Monday, March 21, 2011

Decline of Thought

We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit. –David Suzuki

Can one person change the world? The answer might surprise you. The short answer is yes. But there are some details, intrinsic to that answer that need to be understood.
Details? You say. But I don’t want any details. And as it is you have just answered the question! Therein lies the conundrum that modern society faces. Today life is lived in the concision of words, frugality of thought and abbreviation of understanding.

We demand answers in single words and better yet if it is in the form of a single syllabic form. The vast majority of us reside in the quiet desperation of a daily grind. Between the morning coffee and the nightly sandwich is lived the content of our time. What is left, are the small packages of fulfillment spent with the demands of the family and too little time for reflection, actually, too little time for anything. This daily grind is chewing away our lives and erasing our understanding.

Even more absurd for a supposedly enlightened society, but true, is the declining knowledge of the youth. When 1 out of 5 people (in 2009) believe that the sun revolves around the moon in the US, Galileo be damned, we have reverted back into the pre-Ptolemiac world.


What has become of the inhabitants of the “shining city upon a hill?” Here the glistening tall monuments of “success” breed an ill wind of decadence and ignorance. Our educators cater to the “feelings” of the students rather then to their ability to understand. Here the passing grade is time spent in the classroom and not the gathered knowledge and understanding of science or mathematics. No student can be reprimanded for fear of alienation and causing the child depression. The education system has gone amuck with the decisions of the regulatory bodies that control education. And art is anything goes whether it is splotch of paint on a white canvas or even just a plain white canvas. (Broadway play “Art, by Yasmina Reza.”)
"Art" by Y. Reza

 Is it no wonder that the average number of adults reading books, newspaper or magazine has dropped 20% in the past two decades! A society that has achieved glories of being the first to fly a powered aircraft, to make the first mass-produced transportation automotive, to step on the moon, take a “walk in space”, create the most versatile military aircraft and assemble the smartest computer to beat humans in chess and the game of “jeopardy” cannot or will not see the decline of its intellectual prowess through inaction?

Space Walk

What happens when such a vacuum of intellect exists in society? What guiding light is there for the “rest of the people” as the “elite” are wont to calling the rest of us, the public.

As one can easily decipher, the once great nation and its people are fodder for a few “super-intellectuals.” These few, for what ever their personal motivation, be it personal greed, political ambition or delusion, create the environment and “feed” information to the “rest of us.”

Lets us see where this might have all started. Going back to the fifteenth century the rules of control were already in place. Pursuit of knowledge although encouraged at the end of the Crusades and the end of the Dark Ages, nevertheless placed itself precariously next to the doctrine of the church. Any challenge to the Church was met with a cruel fate.
Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for crimes of heresy due to his belief in the infinity of the universe and that the sun was akin to the stars in the night sky. This was followed swiftly by the condemnation of Galileo for his experimental proof that the system of planets was heliocentric and not Copernican geocentric as proscribed by the church. Control of information has a ling history. Nowadays, most may agree that the era of opinionated radio-announcers followed by television “anchor-personalities” exploitation of the masses has made the populace into “zombies.”  These few successful people who have earned face-recognition by their daily presence on the TV screen are the puppets to the puppeteers, now turned “opinion-makers.” They incite, instigate and constantly barrage the public with their arsenal of words. They manipulate, articulate and stimulate meaningless discussions keeping the real world problems from “taxing the average mind.” They cajole, craft and color the view of the world to suit their intention. They denigrate, diminish and deny the facts to keep others from knowing the true reality. How have these people achieved such power?

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. –Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx

Given the vacuum of “intellects in the society” the few with the plenty of resources have created cabals that convene and reach a consensus on how to manipulate the “thinking.” Pejorative as it might seem, it is an unvarnished, albeit, hurtful truth. Their spokesperson after being carefully adorned with the right colored tie and jacket or dress, appear on the television screen to carefully craft an image of “truth and honesty” and with the forked tongue spew bite-sized lies to the unsuspecting audience. These “TV personalities” first chosen for their looks and speech have become “celebrities:” in an upward spiraling cycle feeding on it self and now speak their own version of the truth. These “celebrities” become experts in various fields of science, art, mathematics, physics and the rest and impart their version of reality. And the funny part of it is that a large segment of the population believes them!

On a larger scale of decision-making, where the intelligentsia gather to make decisions, these bodies are politely called “think-tanks”. There are thousands listed in the US, UK and Canada. These “think-tanks” belong to various political persuasions and are funded by individuals or groups through donations of undisclosed amounts measuring in millions of dollars. Thus the very essence of their words is tarnished with the color of money and subject to question. The list grows annually as new money is acquired and used to perpetuate newer aims and desires.

