, cultures and sub-cultures.  Being people of action we don’t have time for really understanding other people.  This is understandable, given our cognitive limitations, but this excuse does not justify the lack of trying.

We make these over generalizations, all the while knowing that it does blatant injustice upon many of the individuals of any of these groups. And we overgeneralize ideas too. Many of us cause fights over simplistic notions of God and Justice. As though we don’t have serious doubts about these simplistic ideas we preach! We, the feeble-people.  

Too many of us are unable to to simultaneously contemplate conflicting or diverse ideas, facts or characteristics. We can’t stand to think of public figures, cultures, places or ideas as nuanced. We can’t imagine “good” people doing bad things or “bad” people doing good things. We can’t imagine “stupid” people doing smart things. It spoils the fun to slow down and be accurate. Indeed, we pay our comedians to make cartoons out of real-life people and things. And these simplistic façades and caricatures become the news because so many of us get our news through comedians.

Many of those who are left-leaning can’t imagine a sincere conservative.  Many of those on the right can’t bear to think that progressives are actually bringing any ideas of value to to the national discussion. Here’s another example. Look how we deal with the impending energy crisis. We live in a world that is still a world of cheap energy. All signs suggest that things will be changing dramatically in coming years, however. All signs indicate that this may be a huge crisis because the economy could be crushed if we don’t take steps now to accommodate the changes that will soon be forced upon us. But we’re too feebleminded to consider the future of energy as long as we can pull up to a gas pump today and afford a fill up. Very few people are troubled about the lack of a coherent energy policy, but they should be. We could be doing so much to encourage efficient use of energy through conservation. We could be doing immense good by researching new ways of producing, delivering and using energy. But no one is interested in talking about this critical issue, because (I guess) is not fun to talk about. Or maybe because we just can’t contemplate a world of Arendt is the expensive energy as long as we live in a world of relatively cheap energy.

Doesn’t that sound feebleminded, that we don’t like to talk about things that make us sad? Things that make us nervous? Things like the outrageous budget deficit and trade deficit. Things like the necessity of making (reasonable) adjustments to the manner in which the social security system is funded and allocated. Things like the need to rethink abstinence-only sex education, even though it’s proven to be ineffective.

We blithely make overgeneralizations regarding people and ideas, blinding ourselves to the dangers of rough-cut justice.  Why?  Because we are impatient.  Doing something usually satisfies us more than doing nothing, even when it’s a dumb thing.  Such is life for us people of action.

We would rather cast simplistic judgment on these things than to deal with them in a real-life effective way. That’s the feebleminded way.

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Category: American Culture, Education, Good and Evil, Iraq, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Mary Warner says:

    Excellent post, as usual. Nuanced thinking is simply too nuanced for most people.

    From your post: "Doesn’t that sound feebleminded, that we don’t like to talk about things that make us sad? Things that make us nervous?"

    These sentences really struck me after I attended a meeting that was ostensibly about improving our city last week. The energy was great in the room. People were contributing and really thinking about ways to improve the city when someone piped up and said he was tired of all the negative thinking. I said, "If we don't express our negative thoughts, we aren't going to be able to find any solutions." Why bother having a meeting if we're only interested in the status quo – the happy good stuff? I don't see an expression of problems as negative, I see it as a challenge. When a problem gets expressed, it can get solved. Insisting that everyone remain positive at all times is another way to control a group and make us feebleminded.

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    One of my wise teachers told me that a complaint was just a veiled request. The challenge we face is to articulate the commitment which is to be focused upon, and seek aligment.

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