Wednesday, 9 April 2014


Mentats Wanted, Will Train | John Michael Greer 

 Back in the day I read everything I could about Transactional Analysis as it seemed to model the real world and the way people spoke to each other.  Briefly, it stated people had three modal states: parent, adult, child.  Two people talking would have a transaction between modal states.  A "parent" might scold a sobbing "child".  A "child" might have fun with another "child".  An adult might have a logical discussion with another "adult".  But the real fun started with two "parent" types would go at it, trading aphorisms, urban myths, slogans and what the author above calls "thoughtstoppers".

I would notice this in my own household.  We'd be talking away about some problem, trying to find a workable solution and somebody would trot out "well, everybody knows a stitch in time saves nine".  Everybody would stop talking and stare at each other.  The freethinkers were gobsmacked because the statement made absolutely no sense in context.  The authoritarians knew they'd been trumped - somebody had let loose a "thoughtstopper".  Whoever gets out one first, wins.

In the article above, the author complains that people discussing natural gas shipments to Europe have absolutely no idea how to logically discuss the issue.

"That is to say, a remarkably large number of Americans, including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinion, are so inept at the elementary skills of thinking that they can’t tell the difference between mouthing a platitude and having a clue.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. For decades now, American public life has been dominated by thoughtstoppers of this kind -- short, emotionally charged declarative sentences, some of them trivial, some of them incoherent, none of them relevant and all of them offered up as sound bites by politicians, pundits, and ordinary Americans alike, as though they meant something and proved something. The redoubtable H.L. Mencken, writing at a time when such things were not quite as universal in the American mass mind than they have become since then, called them “credos.”  It was an inspired borrowing from the Latin credo, “I believe,” but its relevance extends far beyond the religious sphere.

Just as plenty of believing Americans in Mencken’s time liked to affirm their fervent faith in the doctrines of whatever church they attended without having the vaguest idea of what those doctrines actually meant, a far vaster number of Americans these days -- religious, irreligious, antireligious, or concerned with nothing more supernatural than the apparent capacity of Lady Gaga’s endowments to defy the laws of gravity -- gladly affirm any number of catchphrases about which they seem never to have entertained a single original thought. Those of my readers who have tried to talk about the future with their family and friends will be particularly familiar with the way this works; I’ve thought more than once of providing my readers with Bingo cards marked with the credos most commonly used to silence discussions of our future -- “they’ll think of something,” “technology can solve any problem,” “the world’s going to end soon anyway,” “it’s different this time,” and so on -- with some kind of prize for whoever fills theirs up first."

The other goes on to propose the training of "mentats" (borrowed from Herbert's "Dune") - people skilled in the art of thinking.  I propose something even simpler.  Just as it is possible to call out people for logical fallacies, it is also easy to call them out on thoughtstoppers.  I've certainly heard it in other contexts - systems analysts playing "buzzword bingo" during business analysts presentations, people calling out "bumper sticker" in a mental health context.

Then maybe we could go back to being adults.

No comments:

Post a Comment