Diane Stone

According to Diane Stone a Professor of Public Policy in PAIS and at the Central European University in Budapest, there are over 4000 “think-tanks? operating across the globe in various ventures. These ventures vary with the bias inherent to each entity. Invoking such statements might lead some to relegate the premise of this conversation to the “Conspiracy theorist” camp, but when has self-education to gain an understanding been a poor substitute in any personal enterprise. One might argue that companies that produce products also motivate and manipulate the public to sell their products. This is true, but the difference is that the consumer is free to have the will to resist or the desire to purchase. It is not a policy mandate of “Thou shalt not…”

Donald Abelson

Donald Abelson, professor and director of The Canada-U.S. Institute and Director, Centre for American Studies has written a balanced treatise about the inception, organization and development of “think-tanks.” He cites the rise of such thought through the philanthropic measures of Carnegie and Rockefellers. Both foundations later converted into policy-making Institutes. Similarly, other groups have created American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute to name a few who live by the credo of their philosophy and their like-minded donors. The government also has its own “Think-Tanks” euphemistically called “Advisory-Boards.” The government funds, in part or whole, activities at approximately 30 Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). These FFRDCs include the RAND Corporation, the MITRE orporation, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Aerospace Corporation, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and other organizations supporting various departments within the U.S. Government. The purpose of these Centers is to advise the government on a course of action. Since the government pays these institutes for its activities, their research decisions, by virtue of that fact, will be tainted in favor of desire of the paying entity.

Today medicine is besieged with guidelines for the physicians on how to practice. Guidelines created by the same mind-set. They call it guidelines based on “evidence.” The one thing that we can be sure of in the field of medicine is change. The problem is that revisions of the guidelines take time. The art of medicine is in the recognition of a specific treatment that would benefit a specific patient based on disease, circumstances and patient’s condition, not on some algorithm modeled after old and slow-to-change data. The currency of the situation requires a currency of understanding and not regurgitated old information. Unfortunately the “guidelines” are being considered as gospel and thus through mental fiat have become mandates. Not only does this hamper the ability of a “thinking and educated physician” but it also results in sub-par patient care. Guidelines are an essential part of the larger process of governance.

Let us look at a fiscal case in point coming out of such an entity in regards to physician reimbursements. A few elite like-minded individuals concerned with the cost of medical care decided on a concept of P4P project. The P4P project is an acronym for “Pay-for-Performance.” A concept bereft of actual common sense and understanding of illness or patient-care. “Money” being the root of most evil is at the bottom of this decision-making.

Let me expound on this argument a bit further. Say a patient comes in with a diagnosis of cancer and undergoes treatment for the same. In doing so he contracts an infection, because of suppressed immunity form his cancer or the treatment and ultimately succumbs to his illness, this patient would be considered a “bad-outcome” on the P4P scale. A few cases like these and that physician would not only be considered an “outlier” but subject to reprimand from all governmental agencies. Yet if he is crafty enough and knows hw to “game-the-system” by taking only the best outcome patients with good nutritional and immune competent early-staged cancer patients where the risk of co-morbidity is limited, then that physician would be “hailed” by the system as a wonderful physician and paid handsomely. You might say so what? Well thinking through this prospect then brings us to those unfortunate multitudes of poor-performance individuals who may have difficulty finding a physician to take care of them. Unintended consequences have sharp teeth and bite indiscriminately. The “think-tankers” while munching on “finger-food” in their ivory towers, apparently have not had any insight into this thinking. Even some who might have thought of this consequence failed to raise their minority opinion for fear of the extortions by the majority. Unfortunately one can take the example and apply in every specialty of medicine and the consequence would be the same. Michael Cannon has written a comprehensive piece on this matter and the trade-offs that it brings with it.

Another “think-tank” move by the health insurance companies was to bundle payments (its money, always money, I tell you) to primary physicians, If the patients remained in the primary care physician’s care without referral to a specialist (since specialist care adds cost to the insurance carrier) he or she would get the entire bundled payment at the end of the fiscal year otherwise monies would be trimmed based on referrals to specialists. Unintended consequence to the patient of this action is obvious if medicine was a job and not a “calling” to the physician. What do you think was the result of this boondoggle? You guessed it, several primary care physicians found themselves in the hot seat facing legal action.

Unintended consequences occur daily by actions of a few individuals or groups who think they know best or are motivated by greed, personal gain, political aspirations and the like in every field of enterprise. How then can an “average American” know the difference between what is right and true and what is rhetoric of a “game?”

The answer would seem obvious, “Knowledge!” If you take the time to learn, educate yourself and make decisions based on that knowledge, right or wrong you can take responsibility for such an action. But to be led by the wooing and deceivingly soft tune of this “super-intellectual” authority that “knows” everything makes you believe in it, is akin to self-immolation and subjugation to someone’s dictates.

