Low-Effort Thinking

A study published in the journal Personality and Social Science Bulletin last year showed that those who score low on intelligence tests eventually gravitate towards “socially conservative political views.” The study concluded that “low-effort thinking” promotes political conservatism and acceptance of hierarchy. Who’da thunk it?

In the military blaming a subordinate for a mistake or failure made on your watch could result, at minimum, in a reprimand, or at worst being brought up on charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer. In New Mexico we are witnessing a scandal brought about by a Republican State Representative, Cathrynn Brown, blaming a bill drafter for making errors in a bill she requested, subsequently reviewed, signed and introduced to the Chamber. I fully understand that charges of “conduct unbecoming a politician” would be a conundrum of challenging proportions, but they should certainly be pursued, if only by the rational voters in her district. The legislation proposed was most certainly antisocial and demonstrated a lack of conscience and empathy. It is / was a piece of sociopathic legislation designed to punish women who have been raped for not carrying the child to term. Denials of responsibility followed public disclosure of the bill.

This was religious zealotry and low-effort thinking attempting to become law plain and simple. What you have here when you shovel your way through the “don’t-blame-me” propaganda is a bill that makes criminals of rape victims who don’t want to carry the rapist’s child. What’s next on this agenda? Perhaps witch burning such as took place in Papua New Guinea this past week. A 20-year-old mother was burned alive there in front of hundreds of witnesses (taking photographs no less), she having been accused of sorcery. It was, along with photographs, front-page news in the biggest newspaper in the country. Irrational, dogmatic religious zealotry takes its toll on a society; it makes mockery of claims of being civilized.

In New Mexico we have Cathrynn Brown, and in Missouri they have Todd Akin, a former US Representative who claims there is “legitimate rape” and that women’s bodies have a built-in mechanism for “shutting down” so pregnancy from rape won’t occur. Next we have Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, an MD, who claims that evolution, embryology, and the “Big Bang Theory” are “… lies straight from the pit of Hell.” I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Terry England, a Georgia legislator who wanted to pass a bill requiring women to carry still-born fetuses to term. His rationale? Cows and pigs do. I should also include Richard Murdock, the Republican state treasurer of Indiana who opined: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” There you have it, ladies, Grin and Bear It – God “intended” that you should be raped.

In Mississippi recently a five-year-old child was taken home from kindergarten in a police car “to teach him and his mother a lesson.” What was the crime? The school requires all students to wear black shoes, and this kid’s family was too poor to buy him black shoes. Mom, being resourceful, colored over his red and white sneakers with black marker. Unfortunately she missed a few places and so had to be “taught a lesson” in low-effort thinking by school officials.

Every example of low-effort thinking throughout history that failed to embrace and maintain common compassion, justice, equal economic opportunity, and respect for individuals did so as their social contract ceased to be viable. As in 14th-century Venice, people do not long subscribe to a social contract they perceive as being unfair and delimiting. The United States has the fifth-highest wealth disparity among 150 countries. It has happened before and it could be happening again. Even the Greek-born Roman essayist Plutarch recognized that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” It is not simply the disparity of wealth that matters, so much as the disparity of opportunity that in itself is the measure of a nation, of a society.

The most serious question certainly is: What does this low-effort thinking in the simultaneous trends of zealotry and material greed portend for the American social contract? The recent election and its aftermath have shown how conservatives such as moderate Republicans and Tea Party activists cannot connect with each other even to win an election. Tea Party zealots have now vowed to run candidates against moderate Republicans in future elections. Like everything else involving people, low-effort thinking is a spectrum across which people and ideas are spread, ranging from virulent to somewhat reasonable. Every form of sociopathy has its destructive consequences.

It isn’t a joking matter that scores of people in states across the South and in the West have signed petitions demanding their state secede from the United States. When thoughtful engagement is required to sustain a society, low-effort thinking is the kiss of death.  The wisdom of Shelley’s Ozymandias rings true to this day:

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
What better example of low-effort thinking need there be? Perhaps the Texas GOP has the solution: Do not teach “critical thinking” in public schools.

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1 Response to “Low-Effort Thinking”


  1. 1 Jonathan Corso February 12, 2013 at 4:59 am

    It’s noteworthy that GA Congressman Phil Gingrey (R) defended Todd Akin’s claim of “legitimate rape.” He also happens to be a medical doctor. Gingrey along with fellow Georgian Paul Broun is rumored to be running for Georgia’s soon to be vacant Senate seat. No word on Terry England. Yay Georgia!


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