After over 5 years of teaching critical thinking, some ideas seem to repeat themselves, so last year I turned it around for my English course and first introduced what I think are the cornerstones for most problems in our society, before moving on specific topics where you can find those ideas. It worked insofar as that everyone is more aware of these things, but it also makes a good running joke whenever I mention them again. And the students now try to use them for an answer when I ask something. They learned fast that in most cases, they’ll be right with one of the three words I introduced. And I use those words often enough in my posts to warrant some explanation. Which words am I talking about and why are they so important? Good thing you ask, that’s what we’re here for today, kids!
The Trifecta of Evil!: Authority, Ignorance and Pretense!
(it’s not really evil, actually)
The Trifecta of Problematic Things We Should Reflect Upon!: Authority, Ignorance and Pretense!
(not as dramatic, huh?)
People often confuse authority with respect. That’s what most students answer, that authority means you respect someone. But that’s not true. Good teachers are respected for what they do and that they do it well. Authority means you are scared of someone because they can tell you what to do. Authorities have power and control. They don’t need respect.
Authority is so dangerous because it takes away the individual’s power to decide for themselves. Of course there can be leaders who acts in the interest of their group, but that’s not the typical case and the kind of authority I’m talking about. I’m talking about parents, teachers, politicians, police officers, bosses, priests, generals, presidents. People who argue with: “Because I say so.” Who want to be superior, which in return means there must be someone inferior. Authorities don’t want to be questioned because their point for existence is that they beg no questions, they just know what’s wrong or right. When an authority leaves the room, everyone relaxes a little bit because they know they can be themselves again. We pretend it gives us comfort to have someone who tells us what to do, but it inherently diminishes our self-confidence. Sure, there are rules that can be important but if everyone agrees upon those rules, we don’t need an authority to impose them because we’d want to follow them.
Authority works because of fear and fear should never be a motivation for anything. People governed by fear are not free, not even in thought. People who just follow authority don’t follow themselves and that’s why I don’t believe in authority most of the time.
There are many problems in our society, our culture, in the world, but the easiest way to not solve them is to ignore them. Many people would argue that also the easiest not to get depressed by them is to ignore them. What do I care about Africa? The rain forest? Nuclear weapons? Poor people? Kids? Overpopulation? Global warming? Immigrants? Child labor? I don’t care. I’ve got my own problems to think about. But it doesn’t stop there. Are you happy with your job? With your husband? With your kids? Oh, sorry, you don’t want to think about it? Why not?
Ignorance. Is. Bliss. That’s how the saying goes. Bliss. Not “Ignorance can be helpful sometimes,” but bliss, a feeling many people would do a lot to achieve it. That’s what our culture tells us, that it is blissful to not know, to look away, to not act. Because if we didn’t delve in ignorance, we would see the problems and maybe even tried to change them and that’s not something our culture encourages because it wants to protect itself. Therefore, ignorance is not bliss. It’s comforting and comfortable, but it will guarantee that things stay the same, even if they are bad. Better to feel depressed, sad and lonely than to speak up and change something? Does that sound like bliss to you? Repression is not enjoyable.
It’s one thing to ignore that things aren’t okay, but sometimes we’re aware of it. You can’t repress everything, at least not for yourself. But do you tell your children that you don’t love their mother anymore? Do you tell your students that you had a shitty day? Do you tell your clients that they annoy you? Do you tell your boyfriend that he doesn’t kiss well? Do you tell your citizens that you don’t care about their interests? Do you tell your parents that you feel unloved and neglected? Do you tell your audience you just want their money? Do you tell your soldiers their task is pointless? Do you tell your customers that your food is not really healthy? Do you tell your grandfather you don’t like your birthday present? Do you tell your investors what you do with their money? Do you tell your wife what you’re really doing on the internet?
“Oh, how hard it is when pretense falls!” says Abigail in The Crucible. Because the truth is hard to take for people in our society. We’re so used to put make up on it, to romanticize and idealize, to invent and affect. We learn to fake our feelings because it’s more polite, because we don’t want to disappoint, because we think only then we’ll be loved back. But pretense is pretense, it’s not real and it will get back to us in the end. We have novels, movies, plays, songs and comics to lose ourselves in fantasies, but in real life pretending rarely solves anything. Because behind the pretense there are still your real feelings and as long as you don’t adjust them to your actions, you will always lose a little part of yourself along the way, leaving a little void. If you fill it with more pretense, it’ll just get bigger. We’re fated to pretend? Not necessarily, it’s always in our hands to stop.
I’m not saying authority, ignorance and pretense can’t be useful in some instances or that they are evil. But they are flawed as a foundation for a society. It helps to make everyone forget all the things that go wrong if you tell them so, they ignore it and pretend it’s actually good. But you can’t keep up appearances forever. Eventually it will either crash or people will find their desire for something better. Let’s speak up and hope for the latter.