The importance of independent thought

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Blindly following the opinions of so-called experts and politicians will inevitably lead you astray

Geoff CarpentierI recently read an article in the Toronto Sun by guest columnist John Stossel. The article’s title – Feel free to try stuff – intrigued me as it was on one of the paper’s political editorial pages. What were they talking about?

The gist of the story was that politicians and influencers think that ONLY they know what is good for us and, therefore, feel the need to tell us what we should be doing. He gives examples of how life can function just fine without someone prescriptively telling us how to do everything the way THEY think it should be done.

He cites one example of how New York City’s Central Park was poorly maintained while under the structured oversight of the city. But after residents took over its management, through a non-profit conservancy agreement, the park is now run very well and enjoyed safely by millions! He sums it up by saying, “Government that governs less, governs best.”

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So, this got me thinking about nature. No one tells a baby bird how or when to fly, when to migrate, how to find food and later find a mate. Each creature has to figure this out on its own; billions and trillions of animals survive on their wits and instincts.

There is no rule book where some ‘super-animal’ guides the rest. They rely on innate learning, which is the instinctive ability to do things without being taught how or why. In fact, in nature, ‘WHY’ never even enters the conversation. Animals just do things because they must in order to survive. The rules of the game are simple – avoid predators, find shelter, eat enough, attract a mate and don’t die until you’ve produced enough offspring to replace yourself.

This leads to a concept called spontaneous order (which may take millions of years to develop!), whereby relationships and strategies for survival evolve through necessity and opportunity. For example, take an anteater that chooses to eat termites; over millennia, it develops a long tongue so it can lap them up. But termites don’t want to be ‘lapped up’, so they build massive ground nests with dense walls. The anteaters, still hungry, have developed abilities to detect these insects deep inside the mounds and sharp claws to tear them apart.

Necessity leads to innovation, which itself is led by spontaneity. Something figures out how to solve a problem without something else telling it there is only one way of doing so – one brain is never enough to ensure survival!

Birds sing and communicate in many ways. But why do they have different songs and so many calls for so many different purposes? No greater being said, “All you birds need to have a single unique song and seven special calls – each of which will do the following …”.

That never happened. What did happen is that each species developed unique songs that their prospective mates could recognize. They coupled this with an undetermined number of calls to express distress, warn of predators, share news about food sources, etc. How many calls are necessary is decided over time, until all the necessities of survival are met. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects also all developed their own ‘languages’ to tell their story and to ensure their survival.

Humans are struggling to deal with and understand climate change, as it affects us all and the environment. We tend to rely on others to do our thinking. “Everything must be electric by 2050; gas and oil are always bad; you need to control your environmental impacts, and here’s how you must do that”. But is that really going to solve anything? Has it so far?

I don’t think so. I know we have an issue with climate and must do something, but is taxing Canadians the best way to solve the problem? A better approach is to stop naively looking at our backyard exclusively and look at this through a global lens. The problem is GLOBAL – look for global solutions!

Now, the question arises: how should we solve an important issue, such as our response to climate change? Should we blindly rely on others to tell us the best course of action? The answer to the second question is obvious, but the first one is a bit more complex.

Solutions take time in the animal kingdom, and many trials and errors lead to the best solutions. Along the way, animals go extinct or experience catastrophic losses. But when they are meant to survive and if the actions linked to spontaneous order align, the species emerges as a better entity, a.k.a. natural selection.

But evolution is not stagnant, so these actions continue, leading to further change for the better, a.k.a. evolution. Perhaps a representative recent example is the various Covid strains that seemed to change daily in response to factors we couldn’t at first even understand. Spontaneous order led to stronger and more virulent strains, and it took the emergence of the ingenuity of millions to solve. So spontaneous order begets spontaneous order – that is the basis of evolution.

Now, let’s get back to climate. I left you with the concept of the politicians from around the world telling us that the only way to fight climate change is to stop doing everything and listen to them. Nonsense! Frankly, the most productive thing they could do is find realistic, reasonable and attainable solutions that are globally focused.

Years ago, I worked for the government in the environmental abatement field. I also had the good fortune to travel the world as part of my personal life, so I was able to see first-hand how other countries dealt with environmental issues. I saw rivers of raw sewage flowing in India and innovative solutions in Sopron, Hungary.

I brought an example of a great idea back with me to share with my “bosses” about roadside air pollution monitors that showed the immediate impact of nitrous and sulphur dioxide from idling vehicles at a red light at a bus stop. I suggested that if we had these real-time air pollution monitors at key intersections in Toronto, the public could see the impact in terms they could understand. The response? “No – too controversial; the public doesn’t really need to see the data – we can interpret it for them!”

I was trying to show them that people want facts and understandable terminology they can relate to. They can then make wiser decisions. I now think much harder when I get in my car to do errands or travel. Best route? Speed? Can I combine tasks? All of us are doing this, yet we get no recognition for doing so.

Years before we started talking about climate change, I had suggested in my other life as a government worker that we should share our expertise and knowledge with developing countries so that their impacts could be minimized and we (the world) could benefit.

The answer – again, “No – our money is better spent at home”. Now – 20 years later! – a few politicians are echoing my words and saying it would truly be better if we helped less developed countries so that the world could benefit collectively.

We live in a society where the collective mind is generally poorly informed, (mis)information is too easily and readily available, and frankly, too many people are telling us how to think and act. I prefer to use my own mind to decide what I will do.

I recommend you do your own research and don’t rely on others to tell you what you must do. I know this is a bit more political than my usual columns, but it is something I have always believed in.

You decide for yourself.

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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