The Thought

The Comfort of Opinion Without the Discomfort of Thought

Are we enjoying the comfort of our opinions within familiar circles, free from disquieting thought? All too often, the answer is yes. After all, critical thinking can be unpleasant. Perhaps we should note that this concern is nothing new. Consider this excerpt from a commencement address delivered at Yale by President John F. Kennedy.

June 11, 1962

As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

Avoiding the Discomfort of Thought

We have some handy tools to avoid such discomfort of thought. With ad hominem arguments we can dismiss someone who has disturbing ideas. “He’s a shill for industry.” “She’s just selling her book.” Another technique is the straw man. “Let me tell you what he’s really trying to say. And he’s all wrong.”

These are just two examples. We can draw from a much bigger storehouse of logical fallacies. They can shield us. And thus, we don’t have to listen to people outside of our own tribes. Best of all, we don’t have to consider their ideas. We carve out a safe space. Dissonance may not intrude. Sadly, though, it’s a little sterile.

Unfortunately, it might also explain why we have seen so little progress after four decades of wrestling with obesity.

The Thought, painting by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis / WikiArt

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February 3, 2018

One Response to “The Comfort of Opinion Without the Discomfort of Thought”

  1. February 03, 2018 at 8:49 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I love that picture, Ted — awesome!

    And I can’t help reading your piece without the first two paragraphs of Dr. Frieden’s recent piece in the Hill haunting me.

    My thoughts then range to ancient history including the battle of Pelusium (see link below for a cool account), and I wonder, in the struggles around nicotine, who are the Persians and who are the Egyptians — and who are the cats?!

    My employer, PinneyAssociates, provides consulting services on tobacco harm minimization (including nicotine replacement therapy and vapor products) to Niconovum USA, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, and RAI Services Company, all subsidiaries of Reynolds American Inc. Reynolds American Inc. was purchased by British American Tobacco in July 2017. I also own an interest in intellectual property for a novel nicotine medication that has not been developed or commercialized.