Bad Idea: We Need “Thought” Police

From: L. Michael Hall
2021 Neurons #59
September 10, 2021
How Self-Actualization
Can Save Politics #12


Here’s a bad idea politically. Actually it is a rotten idea due to the consequences that follow. “We need thought police to make sure that mis-information isn’t presented in the media.” This is what’s happening now with big Tech — Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple etc. are all acting as if they were the thought police and shutting down anyone (mostly conservatives) who hold an opinion that differs from their’s.

Many social commentators have labeled this “cancel culture.” If those in control of the media don’t like your opinion, they cancel you. And we now have had a great many people “cancelled” for this reason. They say something that is not “politically correct.” They associate with someone or something that is not “politically correct.” Then the next thing— they are cancelled. [Ironically, while they do this, Twitter continues to allow the Taliban while forbidding the former President of the United States!]

Now who would think this is a good idea? What kind of persons would like this? Ah, yes, those who fear that their ideas will not hold up in the marketplace of ideas. Those who are afraid that they could not compete, that their arguments would not stand up in the face of public scrutiny. It’s the insecure and the poor thinkers who want everyone and any one who disagrees with them to be shut down. They don’t want open debate of opinion, they just want one opinion— theirs. So they call for the thought police to shut them down.

Anyone who is a clear and critical thinker would find this not only appalling, but a form of pathology in a culture. Healthy cultures not only want diversity of ideas and opinions, but thrive with that diversity and debate. Healthy cultures not only can handle them, but value them. They know that this is how knowledge grows and is refined. Conversely, unhealthy cultures (whether it is a nation or a local business) cannot handle such diversity and so seeks to shut conversation down. We see this on college and university campuses all around the country who prevent conservative speakers from speaking. They operate as thought police trying to protect someone from being offended or having their sensitivities exposed to a different idea.

One thing that would solve this problem is the application of the basic ethical principle of “Do unto others what you would have them do until you.” If I would not want to be shut down and prevented from having a voice, I should not do that to others. An even more powerful principle would be one of respect for people and belief in truth to handle the light of scrutiny. Encouraging vigorous debates, and not shutting people down, reflects a deep respect that people can and will come to mutual understandings, maybe not agreement, when we can talk things out in a context of respect.

Any coordinated movement to silence an opinion, espeically a minority opinion, is a form of oppression and goes against the basic scientific mindset. The idea of “political correctness” is a form of groupthink and, to that extent, is unhealthy. To try to control what people think and say, to forbid open debate or vigorous disagreement is a form of Orwellian authoritarian government control. It threatens the basic human freedoms. When people start doing that they they also learn other forms of manipulative thinking and speaking: hedging in their statements, speaking in vague terms, using doublespeak, etc.

When would I need thought police? Only when I don’t trust you and your thinking to think things through. Only when I doubt that you can develop and use critical thinking skills and the scientific model. Or, only when I have such a need to control that I “need” you to think what’s right, that is, think as I think!

The best control for thoughts, especially those which ae false, weak, uninformed, wild, crazy, etc. is open debate. Transparency and debate is what enables us to refine our thinking. Open, respectful feedback, not name-calling, insults, or manipulations, enables us to separate the chaft from the kernal.

If you just absolutely want the “thought police,” then police your own thoughts. Step back to a meta-position and evaluate your own thinking in terms of accuracy, ecology, and clarity. Then for any and all cognitive distortions, biases, and fallacies— arrest them. Send them to jail so that you reduce their influence on your thinking.