"Well... I don't know; I think it's a little more complicated than that." A little more complicated. Sound familiar? There's a name for it, actually, "cloudy thinking," and as a clear thinker, it's your responsibility to avoid cloudy thinking and its practitioners at all costs. Here's how:

State your beliefs in black-and-white terms. The alternative is to move into that uncharted area between black and white, the "gray area," which is where cloudy thinkers hang out not having an opinion about anything. Stick to statements such as "Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists" or "This war is all about oil."

Understand that it is not possible to be right for the wrong reasons, or wrong for the right reasons. Cloudy thinkers will claim that either or both of these is possible; ignore them. (Or hit them.)

Make a list of everybody and everything you can think of, writing either "good" or "bad" next to each in parentheses.

Say "what's to discuss?" a lot. With issues such as the world currently faces, discussion is a luxury we can ill afford.

Use the words "always" and "never" where people who are less sure of their views would use non-committal words or phrases such as "sometimes," "may," "might," "may or may not," and others. Try replacing the blank in the following sentence with anything but "always" or "never":
"The ends ______ justify the means."
Sickening, isn't it.

Make the English language work for you. Use it if you like to imply that "cultural imperialism" is for all intents and purposes the same thing as old-school, for-real imperialism. Or quote Teddy Roosevelt's "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism" comment out of context.

Repeatedly stating the obvious is an excellent way to let people know that you are one hundred percent right and they are zero percent right. Point out that "war is hell." Or ask questions like "So you're saying you don't care if we have another September 11th?"

Use the Law Of Cause and Effect liberally in your analysis of world affairs. It states that "if event A occurs, and then at some point in the future event B occurs, then event B was caused by event A." (Note: this law often produces counterintuitive results; discard these.)

Whenever possible, invoke the "slippery-slope" argument. When you say, "I don't know, that's a slippery slope...", implicit is the idea that to go down the slope is to enter that gray area where cloudy thinkers spend so much of their pathetic time, under the sorry inpression that having a gray-area opinion actually qualifies as having an opinion at all. There's a catch, though: the "slippery slope" argument will fail to convince you and others of your rectitude if you stop to think that getting through even a normal day involves negotiating several slippery slopes, including:

  • driving a car (the slippery slope that leads to violent death if you do it too fast);
  • eating (the slippery slope that leads to obesity if you do it too often);
  • exercising (the slippery slope that leads to cardiac arrest or stroke if you do it too vigorously);
  • buying things (the slippery slope that leads to bankruptcy if you do it too much); and
  • going home (the slippery slope that leads to becoming a hermit if you stay there for too long)

Trivia is of limited use to the clear thinker. Does it matter that horseshoe crabs are not really crabs; that Elvis Costello's first band was not the Attractions; that there is a difference between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims? To the cloudy thinker it does, and they'll let you know it, too. Splitting hairs while the world is going to pieces is a favorite pastime of the cloudy thinker. You, the clear thinker, do not have time to split hairs.

Do not acquire even a basic understanding of statistics.

Avoid places where you are likely to encounter more than a handful of facts and figures (newspapers are notorious for this). Facts are not intrinsically "bad," nor are figures; the problem is just that if you get too many of them together in one place, you're likely come across one that flies in the face of your beliefs, and this can lead to cloudy thinking. If you do encounter a fact or figure that is not to your liking, ignore it; it is almost certainly false.

Used properly, history can be your friend, but remember: history is just a very long string of facts and figures, and as noted above, large concentrations of these should be avoided. That said, equating the impending Iraq war with World War II is an excellent way to advance both hawkish and dovish views.

Embrace literal-mindedness when it suits your needs: for example, point out that men and women who joined the Army because they saw ads promising money for college were not told in those ads that they might have to fight in a war while in the military.

Do not read The Boy Who Cried Wolf. This book is bullshit from start to finish.

Avoid examining issues from more than one point of view; this is generally an unproductive exercise. As a clear thinker, you should be spending very little time examining issues anyway, from any of point of view.

Compartmentalize your thoughts to the fullest extent possible; this will allow you, for example, to view Christian fundamentalism and radical Islam as wholly dissimilar phenomena.

Actors are an excellent source of non-cloudy thought: Richard Gere, Charlton Heston, Susan Sarandon, Ronald Reagan, Janeane Garofalo, and others have -- perhaps because of their actorly ability to "focus," or perhaps because of the actor's innate grasp of foreign affairs -- banished cloudy thinking from their lives.

Think short-term, ignoring the long-term consequences of action or inaction. Or, if you prefer, think long-term, ignoring the short-term consequences of action or inaction. Just pick a term, though. Jesus...

Approach issues as a child would; children have a keen ability to ignore facts and get to the heart of issues.

Remember that contrary to what most cloudy thinkers will tell you, analogies do not "break down." That's why they're called "analogies."

