I used to chat with this European guy on the internet. I never knew his real name because he wouldn’t tell me what it was. It annoyed me that he wouldn’t say, an annoyance that occasionally spilled over into frustrating argument. I thought it was because he didn’t trust me but it was because he didn’t trust the internet – or rather, he didn’t trust the agencies which monitor the internet.
The knowledge and intellect of this man were astounding, especially to someone like me who has always wanted to learn how to think but, devoid of teachers and decipherable books, had all but given up on the project. Most people believe that they can think but I’m not sure this is entirely true. I mean, what does it mean, ‘to think’? How exactly is it done?
Imagine that you see a news item or documentary on t.v. about a war or a disaster or a famine, something that seems to be in-depth. Images of human suffering accompanied by commentary explaining what is happening and why. Information is pumped into your head and you feel like you’ve been educated – as if you now know enough to make up your own mind as to what’s going on and what need s to be done. There’s no need to think about what you’ve just been told because somebody else, the reporters, politicians and experts, have already done all the thinking that needs to be done so you don’t really have to bother.
You might talk about this with someone the next day and say something like “I think it’s awful.” That’s not really thinking though, that’s just empathy. Then you might say “I think the problem is…”, and regurgitate the most appealing option presented by the media. There is some thinking involved in this, obviously, but only insofar as choosing the option that most appeals to you. The same can be true when you say, “I think the solution is to…” You’ve seen one news report or documentary and fancy yourself an expert, or at least well informed, and pass off the opinions of others as your own, believing that you’ve thought about it all in some detail.
I often fall into this trap myself – I’m only human.
It has been said that people don’t go to news sources for information but for validation – we know what we believe and so we pay attention to those sources that validate our worldview and ignore those sources that do not. I certainly do that, maybe you do too. Why would you look at a 9/11 conspiracy website if you don’t believe there was a 9/11 conspiracy, for example? Herein lies the problem; believing and thinking are not the same thing.
Belief is in danger of becoming the new thought.
This is one of the most important things that the European guy I used to chat with taught me. For the longest time I had mistaken belief for thought. I often still do, though now I try not to with varying degrees of success.
The European guy I used to chat with is a man of great intellect and knowledge and I enjoyed chatting with him about science, history, politics and all manner of other subjects. He knew way more than I did but one thing did bother me; he seemed to be a ‘conspiracy theorist’ and I was baffled as to how he could believe such nonsense. I’d grown up trusting the BBC and, if there was a conspiracy, they’d have told me about it. The BBC had told me all about what had happened on 9/11, from live coverage of the events as they unfolded to serious documentaries explaining how the Twin Towers collapsed. I believed I knew what had happened and was angered by his lunatic beliefs, as I told him many times. One day, though, he issued me with a simple challenge – “explain to me what happened to Tower Seven and I’ll shut up about it.”
I’d never even heard of Tower Seven but I accepted the challenge, if only to shut him up so we could get back to chatting about the nature of gravity and the best way to run a planet. So I started Googling.
I couldn’t explain what happened to Tower Seven. Furthermore, and to my intense discomfort, I found a lot of things about 9/11 that I had no knowledge of or explanation for. (I won’t expand on those things here – look for yourself, if you dare.) I ceased to believe and started to think, although the process was uncomfortable in the extreme. I was forced to come to the same conclusion that the European guy I used to chat with had reached: that something was wrong here. It was awful. The world was not what I thought it was. It was like seeing a boom mike dipping into a scene in a film; the spell had been broken, the illusion dispelled. I had lost my innocence, though I had not wanted to. My beliefs had been demolished by thought. In a heartbeat, my whole world shifted irrevocably.
Worse was yet to come.
9/11 was not an isolated incident. The more I learned, and the more I thought about it, the more I came to think that everything I had previously believed in was suspect, at best. It was, quite literally, sickening.
To this day I sometimes regret taking that challenge because it was so comforting to believe that the world was as the media presented it. If I had not taken that challenge I would not now be facing the prospect of eviction from my home – but that’s another blog post for another time.
In many ways I have nothing to thank the European guy I used to chat with for – he ruined my life. On the other hand, I have everything to thank him for because he opened my eyes. He stopped me from blindly believing and got me thinking.
But now he’s gone.
He disappeared from the internet around the same time that Edward Snowden’s revelations came to light, nobody knows why. I have lost a great friend and confidante and I miss him dearly. Perhaps he’ll read this and get back in touch with me, for I need his perspective now more than ever I have – and I think he could benefit from what I’ve learned too.
But, all the dark bullshit aside, I have lost a true friend and I want him back – for without friends, life is just a dead loss.