Years ago, I knew of a quite old person who had up to a certain point demonstrated a good grasp of common sense and keen judgement, if contained within a provincial mindset. When I found out he was sending in contributions to obviously smarmy, slick and cartoonish television evangelists, it made me more permanently sceptical about the intellect of the human race.
Among the noise of the furniture and auto commercials and relentless self-congratulation, you will probably find your local television news doing a feature on recurring or newly hatched scams, illustrated with the sad story of the octogenarian widow who just sent $10,000 or more to some caller with a threatening story or a get-rich-quick scheme. (Get rid of those landlines, people!) And please understand most e-mails, web sites and promotions of any kind are just garbage.
Not only are they reeling from the pressure of 24/7 media and bewildering technology, but the oldest generations were always, unfortunately, naively trustful. They were raised to believe and trust all authority figures, to obey and to distrust their own thoughts or instincts. In a recent post, Dmitri Orlov (www.cluborlov.blogspot.com) made the point that the pervasive trustfulness of large portions of the American populace will prove to be a maladaptive quality vis-a-vis survival when TSHTF at the onset of financial or climate turmoil. As the song advised, keep your eyes open and your hands on the wheel if you want to survive this trip.
Our brains are wired to see meaningful patterns, in order to make sense of all the inputs. This is the basis of learning, for kittens or humans, but we're all too often led astray by our assembly of false patterns. Natural and personal disasters must be caused by gods you have offended, for example. Or today, sonorous, loud men in suits and perfect forever-young cheerleader icons on Fox News look like superior people whom you should clearly take seriously. You can't see that Pat Robertson is a lying mentally ill con man because he looks and sounds like an authority figure you can trust. Look for the motives while you're verifying what is going on beneath the surface -- Facebook is a good example. Early on, we were warned it was not really just the fun electronic gabfest it seemed; it was an engine for making you work for the marketers for free. Look for the slant: are the errors you uncover all in one direction? People so readily, and so dangerously, believe in The Whole Thing -- the political party, religion or whatever. I'd say, believe in yourself (it's all you've got that you're in control of) and don't swallow anything whole -- you'll choke and your brain will die. If you prefer the eight years of the Clinton presidency to the following eight of Bush-Cheney, remember that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall law from 1933, which had been the most important and effective of the banking reforms whose purpose was to prevent another Depression, was not vetoed by Bill C. in the late 90s.
Being aware and adaptable takes more effort than drifting in blind trustfulness. It's so much easier to get lazy and pay no attention, to engage in no ongoing due diligence during your life. Do you -- can you -- change direction when circumstances change or your knowledge advances? If you can't and drove like that, with a blindfold on (come to think of it, most around here seem to), aren't you taking unacceptable risks for no good reason?
(Thanks to www.skeptic.com for "errors all in one direction.")