Obvious Conclusionability Theory (OCT) is one of the most powerful tools of the clear thinker; if you do not use it, you're needlessly handicapping yourself. Your intuition may tell you, for example, that since international terrorists have a tendency to be Muslims, it follows that Muslims must have a tendency to be international terrorists. But it takes OCT to prove this assertion, as well as the assertion that rich people are bad. (Note: OCT is very powerful by itself, but is even more effective when combined with Selective Fact Avoidance Technique and its corollary, the Law Of Variable Fact Relevance. Combine OCT with The Law and The Technique, and you can prove anything, literally.)

Assume that you have at your disposal the same set of facts that are at the disposal of the people who have to make decisions about the world. (You'll need to use The Law, The Technique, and OCT to make this assumption, but it's totally worth it.)

Slogans: use them often. The ability to cut the crap and have an actual opinion, preferably one that fits onto a bumper-sticker (or that you got from a bumper-sticker), is a sure sign of non-cloudy thinking. The best slogans are those that cloudy thinkers would write off as:

  • simple-minded, e.g. "No blood for oil," "Hey, Frenchie, have you no shame?", "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," "It's all about the military-industrial complex";
  • earnestly not-quite-clever, e.g. "Drop Bush not bombs"; or
  • cheaply and reflexively patriotic, e.g. "America First," "Remember the Alamo"

Pop quiz! If you're not a cloudy thinker, this should take you like ten seconds, if that:

  1. How much does one B-2 stealth bomber cost?

    1. US$120,000
    2. US$1,200,000
    3. US$12,000,000
    4. US$120,000,000
    5. US$1,200,000,000
    6. US$12,000,000,000
    7. US$120,000,000,000
    8. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    9. Sorry, not interested

  2. Approximately how many of these bombers have been built for the U.S. military?

    1. 2
    2. 20
    3. 200
    4. 2,000
    5. 20,000
    6. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    7. Sorry, not interested

  3. How much, per capita, did the war in Afghanistan cost the United States?

    1. US$0.27
    2. US$2.70
    3. US$27
    4. US$270
    5. US$2,700
    6. US$27,000
    7. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    8. Sorry, not interested

  4. How many Iraqi civilians were killed during the 1991 Gulf War air offensive, according to Human Rights Watch?

    1. 25 to 30
    2. 250 to 300
    3. 2,500 to 3,000
    4. 25,000 to 30,000
    5. 250,000 to 300,000
    6. 2,500,000 to 3,000,000
    7. 25,000,000 to 30,000,000
    8. 250,000,000 to 300,000,000
    9. 2,500,000,000 to 3,000,000,000
    10. 25,000,000,000 to 30,000,000,000
    11. 250,000,000,000 to 300,000,000,000
    12. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    13. Sorry, not interested

  5. What is the approximate average annual cost per American adult of the African AIDS-related assistance program proposed by President Bush in his most recent State Of The Union Address?

    1. US$0.14
    2. US$1.40
    3. US$14
    4. US$140
    5. US$1,400
    6. US$14,000
    7. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    8. Sorry, not interested

  6. With which one of these nations does Iraq share a border?

    1. Turkey
    2. Israel
    3. Africa
    4. Pakistan
    5. ...Baghdad?
    6. The U.N.
    7. India
    8. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    9. Sorry, not interested

  7. Which one of the following is predominantly an Arab state?

    1. Pakistan
    2. Egypt
    3. Iran
    4. Afghanistan
    5. Indonesia
    6. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    7. Sorry, not interested

  8. Who said the following during the 2000 Presidential campaign: "It really depends on how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us"?

    1. Vice President Al Gore
    2. Governor George W. Bush
    3. Ralph Nader
    4. Colin Powell
    5. Former President Jimmy Carter
    6. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    7. Sorry, not interested

  9. About how many Americans were there as of February, 2003?

    1. 29,000
    2. 290,000
    3. 2,900,000
    4. 29,000,000
    5. 290,000,000
    6. 2,900,000,000
    7. 29,000,000,000
    8. 290,000,000,000
    9. 2,900,000,000,000
    10. 29,000,000,000,000
    11. 290,000,000,000,000
    12. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    13. Sorry, not interested

  10. Who currently holds 69 percent of existing Iraqi oil contracts?

    1. The state of California and the U.S. Department Of Defense
    2. Various French and Russian corporations
    3. The U.S. government, ExxonMobil Corporation, and Great Britain
    4. Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Lybia, and Afghanistan
    5. Kiev
    6. Various Canadian and Australian corporations, and BP
    7. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    8. Sorry, not interested

  11. How much are existing Iraqi oil contracts worth?

    1. US$11,000
    2. US$110,000
    3. US$1,100,000
    4. US$11,000,000
    5. US$110,000,000
    6. US$1,100,000,000
    7. US$11,000,000,000
    8. US$110,000,000,000
    9. US$1,100,000,000,000
    10. I don't know, but I'd like to know
    11. Sorry, not interested

    How'd you do? If you answered "Sorry, not interested" to all questions, congratulations; you're a clear thinker. If not, you suffer from at least a mild case of cloudy thinking. You are not welcome here.

Copyright © 2003 Steve Schneider. All rights reserved.