Thinking by footnote
William Golding in his essay "Thinking as a Hobby" observed that "[m]an is a gregarious animal, and enjoys agreement as cows will graze all the same way on the side of a hill." I spent some years on a farm with cows on a hillside. The analogy resonates. It particularly resonates in our current political discourse. Several writers on AT have chronicled their vain attempts to have reasoned debates with liberal friends and family members. The cows, it seems, still graze the same direction but abruptly lose their gregariousness should other livestock wander onto their pasture to eat their grass.
My own disappointments in online political debate left me feeling that hanging the carcass of a defeated enemy and then hurling insults as an act of tribal warfare humiliation would have afforded me more satisfaction. Is it not tiresomely pointless to debate the implacable left? The reason is that leftists are thinking by footnote. What I mean by that is that the footnote takes precedence over the thought expression it identifies. Leftists have never been about intellectual exploration, but about disseminating certified thought templates. Like footnotes, the templates lead the mind back to an original conclusion that exists as an unassailable commandment and thus can't be examined.
Before I self-banished from social media, the footnote template responses I got ran a short gamut — Where did you get your information? Has that been fact-checked? (and) That's been debunked on Politico, which is a nonpartisan news site.
People actually can't or really don't want to think anymore, hence the attractiveness of thought templates. People have ceded actual thought to the expert class, which is where all acceptable conclusions and opinions are supported by certified sources such as the nonpartisan Politico or, say, Lester Holt.
Discourse has collapsed to people trading entries on their social crib sheets. Joe Biden, a bit doddering, seems fine to liberals, especially post-Millennials because, in his second childhood, his crib sheets are identical to theirs. In the age of what is truth and all opinions are equal, everyone is an original thinker.
With distributed arsenals of template phrases like marginalized populations, food deserts, health deserts, underserved communities, the latest national health crisis, climate impact calculator, the planet's vital signs or issues that need to be addressed with a national dialogue, government policy will never be at a loss for original thinking.
When people use such weighty phrases, they are sure the templates are backed by a gold standard of learned expertise. They are not. They are backed, though, by the thirty or so trillions of national indebtedness that accompanies decades of failed duly footnoted government policy.
Thankfully, it is no longer bad form to tune out and lose myself in my iPhone when the gregarious cows gather for an evening of national dialogue and competitive phrase-dropping.
Spruce Fontaine is an artist and retired college art instructor.
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