“We have a duty to change our mode of thinking,” said David Harvey in a 2010 talk on the crises of capitalism, and I’ve been chanting it ever since. Recently, someone took me to task. “Do you really believe thinking changes anything?” I was astonished. (In my experience, it’s the only thing that has.) “I don’t,” he continued. “People change what they think and carry on just the same.” That set me back on my haunches.
Why do I think that thinking can change the world?
Because it made it in the first place.
Thinking – as I’m thinking of it – defines the world we live in. The world as we know it. This is what is and this is how it is. We are meaning-making creatures. We want to make sense of our experience, to comprehend and express ourselves, our situation and all our relations.
An aptitude for thought (call it “intelligence”) is innate in each person, but thinking is convivial from the first. We are introduced to the world by others. Which means: we are introduced to the others’ world (call it “education”). People speak to us; we catch their meaning and respond. Embedded in our mother tongue is a whole way of life, the way of this world. With luck, there’s enough love, coherence and consistency to grant us a place under the sun and some ground to stand upon and grow from.
From the beginning, one also thinks for oneself. I imagine this starting with discord and the surprise of separateness. There is a gap between my sensibility and yours. You don’t see as I see. I can lie to you, and be lied to. Another gap opens between me and the world when it refutes my view of it. Things are not necessarily the way I think they are. There are multiple perspectives. Mistakes are made. It’s unsettling. I am unsettled.
This sense of individuation may occur as alienation and distress or enjoyment and power. There may be a sense of discovery, of possibility. A personal sense of freedom and responsibility that has something to do with knowing, with integrity and truth. Now I feel a duty to think things through. I set off on my own way (whatever that means).
There is a natural cycle here, like seasons that arise and give way to the next. One mode of thinking nails things down so we can work with stuff and make ourselves at home. Then something happens that shakes us up with its strangeness, an interregnum our beliefs can neither comprehend nor account for. This calls for the other mode of thought, which takes us off into the unknown, opening our selves to new possibilities and other ways of life. Into which, of course, we hope to settle down…
Problems arise as we cling to a mode of thinking that constricts, appropriates and consumes our world. Intelligent as we are, we should move on.