What Is Man If He Ceases to Think? | Opinion

The simple phrase, "I think, therefore I am," coined by the French philosopher Rene Descartes, helped change the world. Within decades of its first utterance, Descartes' groundbreaking work in rationalism helped end witch-burning in Europe and opened the gates to the Age of Enlightenment. The phrase was Descartes' way of saying that it is our ability to think that serves to prove our actual existence (at least of our mind).

While many people know the phrase, not so many know what came next for Descartes. After using reason to prove that our mind exists, he went a step further to prove that man was defined as being a "thing that thinks," or a "thinking thing." I can't help but wonder if this brilliant mathematician, physicist and philosopher who influenced everyone from Isaac Newton to Ayn Rand would be reconsidering this thesis were he around today to witness the typical American's response to the Chinese coronavirus.

As I see more and more data on the actual impact of the virus and resulting economic crisis, and as I see more and more drastic actions undertaken by governments in the name of protecting us from the threat, I wonder how many Americans are actually stopping to think about what is really happening?

I recently had Senator Rand Paul as a guest on my podcast. The senator and I discussed the May 12 Senate testimony of the "most trusted doctor in America" when it comes to the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci gave his usual message, which included warnings about sending children back to school too soon. Senator Paul (who is also a doctor) and Dr. Fauci had an exchange that went viral, where the senator said:

As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don't think you're the end-all. I don't think you're the one person that gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there's not going to be a surge and that we can safely open the economy. And the facts will bear this out.

What kind of facts did Senator Paul have in mind? He cited information from New York indicating the mortality rate for the virus is near zero for children up to 18 years old. Fauci's response was along the lines of, it would be a mistake to think that children are not at risk. Think! That isn't what Senator Paul said. He didn't say there was no risk; he was suggesting that the data does not support the shutting down of the nation's educational system.

Consider the following information from the Heritage Foundation and other sources with regard to the disease that has shut down the nation:

  • New York and New Jersey, by themselves, account for 38 percent of all cases and 48 percent of all deaths.
  • Thirty counties in the U.S. account for 50 percent of all cases and 57 percent of all deaths. Twenty-four of those counties are in the Northeast between Philadelphia and Boston.
  • Eleven percent of the counties in the U.S. account for 95 percent of all the deaths from the virus.
  • Fifty-two percent of all U.S. counties have zero reported deaths.
  • Despite their states opening earlier than others and with fewer restrictions in place overall, cases in Florida and Georgia are declining rather than increasing since reopening.
  • Research shows that using the CDC estimate of accidental deaths at 240,000, the virus will be 170 times less deadly than accidents as a cause of death in the U.S.

All of the above should at least cause the inquisitive mind to stop and think about what is happening. We now have over 36 million people who have filed for unemployment and the economy is in tatters. We are letting this virus and the politicians who lead us send the nation into a tailspin from which we may never fully recover. What is certain, however, is that the longer we keep ourselves locked at home, the less likely a recovery becomes.

Rene Descartes
Rene Descartes Imagno/Getty Images

Think! Does this really make sense? Does it really add up?

Descartes was first and foremost a mathematician. Perhaps if he were around today to help present the rational mathematical case, we might be seriously reconsidering our draconian responses to the virus.

One contemporary of Descartes was the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes had a rather pessimistic view regarding man's nature, concluding that like lambs, we are weak and driven mostly by fear. He argued that because of our nature, we are incapable of living without being controlled and protected by a powerful state.

We certainly are afraid in today's America, and we are also allowing ourselves to be increasingly controlled by all-powerful states. Are we proving Hobbes right? Are we so incapable of overcoming fear that we have to be protected by big government? The answer at the moment is, "yes."

Fear, however, is a base-level emotion. It can be overcome through rational thought, the kind which Descartes believed separated man from all other living creatures. If we stop thinking, what are we? Are we still men? Or are we nothing more than one of Hobbes' lambs?

For the sake of our country, the one our children and our children's children will inherit, we must wake up and start using our rational minds. Otherwise, America will prove the anti-thesis of Descartes' original message: "I stopped thinking, therefore I no longer am."

Charlie Kirk is founder and president of Turning Point USA, the author of the New York Times bestseller The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future, and host of The Charlie Kirk Show.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.