By “Agenda,” I mean your personal agenda — the tasks that you set for yourself to accomplish by the end of the day. Do you set that agenda, or does someone else?
Because of the way that our minds work, we can only hold so many ideas and trains of thought in our mind at the same time. When you start your day by bathing in whatever story some other unfathomable confluence of interest groups has decided to bathe you in, you cede control of your life — as you actually live it — to someone else.
You’re, by no means, immune to this in any social context or in any system of government. Civilized men are not especially isolated creatures. It’s important for us to understand what’s going on in our communities and areas of interest. This tendency of ours — the social instinct — has been ably hijacked by ‘user interface designers,’ software developers, and hacks like yours truly to keep people on a never-ending loop of checking what other people are thinking and doing in the moment. Joining that group are television producers, movie people, magazine editors, and all the rest of them eager to buy a slice of your thoughts.
Simply disconnecting from the larger herd — and perhaps focusing on the smaller herd of your family, or even of the people whom you need to work with throughout your day — is a better way to take control of your thoughts, and by taking control of your thoughts, you’ll have better control over your actions. When you have more control over your actions, you also have more control over your environment.
Exercising this control is something that I sometimes struggle with, personally, because of a bottomless curiosity and desire to understand the world as it is. But to be free in a meaningful sense is to be comfortable being ignorant about the majority of what exists. Most people in the world speak in languages unintelligible to us, in a social context completely alien to our understanding. It’s easy to fool ourselves that we understand — or that we can understand — because we can use simple theories, encyclopedia articles, and newspaper reports that go through several cycles of translation to think that we know what’s going on beyond our area of awareness.
Proactively deciding what to be ignorant about is probably more important than deciding what you ought to know. It’s by ignoring most things that you generate the free mental space and time to grasp what you actually need to know.