Today’s post is a response to this essay in Aeon.

I found this article to be both interesting and well-written.  It reinforced the need to develop critical thinking throughout society as an inoculation against undue influence.  Where authoritarians gain power over people by first painting a bleak picture, then finding an enemy to blame and finally offering themselves and their ideas as the way to “salvation”, critical thinking and scientific reasoning would soon show the fallacy of all three suggestions.  Things were probably not nearly as bad as Goebbels and Hitler made them out to be. The Jews and Social Democrats were certainly not the root cause of their problems.  And the illusory “pure” German breed was certainly not their salvation.

To draw a current parallel:  the economy, Mexicans and taxes really aren’t as bad as Trump paints them.  The root causes of the problems were not Obama, Hillary and the Democrats. And Trump, the border wall and tax cuts for the already well-off will likely not prove to be the solution. Authoritarians rely on simple, powerful rhetoric to stir an emotional response, but we need to think critically and take a cold, hard look at the facts.

This reminds me of the interesting idea put forward by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion: trusting obedience of children toward parents was important for the survival of early man.  This tendency remains as part of our evolutionary inheritance.  But now, in a more enlightened world, trusting, unquestioning obedience detrimentally opens us to a mental “slavishness”, a susceptibility to parent-like or god-like authoritarians.  Again, critical thinking and scientific reasoning is the real “salvation”. We must also overcome any innate tendency to passively accept authority through groupthink and emotional manipulation. (Either that, or make my lovely wife Queen of the World and we will all be better off!)

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