“Man is, and was always, a block-head and dullard; much readier to feel and digest than to think and consider.” – Thomas Carlyle

Instead of making the world smarter, the information revolution is making people dumber. That’s the argument Bill Bonner is making every day in his daily investment commentary, The Daily Reckoning (www.dailyreckoning.com).Roughly speaking, Bill’s position is this: Modern communications technology — notably the Internet — has made information more abundant than it has ever been in history. Pick any subject and you can find reams of information about it on the Web. There is so much information, in fact, that it is no longer possible to discover the truth about a subject by studying it. Take any issue, and you will be able to find tomes of data supporting almost any point of view.

In the old days, we guided our decision-making by experience. In the face of conflicting data, we came to a conclusion by listening to our instincts. Our instincts, thanks to Mother Nature’s concern for preservation, are essentially unarticulated repositories of  experience.

But today, such decision making is considered crude — even heretical. Experience might tell me that teen-age boys are more dangerous than teen-age girls or that a certain ethnic group might be ruder, smarter, or dumber than another, I am told to ignore such conclusions and think that girls and boys are the same and that all social and ethnic groups have essentially the same habits.

I’ve mentioned before (Message #221) that Nietzsche predicted that in the 20th century theoretical knowledge (which he called “wissen”) would replace the knowledge you get from experience precisely because of the growth of printed information. He was right.

But what he didn’t predict, and what Bill Bonner talks about in The Daily Reckoning, is that informational knowledge . . . conveyed through the popular media as it is . . . would serve to create a kind of group thinking that has become epidemic today.

If you can’t figure it out yourself and you discount your own personal experience as insignificant, the next best way to have an opinion is to find out what others are thinking and think like them. Turn on the TV. Read a popular magazine. Before you know it, you’ll have all kinds of opinions. It doesn’t matter if these opinions correspond to what your body knows to be true. If others believe them, they must be so.

If group-think were not bad enough, there is a new and even more pernicious phenomenon at work (at least in America today), Bill argues: group-feel.

All over the country, otherwise smart people are feeling concerned about the growing budget surplus, elated over the advent of broadband technology, outraged about the exploitation of workers in Third World countries, scared shitless about global warming, and completely disgusted by seal clubbing and whale fishing in remote corners of the world. It doesn’t matter that these people have no personal knowledge about any of these things; they nonetheless hold rigid and passionate views about them.

I’m not taking a position on whale fishing. What I’m suggesting is this: If you want to have a really good ride out of life, you need to get on your own intellectual and emotional pony.

Recognize that most of what you see on television and read in newspapers and magazines has been structured according to someone else’s idea of what is right and wrong. Just because it’s often said doesn’t mean it’s really true. Recognize also that having commonly held ideas and feelings doesn’t make you right. It just makes you common. Distrust information — particularly that which seems to be neutral — and judge everything by your own experience.

Experience as much as you can so that your judgment is sound, but never abandon your judgment simply because the group thinks or feels otherwise. If it happens that you come to a conclusion that integrates nicely with your community, your life will be that much smoother. If you come up with ideas and feelings that go against the grain, you’ll experience some friction.

Ultimately, there are only two things no one under any circumstances can take away from you: what you think and how you feel. As such, they are your most valuable gifts. Don’t squander them by giving them away freely.

And read The Daily Reckoning! You won’t find any group thinking there, I promise you.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.

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