Cafe Witness

Monday, March 05, 2007

Think for Yourself

As information becomes available in increasing amounts and at ever more rapid speeds, it becomes more and more difficult to draw our own conclusions.

How many hours a day do you spend online -- surfing the web, reading blogs, checking news sites, social networking, answering email, etc.?

Add to that the amount of time you spend with traditional media -- the radio on your morning commute, the paper in a cafe, the evening news on TV.

THEN add in the time you spend talking with other people -- friends, family, spouse, coworkers, the small talk you make with the barista or bartender...

That ENTIRE time, you're intaking information. Your mind is categorizing it into various sub-compartments -- true / false, possible / impossible, good / bad, right / wrong -- as fast as it can, so you can formulate a new opinion and feed it back into the conversation at the next possible opportunity.

No one wants to be left out of the information loop. No one wants to ONLY be a receiver; we want to be HEARD.

But when do you make time to THINK?

It (Didn't) Work[ed] in Guyana

I saw a documentary yesterday called Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. For those who don't know, Jim Jones was an evangelist with a powerful cult of personality. He mobilized over 2,000 people to leave their homes and families and come to live with him in his equal opportunity commune in the '60s and '70s, moving first to Redwood Valley, California, then to San Francisco.

When the going got tough -- and ex-members of the Peoples Temple started telling their stories of brainwashing and abuse to the media -- Jones mobilized his troops once again... to Guyana. Essentially overnight, he uprooted several hundred followers and left for a village he'd had built in a jungle in Guyana called Jonestown. There, the people lived in harmony, apart from the "real world"... even as suspicion of Jones's activities rose to a boiling point here in America, and family members of those who'd left began asking the government to get involved and help bring them home.

The part of the story most of us know is the "Kool-Aid." When Congressman Leo Ryan and a camera crew visited Jonestown in 1978, they were gunned down on the tarmac before they could bring the willing deserters home to America. Realizing his time was up, Jones insisted that it was better to "die in peace" than to live in oppression, and so he suggested / cajoled / ordered his followers to drink cyanide. Over 900 people, including children and infants, died -- voluntarily -- in one day.

The documentary is narrated by ex-members of the Peoples Temple, including a few survivors of that day in November -- the ones who suddenly realized none of it made sense.

As their stories reveal, Jones was able to maintain his sway over his followers through a potent mix of personality, sexuality, disinformation, sleep deprivation, guilt, fear and mandated ignorance. Temple members were encouraged to work up to 20 hours a day, were ridiculed if they slept or had intimate relations with others ( both of which were referred to as "selfish"), and were routinely chastised and beaten for transgressions.

But, because Jones convinced them that they could not leave because the world would never welcome them back, few of them attempted to.

In Jonestown, the only media that was permitted was Jones's own voice, which played on a loudspeaker throughout the village, 24 hours a day. No matter what time it was, you could hear "news updates" on the outside world from Jones. This helped cultivate a nonstop aura of paranoia and fear, that someone was always "out to get them."

In the end, the only one who was out to get them was Jones himself. And he did.

And yet... all of this could have been avoided if any of the Peoples Temple members had stopped and taken the time to think for themselves.

Evaluate the Data

Scientists don't jump to conclusions.

They formulate theories, conduct rigorous tests and base their conclusions upon the best evaluations of that data. If they didn't, we'd have laws and theories that could be disproven at the drop of a hat, and the world would still be in the Dark Ages.

There's a reason they're called the Dark Ages: it's because the concept of public knowledge was considered dangerous. The less the peple knew, the more easily they could be controlled.

Today, we have the opposite problem: there's so MUCH information available, we barely have time to make sense of it all before there's more to search through.

But endlessly absorbing information without taking due time to process and comprehend it -- to accept or reject it -- is almost as bad as having no information at all.

Don't get caught up in the information tidal wave. Grant yourself the right to take a break in the day -- several breaks, if needed -- and take a walk. Take a drive. Have a drink. Take a nap. Clean the garage.

Do whatever you need to do in order to allow your mind the time it needs to finish processing what you already know -- or what you think you know. You owe it to the world to put that information to its best possible use. More importantly, you owe it to yourself to understand where you're going and why.

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