Mobilizing and motivating masses is not just relegated to medicine and government agencies, it is also in the purview of other industries for instance, the fashion industry where a select few decide the coming “craze” by walking a few lithe and tall women and men parade the wares. Soon the mindless herd follows suit and fashion magazines adorn their covers with the “trend of the season.”

I think we as celebrities have a lot more control. – Annette Bening

Again the celebrity-crazed youth is the victim of its desires for similar notoriety. They act-out and live through vicarious and suggestible means always viewing their world through the colored lens of their “informed-choices,” lending covertly to the strength of the “celebrities.”

For the past decade however, there is a new paradigm that is crossing the “old-boys-network.” It is the Internet! Even though it still remains free (although pressures to control are mounting) the information available is diverse and to assimilate and digest the real from nonsense one has to have gathered a fair amount of knowledge though personal research. Knowing right from wrong and acting on it is the name of the game. A simple example to reiterate this truth is a “stock-pick” from a broker. Why would you believe that? The broker will get his commission both from you and from the company sponsoring his action of selling. You would do better to do your own research. If you do not have the Know-how then GET IT! Accessing information is easy but analyzing and reasoning through that information requires personal knowledge and experience.

Life is lived in the confluence of ideas. It is for us to separate the truth. One cannot and must not rely on “others” no matter how well meaning they seem to be, they are not. Reliance on the self pays far bigger dividends over time then the short-term gains so exploited by a few. It is in the “ordinariness” of the commonsense that life has great value. Dependence on any other, be it a person, group or government creates the foundational cracks of a fractured future.

A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. 
-- G. Goebbles

The divide between Science and Pseudoscience and Reality and fiction is the same. The gash is both great and small. The relativity is based on the knowledge or ignorance of the individual. It is not what is told to us but the “B-S meter” that we employ based on our own knowledge and experience that determines the validity of any such presentation. For instance, if the woman on television states, “the world is in chaos!” What is she implying? Whose world? Hers? Yours? Or does she mean the world in general? And if the latter is true then does that affect you and if it does what are you going to do about it? And if it doesn’t then is her statement credible or is she just fear mongering? Is there a cause behind her statement? Is she the talking head for an individual, a group or a ”think-tank?” Or is she simply giving her “opinion?” And if she is what are her credentials? Is she a newscaster or a self-appointed opinion-maker? The questions abound and only knowledge and experience can differentiate between what is real and what isn’t.

So what have we here? The remains of a dying public intellect co-opted by a select few that determine the state of the ship and motivate, manipulate and subsequently direct the movement towards their own version of the future? Or is it that we the public have succumbed to the sedation of laziness and sedition of personal desire and have decided that “they” know best about the direction and continuity of human affairs, whoever “they” might be? Or is it that we have let ourselves slide down the intellectual scale into such an abyss that climbing back up would require such an effort in our daily lives which are already filled with toil and trouble, fear-mongering and ridicule, that daily survival is the only thought in our minds? What in all this is our role? Where in all this is our future? Where do we see our children and grandchildren’s future? Are they to be condemned to a future that we allow to happen because of our inaction? These are questions of magnitude. They must be answered to allow us creditability to be considered humans with knowledge and sense.

Just as iron rusts from disuse, even so does inaction spoil the intellect. --Leonardo da Vinci

So to reiterate the question, Can one person change the world? The answer is an unqualified “yes.”  If each of us is armed with the individualized knowledge of whatever depth and understanding we choose, not just a parroted version from the “anointed ones” on the media and we analyze each fragment for its totality to expose reality then we can speak our minds and be involved in the decisions to shape our lives and our future!


The Institute of Medicine (2006). Rewarding Provider Performance Aligning Incentives in Medicine”, The National Academies Press. Retrieved 2007-04-15.

Cannon, Michael F. (2006) (PDF). Pay for Performance: is Medicare a Good Candidate?. The Cato Institute. Retrieved 2008-04-02..

Abelson, Donald, E. Do Think Tanks Matter? Assessing the Impact of the Public Policy Institutes. Translated into Simplified Chinese By the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2010

Hellebust, Lynn and Kristen Hellebust, editors. Think Tank Directory. A Guide to Independent
Nonprofit Public Policy Research Organizations. Topeka, Kansas: Government Research Service, 2006 (2nd edition).

Stone, Diane. Think Tank Traditions: Policy Research and the Politics of Ideas (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2004)

Diane Stone 'Think Tanks and Policy Analysis', in Frank Fischer, Gerald J. Miller. & Mara S. Sidney (eds.) Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Methods, and Politics, New York, Marcel Dekker Inc. 2006: 149-157

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