From the famous philosopher Socrates, “To find yourself, think for yourself.” While this is very true, it has become increasingly difficult these days. How do you think for yourself when you’re bombarded with advertising, media, and frivolity everyday? I live in Los Angeles and there is no shortage of hive-mindedness around here. Then again, I find the same problem everywhere now thanks to the Internet. All it takes is one remotely reasonable idea, and the world becomes engulfed in flames with the new idea – no matter how wrong or right it might be. Take, for example, the news of Steve Jobs’ health. A popular tech blog called Gizmodo wrote up a piece a few weeks ago stating the reason for Steve Jobs’ absence at Macworld: He is in bad health. Many were quick to shoot these rumors down, though some actually believed it. Personally, I think Gizmodo wasn’t all that confident but ran with the story, anyway, and they happened to get lucky that it was confirmed. Everyone took their side of the fence and were awaiting the news hoping their team would be the one that gets to say, “I told you so.”

There is a major problem with group thinking or hive minds. I have had many controversial ideas or opinions, being a natural skeptic, and have been shot down or ostracized by many for what I think. I’d also like to think that I’ve turned out to be correct three out of four times, but that’s a different story. My issue with group thinking is that there is a complete lack of skepticism. Someone starts an idea, it sounds pretty damn good, more people perpetuate that idea and suddenly it is accepted as fact. It reflects the power of ignorance, the inability to think for onesself, and today’s complete lack of skepticism. If the Internet says it, it must be true, right?

I’m going to remain controversial and I am going to continue to question things that I find questionable. It’s funny, a lot of people in Los Angeles always feel like they’re not a typical Angeleno. The stereotype is either the male who’s far too concerned with his paycheck, car, clothes and hair, or the woman who’s immersed in her looks, her diet, and who she parties with and where. If you happen to be just shy of being any one of those characters, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “You’re such a breath of fresh air; you’re nothing like the typical L.A. guy/girl.” The irony, of course, is to find that statement coming from someone who believes he or she is also not cut from the L.A. cloth, but they’re happily wrapped in it.

Whatever the people in your community believe in, whether it’s your hometown, your professional community or spiritual group, don’t ever be afraid to question what you’re being told. Don’t ever worry about looking like a fool for being brave enough to exercise free inquiry. Remember, just because millions of people think the earth is flat, it doesn’t mean they’re right – and in many cases, they’re not.

Nostradamus has been famous for “predicting” future events and, depending on how they were interpreted, his prophecies have been surprisingly accurate. The problem, however, is that all of his predictions were vague and ambiguous. The prophecies were never clear and time frames weren’t definitively set, which makes it open to all for interpretation. Add to that the fact that he has far more misses than hits (much like Bible interpretations and prophecies) and you essentially have nothing beyond the mathematical probability of outcomes. If I made thousands of predictions, very loosely written and vague, it’s almost a guarantee that a handful of them would come to pass.

Enter Gerald Celente, the hokey Nostradamus of our day. Celente also makes “predictions” and has foreseen doom in the near future. What’s the latest word from the modern-day prophet? America is doomed and nothing can be done about it. Over the course of the next four years, we will no longer be an industrialized nation, we’ll be scouring for food, there will be rebellions and riots, and all hell will break loose – to say the least. Wow, what a bold statement in hopes that everyone will forget within the next four years. That’s the beauty of prediction these days. You make them long enough that people will forget if they don’t come to pass, but if for some reason the prophecies come to fruition, you dig up your documented predictions and smugly say, “I told you so.”

Apparently, Celente has “accurately predicted” the fall of the USSR, the market crash in 1987, and the Asian currency crisis in 1997. How does he do it? Does he study social, market, and economic trends? Does he gather this data and use mathematical modeling and forecasting to come to reasonable possibilities? Does Celente allow for error and come up with figures to back his doomsayer predictions? Nay, Celente doesn’t subscribe to reason and uses the following method:

According to Gerald Celente, Director of the Trends Research Institute and author of Trends 2000, the key to tracking trends is to read two newspapers every day with a purpose — either The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times, plus The New York Times or USA Today. Look for stories with social, economic, and political significance, be it about the difficulties older suburbs face or the current currency crisis. (You’ll know by the headline or the first paragraph.) Skip the stories that are purely human interest or that are about something that hasn’t happened yet (for example, a jury resuming deliberation on a sensational trial).

When a crisis does occur, tune in to the extra in-depth analyses that you’ll find in accompanying background pieces probably in more than one of the newspapers. Read them as though you’re a “political atheist,” Celente recommends — not for what you want or hope, but for what is really going on, not only in your own profession or industry, but for trends that may directly or indirectly shape the future.

There you have it – and how convenient and simple! All you have to do is read two newspapers everyday, make sure to read between the lines, and then make an objective conclusion about what should happen next, not what you hope to happen. In all seriousness, if there is a such a thing, who would listen to such a dope? One fine example is this painfully long blurb from Alex Jones’ Infowars. Doing a little research shows that, along with Alex Jones, all the Bible-thumping, hell-and-brimstone fanatics hail Celente as their prophet and take his predictions, which have a predilection for gloom and depression, very seriously.

Anyone who listens to a forecaster who is very specific, extremely positive or negative, and has nothing to substantiate his or her claims would do well to be skeptical. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of companies out there who study trends and make predictions, but it’s what they do for a living. These types of forecasters actually have several working models to come to the conclusions that they do, and even then they openly state the room for error and inaccuracy. Be wary of anyone who is firm and definitive, they’ll end up looking like an ass in the end.