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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The capacity for critical thought - how do we build it?

Just as we wind down the first half of 2011 in preparation for Canada Day, three disparate blog posts are jumping out at me:

All worthwhile reads, but there is, as you might gather from the title of this post, a common theme: the facility for critical thinking and its absence in far too many of our fellow citizens. This absence manifests itself in all kinds of tiresome and disturbing ways. A willingness to swallow the garbage peddled daily by the HarpoKKKon government and its mouthpieces in the braying tabloid press / crapaganda Fox News North channel betrays not just stupidity and intellectual laziness, but a fundamental lack of curiosity. And it's that lack of curiosity that makes people susceptible to manipulation and the cynical, divisive and despotic politics practiced by the Conbots.

It's especially worthwhile reading in the Porcupine post, which starts with a discussion of the online lynch mob that arose in response to the Vancouver hockey riot after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup finals to Boston. A sample:

But for all the ordinary people who engaged in this blame fest, it only goes to show the hegemony of authoritarian ideology. Such hegemony means that most people are incapable of a structural or systemic analysis of an event. All they can do is conjure up demons, scapegoats and conspiracy theories. 

Once again, the inability to think critically features prominently. George Carlin captured it perfectly with a terrific rant which I've blogged about previously. The essence of his argument was that the powers that be don't want educated citizens, they want obedient workers. Thus, they have a great deal invested in making sure schools don't teach people how to reason, how to see shades of meaning, and how to question the validity and evaluate the worth of everything they're told and everything they see, hear and read.

I know I go on about the G20 (chorus: No shit, OB. Really?), but I can't help but think that part of the motive for such orchestrated and sustained brutality was a demonstration of what happens to people who ask too many questions. Even if people were equipped to question what they're told in a systematic and structural way, they're less likely to speak up when they're worried about catching a police boot in the teeth.

So, fellow progressives, a challenge. Think of this as an attempt to crowdsource and kick-start a new strategy session: how can we bypass the intimidation and inculcate the faculty of critical thought within our fellow citizens? And how do we do it without insulting people, sounding condescending and / or opening ourselves up to the usual flying-monkey attacks?

Operators are standing by ...

Related posts:


  1. I fear this is a lost cause, and has always been.
    All religion is obvious nonsense, yet throughout history, almost everyone has espoused some form of it or other.
    People often quote Einstein, usually either out of context or attributing to him something he didn't say, but this one is real:

    The majority of the stupid in invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror their tyranny, however, is alleviated by their lack of consistency.

  2. While I am glad you asked the question, how to inculcate critical thinking skills is a tall order, one that I have wrestled with for several years.

    I am convinced that one of the absolute necessities that by no means guarantees success is a broad-based education, not merely the skills-training that often passes for education today. In that objective, both high schools and universities fail more than they succeed. Most provinces, I believe, require only one secondary school course in history, usually Canadian, and that is wholly inadequate for providing the kind of contextual knowledge that is needed in making critical assessments.

    One also has to have the time and willingness to read widely, refusing to allow only that which appeals to our values and prejudices to determine what we expose ourselves to. That in itself is a tall order.

    There are, to be sure, methods to help us analyze arguments. To become familiar with and on the lookout for common fallacies of reasoning can help us detect b.s. more readily, whether the b.s. is based on absolutism, ad hominems, or straw man arguments, to name three common fallacies.

    I look forward to reading what others have to say, and wish you luck in this noble quest.

  3. So, fellow progressives, a challenge. Think of this as an attempt to crowdsource and kick-start a new strategy session: how can we bypass the intimidation and inculcate the faculty of critical thought within our fellow citizens?

    For a start progressives can try USING it.