Paying attention is better than thinking

[By Ben Noble]

“Paying attention is better than thinking.” Jordan B. Peterson said this in an interview I watched recently. This quote was in the context of personal, political, and ideological beliefs. I find this statement to be highly insightful and it created a number of ideas in my mind that I would like to unwind. Perhaps even in ways he did not intend.

[I can’t find the interview in which he said this, but I’ll update this post if I find it. If you have not had the pleasure of listening to him speak, I recommend following the links below to his webpage and YouTube channel.]

The primary danger in valuing thinking over paying attention is self-deception. We are all inclined to it on every level from personal to political. Remember that we all are beings with severely limited perceptions and our inborn temperaments blind us to information we don’t think is important, but very well could be. Therefore, we need to keep an open line of communication with other points of view and seek out new information. The very best thinkers can reach the very worst conclusions if their perceptions of the world are false. Before any good thinking can happen an accurate understanding of the world is necessary.

All this might sound masturbatory and even susceptible to confirmation bias like any other “people should allow new information to change your mind” internet posts. These make little to no demand on people to act that out. I don’t like philosophizing and mental exercises that cannot be acted out by an individual to improve their quality of life. It’s all faux intellectualism.

An individual navigating life is functionally one large science experiment, or at least it should be. Pay attention to your surroundings and the results of your actions. Adopt actions that bring you closer to the life you want. Determining what you want and what to aim for in life is a whole other endeavor in self-observation and self-knowledge. Read books by legitimately great thinkers. The more accurate your perception of the world and yourself the more effectively you can operate in it. When you have created order in your life, then you can attempt to expand your influence in small steps knowing that you have earned the right and knowledge to do so.

Demanding the world change before you have mastered yourself and your immediate sphere of influence is akin to asking Elon Musk to be vice-chairman of Tesla at a public Q&A. Society is just a group of people interacting. If you have not paid attention to and engaged in how individuals improve themselves and create beneficial interactions with each other then there is no way you can begin to think about how groups of people should act.

This sort of grounding in humility, knowledge, and personal achievement will improve your quality of life, better your understanding of the world, and help protect you from ideological dogma. Increasing your awareness of the world should constantly remind you of how little you know and to be skeptical of those who act like they have all the answers, especially politicians.

The most powerful force in our society operates nearly free of genuine observation. Democrats, Republican, independents, bureaucrats, politicians and nearly everyone else thinks that the government is capable of improving society through mandate without ever paying attention to the outcomes. It is the clearest example of thinking eclipsing over paying attention that I can think of.

The government is $20 trillion in debt. The entitlement programs that people love will go bankrupt in 20 or so years. Welfare programs, minimum wage laws, and employment regulation hurt the young, unemployed, and the unskilled. Criminalizing peaceful activities like drug use has destroyed millions of lives and created a massive prison population. Heavy regulation has decreased innovation and affordability in numerous industries. The war on terror has only created a mountain of debt, dead bodies, and instability in the Middle East.

No matter how bad it gets we never remember the broken promises and failures of the political class. Everyone is obsessed with thinking up ways that the opposition is evil and hypocritical. Very little attention is paid to the fact that the two parties just take turns ruining everything. Even when a politician is forced to eat his own words his supports turn a blind eye to it.

The process of paying attention has lead me to a very important conclusion: the acceptance of the Non-Aggression Principle. Forcing peaceful individuals to act how you want them to is unethical. It does not work on a personal level. It also doesn’t work on the political or societal level. It is unjust and only causes unintended negative consequences. The best hope for facing our complex social issues is in the voluntary cooperation between individuals that have undergone the process of paying attention and earning their right to think and act.

It might sound like I have just taken a political or dogmatic stance, but that is not the case. It is an ethical stance born out of paying attention to myself and to the ideal interactions between individuals. Society and government are just groups of individuals; thus, they should be subject to the same standards. Thinking is a good thing, but thinkers tend to fall in love with themselves and their ideas. This makes them imagine that they know what is best for everyone else and have the justification for imposing their preferences on others. If your primary goal is paying attention it is much more difficult to become an authoritarian asshole.

 

Sources:

Jordan Peterson YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL_f53ZEJxp8TtlOkHwMV9Q

Jordan Peterson Website: http://jordanbpeterson.com

Jordan B Peterson | *NEW 2017* | full-length interview: https://youtu.be/YC1pvjyKYr4

Asking Elon Musk for a job: https://youtu.be/si03x9apLFU

Prison: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

Trudeau forced to backtrack on open invitation to refugees: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/25/justin-trudeau-forced-to-backtrack-on-open-invitation-to-refugees

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