I think, therefore . . .

“I think, therefore I am.”

You’ve probably heard it. It’s fairly famous.

You may or may not know that it’s the foundation for Rene Descartes’s proof for the existence of God. Depends on how much philosophy you studied.

Descartes engaged in what he called a “methodical doubt.” He doubted the existence of anything he could not prove to be real. He arrived at the conclusion that he couldn’t know that anything existed, because his senses could deceive him.

However, he knew he was thinking. Since he knew that to be true, even if everything around him was false, he was definitely real — “I think, therefore I am.”

So why am I bringing up Cartesian Philosophy on a Tuesday?

The fundamental thing that makes us human, that makes us what we are as people, is our ability to think and reason. And yet we are bombarded daily by non-thought. Unthinking philosophy is foisted on us regularly and repeatedly by our friends.

You don’t have to spend much time on Facebook to know this.

God, but I hate the political meme. I get several a day. With the presidential election a year away, I expect that number to steadily increase.

The vast majority of these detestable expressions of political “thought” is that they are created by a hyper-partisan group that snatches a bullet-point or two out of the air and twists it to suit its ideology.

And we forward them. Unthinkingly. Because we agree with their basic ideas.

But the problem is few of them paint a complete or even accurate picture.

There’s a meme going around forwarded by leftists claiming Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan said “Rape is just another method of conception.” It puts quotation marks around the sentence and attributes it to him, giving the clear impression Ryan made that exact statement.

But he didn’t.

What he in fact said was, “The method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”

That is a very different statement. One could infer from it that he thinks rape is just another method of conception. But one could also infer what he means is that life begins at conception.

Regardless of Rep. Ryan’s intent, the meme claims he said something he didn’t. By claiming to quote the Republican nominee for Speaker of the House, the meme is lying.

But many of my progressive friends have forwarded it around Facebook anyway.

And it’s sad, because they’re helping disseminate a lie about Rep. Ryan, because they don’t like his politics and they don’t know the meme is inaccurate.

But it would be easy to find out. A quick search at Snopes.com reveals the truth. One can also ask Factcheck.org or Politifact.com. The Internet, which creates and forwards these misleading ignorance-builders, has the tools to unmask them.

And yet, most of don’t use them. We forward them . . . unthinkingly.

That brings me back to Descartes. “I think, therefore I am,” he wrote.

If I don’t think, then what?

Regular readers of this blog or of my fiction are no doubt aware that I lean left in my ideology. That’s one of the reasons I chose a leftist meme for my example. There are as many if not more specimens forwarded by my conservative friends. (And, yes, I not only have friends who lean right, I like them and think they are good people. It’s possible to friends with those of differing views.) But I don’t want to make it seem as though I am saying conservatives are the bad guys here.

We all are.

We have become so caught up in advancing our own agendas, so polarized into thinking the other side is evil, we’ve abdicated thought.

And if what makes us human is our ability to reason, our power to think, what are we when we stop thinking? If I think therefore I am, then am I not if I don’t think? Do I cease to be a person?

Political and ideological claims should be fact-checked. Memes should be corroborated. We should all adopt Descartes’s methodical doubt strategy when viewing politics on the internet. Claims should be doubted unless verifiable, especially when they seem outrageous. If you think to yourself, “I can’t believe he said that!”, maybe it would be best to check and see for sure if he did.

Because those who write memes are trying to get you to believe what they believe. And since what you choose to believe is perhaps the most important decision you can make in your life, you should make certain the person trying to convince you is telling the truth. You should make sure the claims are, in fact, correct.

And if you don’t have time for that, if you haven’t got the 10 minutes or so it takes to run down a rumor or a political claim to see if it is genuine, I get that. Research takes time, and sometimes it’s hard.

But then don’t hit the “share” button on Facebook (or any other social media platform). Don’t forward “information” you haven’t verified.

Doing so does more than make you look ignorant if you’re wrong. It influences others. It robs us all of our humanity, because it encourages us not to think.

And then we might as well be base animals, with nothing special about us at all.



4 thoughts on “I think, therefore . . .

  1. There’s some irony here in that you’re misquoting Descartes. What Descartes actually said was ‘ Je pense, je suis’ which is ‘I think, I am.’ There was no therefore though it’s become common use to add the ‘therefore’ even though it wasn’t actually in his original text.

    • Aaron, thanks for the edit! I do like to make I sure I get my quotes correct.

      It’s worth noting, though, that, given Descartes’s methodology, the “therefore” is implied. His thesis was that his ability to think was evidence that he existed, even if everything else he perceived could be doubted.

      And my point, of course, is that forwarding memes without thinking, without first doubting their credulity is a bad basis for communicating ideas and advancing politico-cultural agendas.

      Thanks for the comment!

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