Critical thinking. It’s something that is not popular now and may never has been popular for most people. Ever since the renaissance and what was called the “age of reason” there has been backlash to the idea of intellectual analysis, almost as if it’s a betrayal of faith and “real” values. As though thought and the truth is an annoying invader to life as it should be.
In an article in Psychology Today David Niose, discusses the dangers of embracing the emotional over the quest for the truth. He blames everything from the racism of Dylan Roof, the Charleston shooter, to gun violence on anti-intellectualism and an aversion to critical thinking in our country. Niose says:
“In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel –brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.”
I can almost hear you yawn. Critical thinking, at first glance, is boring and doesn’t get the blood moving; it sounds like a nerdy course at a public institute of learning. As a result it really isn’t appealing. It’s more satisfying to get the rush emotion coming from a political cause or baseless hatred than it is to actually look clearly at the world around us. There are a many reasons for this. People tend to be impatient, even when it comes to deciding what is right or wrong. It’s fast and satisfying to listen to a Sarah Palin and to connect to an emotion-ready theory of the world than it is to actually show the discipline it takes to think and come up with solutions that actually help everyone. For some people attaching themselves to an emotional cause is a quick and false solution to real problems.
And that is where critical thinking really would fool the same emotion and rhetoric seekers if they took the time to take embrace it: the solutions they seek are only found through critical thinking. Justice and constitutional values are served when the best result is found and you are looking for a solution to problems you can’t avoid. If you don’t have a job, does anger and emotional blowback create jobs? Is pointing the finger at someone else the same as proving that you can deliver the goods? Why is critical thinking..critical? Because the devil is in the details and if you fall prey to some set of slogans that seem to embody what you’re looking for, you will fail every time. Boring as it is, solving complex problems requires juggling a bunch of facts both present and historical. Why else have so many presidents fallen horribly short of their campaign promises. Once reality rears its ugly head, it’s full analysis that will see you through; nothing else will come close. People are not hired as cabinet secretaries, of state, of defense, because they are able to sway a crowd with slogans and hatred. No one allows someone to perform brain surgery on them because they are can get a group of people riled up emotionally. In the end complex problems need complex answers, provided by experts and researchers.
For most people this philosophy of critical thinking is a sign of an overactive mind, a mind that can’t embrace the “real” populist goals of passion, anger and finger-pointing. We are a tribal race and we are never more satisfied then when we can separate ourselves into two polarities: the right side which, of course, we inhabit and the wrong side which includes people who are on the opposite end of some hot button issue or partisan affiliation.
My favorite of the modern political thinkers is Fareed Zakaria. His weekly GPS shows are informative and helpful in terms of gaining information. What I’ve found most striking about him is that he will take commonly held beliefs, beliefs often fueled by emotion and rhetoric, and break them down in terms of statistics and historical trends. He offers information that allow his audience to make informed decisions because he has done the legwork himself in terms of research. For reasons any Fareed fan can understand, he has gained an international reputation as a star intellectual and analyst. We are lucky to have him in my opinion.
Fareed brings up another very important point when it comes to analysis and critical thinking. Despite what the fans of emotion and anger want to think, the gems of critical thinking, the ones who can get us over the hump if we will just listen to them, are rare and, being rare, you will have no idea of where they come from and what their ethnicity is. You don’t get to choose geniuses and, sorry, they are likely not to come from your favorite local ethnic or cultural group. They are basically, to my mind, genetic flukes that are worth their weight in gold. Fareed will get some of the non-critical thinkers in an uproar. He was born in another country, does not look like the standard issue American. He was also born Muslim. Game over for those that can’t see the truth.
The truth is that Fareed does not make an issue of his religion and, in fact, has made it clear that he is not a practicing Muslim and is raising his children as Christians. He has said that he is not passionate about his religion; he considers himself an American first. This is true of many immigrants, including my father who put his Jewish heritage on the back burner in an attempt to be an American, first and foremost; When he was a child he wanted most to be an outfielder for the Yankees.
Fareed portrays Jihadis as disturbing, homicidal, and without real religious motivations. He is one of the first reporters to point out that most of the recent jihadis are not devout Muslims but criminal elements who violate basic Muslim tenets such as prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol. His most important new presentation on Jihadis is called, “Why do they hate us?” Fareed clearly does not see himself as anything but an American.
Perhaps not so ironically, it will require critical thinking to evaluate Fareed’s value as an analyst. You’ll have to avoid emotion and anger and see Fareed for what he is: A man who has a better than average ability to analyze and disseminate information that is critical to our lives. If you’re going to wait for a Fareed that is blond and blue eyed, don’t hold your breath.
We need to give our support to any critical thinker who shows his or her skills. And the power and effectiveness of this small group of thinkers will grow in its effectiveness if they form a collation, wherever they come from. Recently I was happy to be introduced to Archduke, a pair of young men who, in addition to being musicians, are crack critical thinkers. Whether you like Trump or not, the following video shows and excellent example of analysis and critical thinking.
ArchDuke reprents the next generation in valuable thinkers that represent true solutions, not flavor of the month emotional trends. In the end ArchDuke is giving you valuable information that can be used. They show their morality and their concern for people around them by telling their audience that their goal isn’t to stop people from voting against Donald Trump, but just to allow people to think for themselves. The truth, in this case, not only sets you free but provides the only chance you have to make critical choices. Applied consistently, this type of thinking will allow us to get ahead of problems before they develop. That is if you listen to people like ArchDuke.
What would a coalition of critical thinkers look like? They would be from varying backgrounds and they would stand for moral principles over partisan concerns. Because of that they would have a place on the national stage as true reformers. Despite appearances, critical thinkers don’t stand for dry intellectualism; they stand for a morality born of a desire to fix what is broken and improve the lives of people around them, regardless of whether those people fit the mold of the particular critical thinker. If we are an intelligent nation, we can look forward to an age of thinkers who follow this tradition.
A final note: there has always been a conflict between critical thought and religion, the idea being that people who embrace thought cannot embrace faith. If faith involves helping the needy and lending a hand to our fellow man, there is nothing more important in finding solutions for problems like this than critical thinking. Our minds and our ability to think effectively were given to us by God. They have made us what we are today and can be considered gifts. Can reason be over emphasized? Certainly. But it seems we have been fooled into thinking that any element of reason separates us from God and faith and this is simply not true.