Thinking is a form of relating

According to Tim Urban, low-rung thinking is tribalistic (we take on ideas because of their connectivity to a group identity). To be fair, there are many benefits to thinking within and as part of a tribe. As Sebastian Junger argues, tribalistic thinking unites individuals within a shared identity, consolidates values that provide guidance towards life’s great uncertainties and significantly increases cooperation within individuals of that group. At the same time, tribalistic thinking is notoriously prone to biases including bigotry and groupthink. High-rung thinking is the ability to take on ideas, ostensibly on their own merits. However, this kind of thinking may be problematic as well. Primarily, without social support, many of the best ideas may flounder. Moreover, thinking that becomes unmoored from pre-existing obligations to one’s society and tribe may become socially and ethically deplorable. The prototype of this disaster is embodied in the evil genius. Furthermore, Urban does not specify what merits this ‘high-rung’ thinking prioritize (e.g., some may favor the merits of the scientific method, or the intuitive appeal invoked in philosophy and theology). Between tribalism and high-rung exist a spectrum of possibilities: is the opposite of tribalism a radical individuality or an amorphous and utopian cosmopolitanism? Perhaps instead of a dyad or linear spectrum we must convey thinking within a triangular model.

This possibility was in fact raised by Arnold Kling, in discussing his Three Languages of Politics. He suggests that modern societies must navigate the counter-balancing forces of individual liberty, group identity and cosmopolitanism. Joshua Greene takes the point further by arguing that we are already developing new moral systems to manage modern public life, incorporating all three ways of thinking. In fact, he may argue that most modern institutions and ideas (e.g., human rights) can be fruitfully understood as an admixture of all three thinking elements in symbiotic and antinimous interaction. It seems that thinking itself is predicated on the existential condition of living with others. The dilemma driving thinking becomes: What is our relationship with others and others, with ourselves? This question may be approached philosophically (ontologically, epistemologically, ethically), through the force of habit and automaticity, coercion etc. But it does underscore the observation that thinking itself is a form of relating; and that our thoughts themselves are the fruits of these complex relations.

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