Like me, my son is a pretty naive one. At his 3rd grade, when all his classmates already knew Santa Claus is just a “lie” and told him so, he still believed in Santa. But with so many nay-sayers, he did have a little doubt and asked me about it. When I told him the truth, he felt so insulted and betrayed, a little like a cult follower eventually finds out the truth.
But I told him: “Don’t feel too bad, because you are not the only one. Most adults still believe in ‘Santa’ too, just a different one.” Of course, the “Santa” I was talking about is a more abstract concept. I meant to say that most people never really had any serious critical thinking. They are mostly brain-washed intentionally or unintentionally by others. They are so strongly influenced by conventional “wisdoms” and never seriously challenged these beliefs.
For example, killing a pet in a big city will feel like a crime (and it probably is), but hunting wild animals feels like legal, suitable and entertaining sports, not mentioning that we are eating animal meat every day.
Today, anyone who starts a war or expand his empire non-stop will undoubtedly be seen as a war criminal, but many such people (such as Julius Caesar, Alexander the great, Napoleon, even Genghis Khan) in history are still being seen as “Heros”.
A much deeper question most people never asked is: who has the authority to define what is right and what is wrong? Certainly not those political leaders or religious leaders. Not moral standards and ethics either, since that is changing a lot over time.
The only answer I can think of is maybe God (or Nature, as our creator) has the authority, and that standard for right or wrong is already embedded inside of us: our instincts. These instincts are more like computer programs for a robot which give rewards (happiness) and punishments (pain) for our behaviors. In other words, if we feel happy, that is only because we did what God (or nature) wanted us to do. So in this sense, happiness is the only criteria for “righteous”. Because it is the God’s will.
But putting that argument aside, what is most interesting is the fact that most people would never ask those questions. They take everything as granted, as something that would never need any questioning or challenge.
In part, the system works in that way because it is safer in that way. For example, almost all of us have day dreams all the time. However, without knowing what “day dreams” are, most people never realized they had been day dreaming all the time. This is a protection system our unconscious added for us, so that we could have some self-fulfilling fantasies without feeling ashamed about it.
Similarly, herd-following mindset has its own value. It serves the purpose of making a society (a group of people) more stable and more coherent. On the other hand, if everyone has independent thinking, it would present more risk for the society since it could bring more conflicts. Following others would also save energy and reduce search efforts.
Despite its reasons for existence, it could also be dangerous if there is no independent thinking, because in that way, truth is unlikely to be discovered and innovations will be more unlikely.
I am not going to give out a lot of examples in this small article. All I can say here is that once I have started my own independent thinking, I found many things are indeed questionable. It is like finding a new world. What is truly amazing is that I should have found it much earlier.