When minds are numbed

THE best way to halt the progress of a society is to teach the citizens not to think critically or use their mind in any way. Without critical thinking, we simply follow the norm. We do not even question our interpretation of the “norm”.

In the instances when our conscience or “common sense” prods us to behave differently, we may become fearful. This fear reverts us back to behaving “like everyone else” or “as usual”.

Without thinking creatively, we cannot come up with effective solutions to our problems in life. We keep repeating the same behaviours that created the problems in the first place, for example racism, social exclusivity or inefficiency.

A person who refuses to think becomes the pawn of others – politicians, opportunists, religious quacks, scammers and so on.

While there are many good people around, there are always ignoble hyena-like human beings who want to take advantage of you or abuse your trust.

If you allow yourself to be ignorant or refuse to think, you may get hurt emotionally, financially, physically and even be humiliated in life.

You have to grow and mature in life. If you stagnate – or worse, regress – you may experience cruelty. This is the nature of life.

Observe the newborn baby. His eyes wander everywhere, looking at every person and everything around him. He wants to know and consumes information, thereby accumulating knowledge.

Children are curious, experimental, physically and mentally active and constantly learning. You do not see any lethargy or tiredness in them.

I believe children have an instinctive drive to know and accumulate knowledge. The question is: do the adults encourage or impede this drive?

Parents, institutions and society in general exert a major influence in shaping the mindsets and characters of children.

What kind of values are imparted? The content of conversations at home and the syllabi in the schools – are they of a quality that will produce a decent human being and a useful citizen?

This will determine the national or collective mindset, character and quality of the citizenry. And this in turn will determine the quality of the nation.

It Is totally pointless having the best possible slogans, a false sense of confidence and pride if we lack substance and a critical or creative mind.

Without substance, we will disappoint ourselves and suffer in the long run. We will be left behind everyone else in the world in our “syok sendiri-ness”. Even God cannot help us if we deliberately choose to be stupid and have an immoral character.

It is dangerously amusing that in our country, while certain kinds of clothing are considered immoral, corruption is not. Hence, I have to clarify that immoral behaviour includes corruption, shamelessly being paid for not working (and yet expecting respect), robbing the rights of the poor and needy, and cheating the people you are paid to serve. There are also those who preach lies in the name of God to profit therefrom.

Such negative behaviours become rampant and seemingly acceptable in a society where the majority of citizens are ignorant, trained not to think critically or live in abject poverty or fear.

It is inexplicable why citizens would allow themselves to be impoverished by a select few who are vulgarly wealthy – unless those citizens are ignorant, reckless or fearful.

It is naive and stupid to expect that foxes will not devour chickens when you turn a blind eye or leave the chickens unprotected.

Obviously, the foxes will want you to turn a blind eye or better still be blind.

The best way to blind someone is to make him ignorant or prevent him from thinking, especially critically and creatively.

The habit of not thinking critically is a trait that is cultivated systematically over time. It is possible, for instance, to numb citizens’ thinking abilities institutionally through the education system, religious institutions, and even by law.

It goes without saying that the general content and structure of the national education system and its philosophy shapes the mind of its citizens.

The medium of language selected, the syllabi and the values taught as well as the quality and commitment of the teachers are paramount.

The amount of control that religious institutions exert over the freedom of thought, expression and creativity of their adherents clearly will affect the ability and level of critical thinking. Is the religion being interpreted to encourage or discourage thinking?

The kind of laws that Parliament passes – whether geared towards producing thinking or subservient citizens – will impact on the national attitude towards thinking and knowledge.

Bureaucratic determination of what kind of books can be read, what matters can be publicly discussed and debated would affect the level of civilisation of a nation.

Does the law motivate or inhibit intellectual growth in the country? When stupidity becomes fashionable or a norm, thinking becomes an obstacle.

In the long run, society may become accustomed to mediocre thinking and may even embrace stupidity as a dominant culture.

The media, which is still a dominant shaper of values, will have to pander to the popular culture of low-level thinking or non-thinking, unleashing a vicious circle. Hence, what is published are matters of popularity and of the moment rather than what is substantial and long-term.

I would urge the government, as a matter of policy, to seriously address the quality of our general thinking levels by encouraging an atmosphere of reading, thinking and accumulation of knowledge.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is the founder and chairman of Yayasan Rapera, an NGO that promotes community-based learning activities and compassionate thinking among Malaysians. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 0
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Next In Columnists

Never-ending foreign labour woes
Higher prices call for prudent measures
Winners of Real-Chelsea part III likely to go all the way in Champions League
Two ideas about faith
Was it really a Saudi royal snub?
Unhappy ending burns the joy out of sex
Visiting the Dalai Lama
Ah, the games politicians play
Don’t shoot the messenger
A time of restraint and reflection

Others Also Read