Thinking Outside the Box

Have you ever wondered if an idea was really your own? Was it derived from your own thought, reasoning, and intuitive power, or was it borrowed, stolen, or given to you as a gift? If not your own, how did you come by it? If a gift, who gave it to you, and why? When I bought my Apple computer did I really “think different?” As I write these words are they my thoughts, or just repackaged, previously thought thoughts? How can you tell if an idea is original, or another’s that you have adopted, adapted, and assimilated into your consciousness to the point that you believe it is your own? Who can answer these questions?

We all learn from our parents and assimilate their thoughts and values into our own to varying degrees, and the wisdom accumulated by the generations before us influences the thoughts and ideas of the generations to come.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. — Ecclesiastes 1:9

America has always had a collective consciousness. The colonies’ churches were the first needles to sew this common thread running through American society. The moral fiber of early America was strong, durable, and seasoned with hardship. The American Revolution further unified American society, interweaving the idea of political liberty into the spiritual fabric of colonial society. The idea that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and that the purpose of government was “to secure these rights” and that government derived its “just powers from the consent of the governed” blended perfectly with the American spirit.

A means of mobilizing this collective consciousness has always been sought by those who desire power over other human beings. Newspapers naturally began to editorialize because writers write because they have something to say, however, the post-revolutionary American people still maintained an independent spirit and viewed the press and the government with appropriate suspicion. They were cautiously curious and this served them well for decades.

When moneyed interests began to buy up newspapers, it was not the profitability of the newspapers they found appealing, but the power to influence public opinion. The printed page is a great aid in directing public opinion, but it still requires action by the audience. Even if the audience takes the necessary action and reads the page, it is entirely possible that some readers might reach a conclusion other than one of the desired outcomes of the writer. Reading allows one to digest the ideas presented at one’s own pace. Assertions of fact that are merely opinion are not likely to be accepted. The printed page as a means of influencing public opinion is a rather overt tool requiring solid, well-constructed arguments.

Radio held more promise. Listening is a passive activity, thus ideas could be introduced passively. This offered a limited route to the subconscious, but it was the advent of television that provided a golden opportunity to wield influence over the minds of the audience and this opportunity was seized with verve.

Offering passive immersion of the audience, television is now the most powerful tool for human programming in the world. Once only a blunt instrument for advertising and promoting moral behavior, TV has been refined and honed to a high definition, razor sharp edge, dividing the herd into its component parts with precision. With only five or six major corporations controlling all the media and news programming in America (down from 50 in 1983), the issues that enter the collective consciousness for debate are limited to those that these few desire us to have disagreements over (or even know about) and the opinions offered are those that these few would find acceptable.

I have heard people speak of “thinking outside the box” as if there were only one box. For those possessing a modicum of independent thought, the primary boxes are easily identified, but camouflaged ancillary boxes are constantly being constructed to comfort the claustrophobic mind. The news now comes in assorted flavors to suit particular tastes, blue news (slanted to the left), red news (slanted to the right), green news (from a financial perspective), or white news (background noise about celebrities and such). It seems impossible to find television news that is not “colored” for a target audience. These are fairly obvious means of influence, but most seem to be willing to accept the confinement of their thoughts to these boxes. For the truly box shy, there are more subtle, seemingly innocuous means of influencing thought and ideas.

Movies are an inoffensive way of introducing and reinforcing ideas. As a prerequisite of enjoying most movies, one must voluntarily suspend disbelief. Your guard is down and your normal processing of information is short-circuited. We are more likely to admit entrance to a philosophical idea presented in a movie without processing it through the normal truth or fiction decision process of our minds, especially if it is presented as dialogue and drama for our “entertainment.”

We are very easily manipulated subliminally — especially when the manipulations come in the guise of entertainment. America is obsessed with being entertained and there are those who are happy to provide America with entertainment — and more. Consolidation in the industry has led to a very few people controlling what comes out of Hollywood and the Networks today. Hollywood and television have contributed much toward the unification of the collective memory of America.

In a world where our senses are constantly inundated with a combination of advertisements and entertainment, while the line between the two becomes more blurred every day, original thought becomes difficult. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,

 All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.

I’ll leave you with one more person’s thoughts on the subject of boxes. Obviously, these may not be original thoughts, but they do represent a succinct organization of thoughts.

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate. — Noam Chomsky

In other words, as long as you stay within the established Left/Right, Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative paradigms and remain a mere consumer of “acceptable opinion,” repeating that opinion is welcome and encouraged. It is only original thought that threatens the State.


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