Do you remember the first independent thought you had? Or maybe a better question is: when is the first time you recall having a thought that was all your own? What it was? Where did it come from? Perhaps we should start with the latter question, where do our thoughts come from, regardless if we remember them or not?
Sure, our thoughts are a function of brain activity–neurons firing across synapses, but I’m not concerned (for this discussion) with the biological, the physical and chemical process, only the idea that presents itself – the originator of our behavior. In other words, what we are thinking? Why we thought what we did? And do we or do we not act on it?
Behavior, Personality, and voting
Some think, and I think with good reason, that our personality drives our behavior, or in the least, is the last barrier to action, i.e. our personality mediates our impulses and actions. Furthermore, our behavior is an exhibitor of our personality. This was the view of CambridgeAnalytics (CA), reportedly, with regards to how to influence the 2016 US presidential election. By mining individuals postings on Facebook, they could determine their personality (using the big five construct, OCEAN ), and from that presume whom to target with what ads so as to get a particular person to go to the polls and vote a certain way, or to stay home and not vote at all. Farfetched?
Allegedly, CA had over 5,000 data points on which to make their assertions, and knew precisely where the voters were who could swing the election (the swing states). That did in fact determine the outcome. The Trump campaign, it is reported (see the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack), placed and targeted 5.5 million ads in those states compared to only sixty-some thousand by the Clinton campaign. In my book Election 2016 I wrote on election day morning: ” … was that some people–the deciders, the undecideds–still hadn’t made up their minds on who they were going to vote for. That realization is frightening, that the fate of the world might hinge on the minds of people who can’t make up their mind.”
Which is to say that people who cannot, or won’t, think independently can have a great impact in a democracy; not to mention in their day-to-day everyday life. Such people are very susceptible to powerful others deciding their fate. Important decisions like: Where should I live? What ought I do? and, Who should I mate with and marry? can cause vulnerability to manipulation, panic, and lead to stress, unhappiness and/or worse.
So where does personality come from and how is it formed are important questions? Good questions. The general consensus is that it is a complex interaction between our genes (individual DNA) and environment, or ecological and social circumstance; and that it is malleable up until the brain has fully matured, around 25 years. After that, it’s a tough nut to crack.
Perhaps oddly (independently?), I think along with all the other factors, one’s date (time) of birth and name are factors, too. In my case – I was born on November 24, Thanksgiving Day, and given the name Mark.
It so happens that November 24 is “the Day of Contentious Conviviality” (see The Secret Language of Birthdays). Is it any wonder that I’m very curious, questioning, with (some say) “diffuse boundaries”? All of this, being born and named, happened before I was even close to self-aware. What choice did I have?
And then one thing leads to another creating a self-reinforcing, rewarding feedback loop. I recall my mother asking, or maybe just musing, one day when I was thirty-something, “Your father and I never could figure out where you got your temper from?” As far back as I can remember, I was always pretty tough-minded, forthright, and unfiltered. Sometimes that would get me into trouble. Unruly, you might say. (My psych-girl can confirm that my mother and father, as well as three wives, have all failed to fully domesticate me.)
Perhaps the best indication of independent thinking is in dreams? But then again there is the problem of recall, and also interpretation? What’s it all mean? I think Freud was right, and Carl Jung, too. There is some wishing going on, figuring out, compensation, anxiety, fear, even forecasting. Plus, just a crazy mix of all of the above. In other words … go for it, but with caution. A trained Psychologist can help.
My earliest memory
The earliest recollection I have of an independent thought I had is back when I was five or six and thought: I think I’ll throw this gun at my brother’s head, and see what happens? He’s a jackass. KATHUMP! Good aim, I thought. “WHAAAH”, he screamed. Uh-oh.
A Perfect Storm
Was it inevitable, back in 1949 when I was born, that come 2016, given all that happened, that I would support and vote for Donald Trump for POTUS. Is all that happens a perfect storm? (Shout out to Sebastian Junger.)
If you’d like to read more about voting, personality, US presidential elections, and why I drink, try these books: markjabbour.com