Have you ever watched one of those television programs about how aliens have been visiting earth and gumming up the works with their weird science since time time immemorial? It starts out with a legitimate and intriguing premise such as why the Sphinx is really thousands of years older than its tremendous neighbor the Great Pyramid of Giza. A reputable Indiana Jones personality explains these discrepancies between Egyptologists and geologists with the cool and detached logic of a county coroner -- you had me at carbon dating.
But with each commercial break a new character more eccentric than his predecessor is introduced to advance what has now become a preposterous line of thought. Perhaps the target audience is insomniacs and somnambulists who don't fare well with such troublesome variation. High tech -- aliens. Bad weather -- aliens. God -- aliens. No rational alternatives are every really explored. No voice is given to the dissenting opinion. What appeared at first to be a legitimate question was really just an affirmation of a conspiratorial point of view. The answer is always "aliens did it."
These days Alien Innovator Syndrome can be caught almost anywhere that a homogenous line of thinking has become the primary sense making scheme for an entire community online or otherwise. No matter what the facts or plausible alternatives the response is the same -- the fault lays with the non-believers -- those poor misinformed dimwits and damnable rascals who refuse be illuminated by your guiding light.
Perhaps you have contracted Alien Innovator Syndrome and don't even know it. Here are some of the telltale signs:
Do you block the updates of some old friends on your Facebook page because you can't stand the wrongheaded things they say?
Do you have clever and condescending names for the political party you didn't vote for?
Do you refuse to watch certain televisions channels because all they broadcast are lies?
Do you avoid making eye contact with people at the coffee shop who express peculiar ideas?
Do you incessantly repeat pithy slogans like "Ayn Rand was right" because it's easier than actually formulating your own unique point of view?
If you answered yes to any or all the above, you may suffer from Alien Innovator Syndrome. It is known to be highly contagious, but only to people you really like being around. Similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is brought on by repetitive action, Alien Innovator Syndrome is the result of repetitive thinking. But there is good news for habit-bound sufferers. To stave off this dreaded condition there are certain actions that can be taken to reduce the limiting and adverse effects including chronic narrow-mindedness and occasional creative constipation:
Question Your Authorities: Do you really know who actually knows? I was riding in a car on my way to a speech in Philadelphia the other day when a very well known talk radio personality started a rant about why the Federal Reserve banking system should be eliminated. The problem was he didn't have the slightest grasp of how it actually worked. In polite conversation it became clear that the driver was perpetuating the errors because he took the man at his word. Think of it like hiring a plumber. You may prefer one who is liberal or conservative but either way the only one that can fix your pluming is one that actually knows how water moves through the pipes of your house and has mastered tools of the trade to stop the leaks.
Get Your Freak On: OK, maybe not in the hip-hop biblical sense of the phrase. When was the last time you fed your head with the thoughts of some group you don't identify with -- Mother Jones, The National Review, The Advocate or Ebony? Practice suspending your voice of judgment for a just a moment and see if you can muscle through the words to find some common ground or better yet develop some new hybrid ideas. Change your gene pool by talking about these concepts with a weirdo who isn't inebriated and seriously paranoid. Switch sides just for the fun of it and see if you can make their argument better. You just might widen both circles -- "yours" and "theirs" -- so it's easier to see where they overlap in the Venn Diagram to become "ours."
Take It Down A Thousand: Surfers know that the key to riding a choice wave is not getting over excited with anticipation. There is nothing like a dozen tons of salt water rapidly descending upon you to raise your stress level. There are some issues that you too see as monstrous swells that threaten to crush you on the jagged shoal -- gun ownership, theories of economics or reproductive rights. There is nothing you can say that will change the direction of these swells once they get on a roll but that doesn't mean that you let them wash over you. No one ever really turns the tide to win an argument. Instead, chill out and pay attention to the rhythm of the surf. You might just be able to time an opportunity and harness its momentum to take you somewhere you want to go.
Talk to the Voices in Your Head: When you see the guy in the park with aluminum foil on his head mumbling about how feminists are secretly scrambling his brains, do you ever think about how close you are to sharing a bench with him? The voices in your head are not singing in harmony or even in unison. More so, many of them aren't even your own voices -- your mother, your best friend, some stranger you talked to on a plane trip to Florida that somehow got in your head. You don't have to succumb to your inner Sybil to listen to what cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky called your "inner speech" -- the way you talk to yourself and become aware of your own thoughts. Instead of drowning out the weaker voices that chatter inside and question your deepest thoughts take a moment to listen to them. You might just discover what you really think and why.
Of course, it may be that the aliens really did create everything of consequence in our silly little world. In that case you'd better get packing if you want to get a window seat when the space ship returns.
Follow Jeff DeGraff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffDeGraff