Critical thinking is a phrase both overused and under appreciated. Still, it is the root of rational thought, and the growing incapability of the public at large to engage in it is being seen in a growing support for nonsensical political initiatives, and the inability for candidates for public office with a genuine understanding of the country’s problems and the common sense solutions to them to gain enough support to be elected to the offices where they can actually do something to implement a course correction.
First, what is critical thinking? It is essentially another form of the scientific method (another dying art, sadly). The critical thinker looks at the facts, verifies them as actual facts, compares them to real work experience of themselves and others, and comes to an informed position AFTER taking all into account and weighing them against each other, rooting out inconsistencies and contradictions, and separating reality from rhetoric. It is the process of becoming informed so that we arrive at a conclusion because it is correct, rather than because it feels good or that it confirms preexisting biases.
Critical thinking tell us that an idea is good or bad, to put it simply. It tells us that not showing up for work gets us fired, it tells us that if you break the law, there are consequences that must be faced, it tells us that ideas that have been tried before will likely have the same result as before. It forms a reality based foundation for decision making that s often the difference between success or failure. Unfortunately it is being replaced more and more by reactionary thinking.
Reactionary thinking is where your conclusion or position is taken first, before research, before consideration, before thought itself, because of an emotional response to that position or position. It feels good, it feels right, so it is accepted. What exacerbates the problem is that once the position is taken, the person then begins to rationalize in order to justify it. Only information that supports the idea is accepted, all information that disproves it is summarily dismissed without consideration. This is diametrically opposed to the critical thinking concept, where information that contradicts the position causes a revising of the position, rather than rationalizing an excuse to avoid doing so.
If the effects were limited to the person engaging in reactionary thinking rather than critical thinking, while it may be a shame to see the distress it causes that individual in their own life it is still limited to their own life. But the real world is not that simple. Take the example of political elections. When enough of the populace supports candidates who make them feel good and confirm their rationalized biases, populism rules, and the candidates with actual plans that will work are pushed to the side in favor of the candidates pushing the emotional buttons by appealing to racism, isolationism, protectionism, etc. Keep the voters reacting, so they don’t start thinking….
In a way, this is yet another indictment of our failing educational system which at one time taught students *how* to think, but now focus on teaching them *what* to think – while feeding them with prepackaged biases and a convoluted worldview that has little correlation with reality.
Here is a prime example of the failure of critical thinking:
A commenter on the issue of Marla Maples coming out and telling reporters that she feels she must speak out and inform the public of just how distasteful an individual Trump is before the public votes on him is dismissed by Trump supporters because “she’s an ex wife, of course she won’t say anything good about him”. However, once her alimony is withheld by Trump in retaliation, and she reverses course, suddenly she is to be believed when she praises him. She’s still an ex wife, but apparently the ad hominem dismissal applies only when she says things his supporters *don’t* want to hear.
This is not critical thinking. It is pure rationalization and exercising of confirmation bias.
But, it is illustrative of the effect that the death of critical thinking has had on the future of this country.
The depth of the damage that has been done to us as a nation and a society. is immeasurable, and comes from myriad policies – most of which can be traced back to government intervention. It is going to take generations to undo the damage. If we can overcome it enough to even begin….