From the late comedian George Carlin:
"B.S. is the glue that binds us as a nation. Land of the free, home of the brave. The American dream. All men are equal. Justice is blind. The press is free. Your vote counts. Business is honest. The good guys win. The police are on your side. God is watching you. Your standard of living will NEVER decline. And everything is gonna be just fine!
"I call it the 'American okey-doke.' Every one of those items is provably untrue at one level or another, but we believe them because they're pounded in our heads from the time we're children."
It's difficult to argue with Mr. Carlin's contentions if you are awake and able to think clearly. But, unfortunately, many of us can't think clearly ... or won't.
So, with that truth in mind, I'm offering a kind of primer on thinking for ourselves.
The first step most of us don't take is to question our initial reflexive responses to events. Take a breath and count to ten. Then what do we do when we genuinely want to understand ourselves and develop the wisdom that comes from self-awareness?
I suggest we learn to use elements of the Socratic method. Here is an edited passage from, "The Socratic method" by Ward Farnsworth. I've applied it to use the method with ourselves.
When you find yourself making a claim about right and wrong or good and bad, question it. Ask what the claim means and how it relates to your other beliefs. Look for tension between them; admit that the belief might be incorrect by questioning yourself.
As an example, do you believe abortion is wrong? Why? Because it takes human life? Capital punishment also takes human lives. Do you support that? What's the difference?
As in the example above, you question your first response, but the questioning is artful. If you do this right, you don't need to feel like you're being too harsh with yourself. Instead, following this process will refine your beliefs and get you closer to examining your unconscious presuppositions.
Done consistently, this self-examination process can help you distinguish between what you truly believe and what has taken up residence in your unconscious mind from social media or ideological narratives, i.e., what Carlin called B.S.
The Socratic method presumes that interchanges would be friendly, like partnerships in learning. So, from a Socratic view, denying your first responses is the act of self-friendship. It's a commitment to learning and growing, the first step of loosening the bindings on your mind to liberate your intellect.
Applied rigorously, this process can improve your awareness of your unconscious mind, the repository of so much of what motivates your actions.
You will more clearly see the details and qualifications that go with your beliefs and the presuppositions that come so quickly in your initial reflexive responses. As a result, you might become less sure of what you think. That will feel like a loss, but you will be closer to finding the truth, even if it's a truth that, in some cases, you may never finally find.
"In that event, you will still hold your beliefs, but you hold them a little differently. As a result, you're more humble, more aware of your ignorance, less likely to be sure when you shouldn't be, and more understanding of others. Socrates regarded these as great gains in wisdom."
This brings us to the most desirable goal of our mental life, wisdom. Wisdom is the "quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment" and applying it in our lives.
So, in this world of societal convulsions, our best chance to find peace is to apply our wisdom and acknowledge we have no control over anyone but ourselves.
This is wisdom.
• Robert De Filippis has been a frequent contributor to the Carbondale Times and other local newspapers, and is the author of, "Loosing Your Mind: Liberating Your Intellect for Critical Thinking." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at robertdefilippis.com. Also, tune in to his radio show on WDBX 91.1 FM at 8 a.m. Wednesdays.