“Think for yourself!” is an inspiring slogan. Look at the people in the Milgram experiment who did not go along with the experimenters and administer enough shock to kill a person. Admirable! We should think for ourselves, and encourage our children and mentees not to be sheep. “Just cause everybody jumped off the Brooklyn bridge doesn’t mean you should. Sage advice!”
And yet — want to know how many people live in the Czech republic? Look it up on Wikipedia. Ask authorities — demographers, historians, map-makers. Failing that ask a hundred people and average and you will get pretty close. This is the concept of crowd-sourcing, but it goes much deeper. It is impossible to think for yourself on every issue you have to think about. No one human brain holds all the knowledge necessary to run our civilization. No one person knows all the languages, and how to irrigate a lawn, and how to talk so teens will listen, and how the bones of the ear evolved from the bones of the jaw (or is it the other way around)?
How can both be true? That’s easy. As Bohr (or was it Heisenberg?) said — a sign of a really deep idea is that the opposite is also true. The true is the trustworthy. Why shouldn’t there be linguistic formulations that provide guidance whose negations are true as well.
More to the point — what do we do about it? To take a recent political example if everybody says a cyber attacks was perpetrated by Russia and the politician who think it could have been a guy in New Jersey says “Think for yourself! Don’t be sheep! Don’t listen to what professionals and the media say — they have lied to you before” how do we navigate it?” How do we say “I trust the experts” without falling into the error of being sheep?
Who wants to be called a sheep? The shepherd and the sheepdog lie to the sheep but they end up slaughtered, their biological drive to follow the head-sheep manipulated by a hostile species for its own benefit. The argument “Don’t listen to the experts! Don’t be a sheep!” seems sound.
We need to ask — who is calling us sheep and why? Is our ego being manipulated in the appeal to think for ourselves?
The “think for yourself” button is so easy to access in our culture where the fear of being ordinary is the most ordinary thing of all. We need to be wary of who is pressing it and why.
Another example: white supremacists talk about being able to think through media manipulation by referring to the movie “The Matrix” — a popular Hollywood movie. Nothing sells better (well almost nothing) than the narrative of the brave individual seeing through the lies he is being told to sell him things.