In the 1960’s, the world changed drastically, at least in the West. For the most part, I believe that this change has been downhill. In the The Feminine Universe, Miss Alice Lucy Trent calls this change “the Eclipse.” I can imagine that at least some readers will protest and talk about all the horrors of cruelty, unkindness, violence, and oppression from the past. I am not denying that this was so. The past of this world has been violent and cruel for at least as long as we have recorded history. This is one of the more compelling arguments for the changes in society since the Eclipse. Despite this, I think that much more has been lost than has been gained.
One of the things that has been lost is any sense that authority can be trusted, or really that anyone can be trusted. We are taught to “think for ourselves” and engage in “critical thinking” of everything. Instead of being a contributing part of a community, or seeking a higher purpose, people see it as their (and everyone else’s) duty to keep “informed,” which really means to keep track of all of the bad things that everyone is doing or may do.
The reality is that none of us truly “think for ourselves.” We all rely on other people. For example, when choosing a service or a product, we look up “reviews,” which are the thoughts of other people. When deciding our opinions on “issues,” we rely on others to tell us what these “issues” are and how we should think about them. We are shaped by others in almost everything we do, and often when we think we are “thinking for ourselves,” we are really just choosing between ideas that have we been told.
The same is true of “critical thinking.” I think that there is a place for that; however, it is often the case that the “critical” part is overemphasized. People criticize everything, all of the time. It is almost impossible to discuss any public figure without hearing about something the terrible the person has done. Yes, I understand that there are times when truly terrible things ought to be exposed, but most of the time, the matters are rather superficial and petty.
The reality is that it is hard to truly engage in “critical thinking” in this day and age, because we have lost the idea of an objective right or wrong. One of the big differences between pre-Eclipse and post-Eclipse movies is the idea that there are things that are right and things that are wrong. Yes, there is plenty of immorality shown in pre-Eclipse media, but it is not justified like it is in post-Eclipse media. Good was good and bad was bad. Shows might depict people being bad, but they, and everyone else, knew they were being bad. These days, good and bad are so muddled and twisted that no one really knows what they are anymore.
One may ask, well what about circumstances? An example of which would be the case of a person who steals or engages in criminal business ventures because she can not afford the basic necessities of life for herself and her family. My answer to that is that none of us are perfect, and there are times people make compromises out of necessity in a difficult, and often rather harsh, world. That does not change the fact that what they may be doing is wrong.
It is a funny society where one is supposed to “think for yourself” and “think critically,” but one is also supposed to be non-judgmental. So, upon what does one base one’s critical thinking? Well, in practice, I think that people tend to become part of a group and accept that group’s judgments, often without question. In the United States, there is a liberal “team” and a conservative “team” that is fueled by a 24-hour news cycle. People will support ideas and positions proposed by their “team” no matter how absurd and outrageous they may be, and they will oppose ideas and positions proposed by the other “team” no matter how reasonable and sensible they are.
So, what can one do? I am a long time Star Trek fan, and I think that for the most part Star Trek is rather wholesome, at least to the extent of the Original Series and the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes in Star Trek: the Next Generation is the episode, “the Perfect Mate.” In this episode, there is a woman who is a metamorph, which means she naturally becomes the person that perfectly suits her mate. In this show, she makes the choice to bond with Captain Picard, even though she is promised to marry someone else in an arranged political marriage. She does this because she likes who she is when she is with Captain Picard. In molding to Captain Picard, she understands the importance of duty, and she goes through with the arranged marriage to fulfill her duty.
I think this is a rather good metaphor for us. All of us are influenced and molded by our social groups, the media we watch, and to what we expose ourselves. None of us really thinks for ourselves. What we can do is to decide who we are going to listen to and who we are going to trust. We can decide who is it who will mold and shape our opinions. We can also make that choice consciously, bearing in mind that this will largely determine the type of person that we will become.