Friday, June 08, 2007

Notes From Michael Masterson's Journal

Depressing Thoughts on the Way People Think

For many years, Bill Bonner and I have had a running conversation about a mutual interest: why people think the thoughts they do.

We have talked about what he calls "group think" - the preference most people seem to have to think those thoughts that others deem good or acceptable. Rather than take the trouble to figure out things on their own or put themselves in danger of having nothing at all to say about a popular topic, they adopt a big idea that they've seen bandied about by so-called experts. Depending on their emotional preferences and cultural situation, they might buy into the group thinking of liberals or libertarians, Republicans or Democrats. But do they have their own individual opinions on a popular subject? Perish the thought!

Lately, Bill and I have been talking about another disappointing phenomenon in the world of thinking: the tendency of people to adopt beliefs and ideas that suit their particular circumstances. This is not unrelated to "group think," but it may be even more depressing.

Here is what he said about this in a recent issue of Daily Reckoning:

"At the heel of our new thoughts is the idea that thinking itself is little better than a conceit. We believe what we need to believe when we need to believe it. When circumstances change, we believe something completely different - even though we considered both thoughts eternal.

"A man marries one woman. 'She is the girl of my dreams,' he thinks to himself. 'I am hers forever.' Years later, he finds a new girl of his dreams. People with no money of their own believe in the graduated income tax. 'From each according to his means,' they say. People with more money believe in 'flat rate.' 'It is fairer,' they say. People with a great deal of money barely care what the tax rate is; money has reached a point of such low marginal utility they become indifferent. Besides, money really is a burden; the rich man has to take up expensive hobbies from which a poor man is spared. These handicaps (see It's Good to Know, below) help him get rid of his old money, as well as reducing his ability to compete for new money."

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