Monday, August 27, 2012

What Can Good Will Hunting Teach Us About Thinking For Ourselves?

Perhaps you've met someone who seems to have opinions on a topic until they are challenged by someone else questioning them deeper. Then they stonewall--defenses go up or they check out. I know several people that are this way, and I pray to never be one of them.

I think one of the reasons people do this is that they do not truly own their beliefs. They have never really engaged in critical thinking on the issue, rather they have blindly accepted someone else's words. They believe the philosophy or the theology of whomever they are reading or listening to at the time. At first they like one pastor/author, then another pastor/author calls them a heretic and he falls out of their good graces. All of this reminds me of a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting:

                  There's no problem. I was just hoping 
                  you could give me some insight into 
                  the evolution of the market economy 
                  in the early colonies. My contention 
                  is that prior to the Revolutionary 
                  War the economic modalities especially 
                  of the southern colonies could most 
                  aptly be characterized as agrarian 
                  precapitalist and...

          Will, who at this point has migrated to 
          Chuckie's side and is completely fed-up, 
          includes himself in the conversation.

                  Of course that's your contention. 
                  You're a first year grad student. 
                  You just finished some Marxian 
                  historian, Pete Garrison prob'ly, 
                  and so naturally that's what you 
                  believe until next month when you 
                  get to James Lemon and get convinced 
                  that Virginia and Pennsylvania were 
                  strongly entrepreneurial and 
                  capitalist back in 1740. That'll 
                  last until sometime in your second 
                  year, then you'll be in here 
                  regurgitating Gordon Wood about the 
                  Pre-revolutionary utopia and the 
                  capital-forming effects of military 

                            (taken aback)
                  Well, as a matter of fact, I won't, 
                  because Wood drastically 
                  underestimates the impact of--

                  "Wood drastically underestimates the 
                   impact of social distinctions 
                   predicated upon wealth, especially 
                   inherited wealth..." You got that 
                   from "Work in Essex County," Page 
                   421, right? Do you have any thoughts 
                   of your own on the subject or were 
                   you just gonna plagiarize the whole 
                   book for me?

             Clark is stunned.

                   Look, don't try to pass yourself off 
                   as some kind of an intellect at the 
                   expense of my friend just to impress 
                   these girls.


(From script at

This conversation inherently points to the problem of not thinking for one's self. Our minds float along like the feather in Forrest Gump, carried by the winds of change. And when some one calls us to task, asking why we believe what we believe, do we have any solid footing? Have we thought through it all and arrived at honest conclusions? Or are we merely mentally plagiarizing the work of others?

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