Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

Publications

Thought: Last Year’s Model

Res Publica

August 2014

by Tommy Pochedly

Conversation and story-telling were part of growing up on my family farm in Northeast Ohio. I still remember the many farmers, hunters, and family friends standing around the maple syrup boiler late at night reminiscing on old times while the sap pans boiled away. Each story was its own episode of a time before me, yet as part of the family, I was connected to these stories. Each one offered a small glimpse into my family’s past. While the fresh syrup, warmth from the boiler, and many family friends were reason enough to visit the “sugar house” on those cold February nights, it was really the stories that kept me coming back year after year.

I am an anomaly among my peers today. I have come to value thought and conversation more than most people my age. I do not believe it was something my family set out to specifically teach me, but something which attached itself to my character as part of my upbringing. Perhaps it was because my life moved at a natural pace. By day I explored the woods with my dogs, by night I explored the many classic pieces of literature my father insisted I read; Edgar Allen Poe was the first author I can remember reading. Whatever the causes that shaped me, of all the gifts I have been given, Thought is the one I value above all.

I do not mean the ability to think quickly or wittily but simply the ability to let Thought direct my attention to where it sees fit. This, I believe, is the character of Thought. It is a separate entity inside of us. It is something mysterious but ambivalent. It is our companion, like the hound that accompanies the hunter, sensing things which we are incapable of sensing on our own. It tries to guide and alert us to interesting things. I have come to trust Thought, to listen for its calm, gentle language, it has my attention always; the same way a hunter trusts the hound to point out a hidden covey of quail. While I do not always understand the things it pulls me towards, I have faith in Thought.

Thought is not invulnerable though. I believe we have a symbiotic relationship with Thought. It needs us even more than we need it. The hound is ultimately at the mercy of its master. In the world I see today, many of us have chosen to ignore Thought. If we neglect Thought, if we are insensitive to its gentle pull, then we will lose our ability to listen like a musician who has lost the ability to distinguish between the pitches of notes.

Our ability to let Thought guide us and develop is being replaced by our reliance on technology; where once I saw conversation I now see texting and social media.

Conversation provides nourishment for Thought; it is the woodland in which it is naturally at home. Unfortunately, this truth is lost on many people my age. We have adopted the idea that Thought must be confined to a character limit. We lack the patience for lengthy discussions, to lose ourselves, to explore them. Interesting conversation requires us to slow down and be patient. It cannot be rushed, condensed, or confined to time limits. Thought wants to wander and grow. Conversation allows it to do so.

Conversation is the patinated skeleton key to the cage in which Thought flutters hopefully, warbling softly in hopes of a few moments of wing-strengthening flight. Without conversation, our thoughts remain limited, simplistic, adolescent. Eventually, Thought loses its ability to explore, like a cage-confined canary it feels safer behind bars. Even when the door is opened it will refuse to fly, its wings stunted and atrophied from lack of flight.

Tweets do not capture our thoughts but our passions. The way you feel in the exact moment you pull out your phone. There is no examination or appraisal of this passion before it is published. We simply shout forth an idea and it is forgotten. Others may see it but it is not meant to be contested, simply heard, felt, and passed along. We communicate one passionate moment after another, an illusion of Thought. There is no investigation. We observe a passion, perhaps we agree, perhaps we disagree, but the moment is lost and we move on to the next. This passing thought is like a seed; sown, forgotten, neglected, and never coming to fruition.

Then there is the fear of conversation. We fear becoming attached to our ideas lest they fail to hold up under scrutiny. At times, Thought is a warrior. Conversation is its proving ground. Thought wants to test our ideas against others, to meet other minds and learn from them, trial by combat. This combat refines Thought. It makes it lean, spartan. The fat is cut away and what is left over is a hardened weapon. We have confused this beneficial conflict with being rude or abrasive. As a result, we avoid this conflict. Instead of testing ourselves we choose to hide behind wicker shields of our own construction. Why talk over dinner when you can scroll through your Twitter feed? Why meet someone new in person when you can look at their Facebook? Why argue face-to-face when we can post our disagreements in the comments section of an article and walk away?

We have embraced technology because it does not require us to be brave like Thought does. Social media allows us to have ideas, but not have to think of how to defend them. We can stand for anything we want because no one can reach us unless we allow it. Technology insulates our ideas. It makes them invulnerable through distance, thus we assume they are correct. We could not be any further from the truth. Real ideas are continually tested until only the best remain in our minds. These are the valuable ones, the truths. Only through conversation can we sort through our ideas, improve them, and discard the ones that fail under the intense heat and pressure which Thought demands. Without this process, our foundations are weak; pillars of salt surely to crumble away as we continue to build and expand, eventually drooping and washingaway into the sea.

Every time we choose to starve Thought, to deny it the room it needs to grow, these habits ingrain themselves a little deeper into our nature. The trend is reversible. Thought still clings on inside us, dormant, waiting to be awakened, but we are on the verge of losing Thought completely. The direction we move towards threatens not to merely make Thought unpopular, but to erase it from our nature completely; to make us incapable of true thought. There may come a day when thought and conversation are all but a distant memory among us, but we will never question this void in our minds that Thought left behind, where no sunlight could reach, and nothing grew in its place. For it will be beyond us to feel or understand that void, or any of the other voids in our world which we once sought to explain and understand.

Tommy Pochedly is a sophomore from Hiram, Ohio majoring in Political Science.