Yes, you respond, almost as a reflex. I will posit here that there are several factors that might run counter to this response. You might be open minded, fair, intelligent, questioning, well read and quite rigorous in your decision making process and yet come up short. Critical Thinking does require all of these traits but let’s take a look at some more factors that can put you behind a very dark glass, or worse, inside of a very black box.
Are You Examining and Reexamining Your Assumptions?
For example you may be starting with the assumption that we in America live in a participatory democracy. Yes, it has its faults but it is the greatest democracy in the history of the world and it is the best that we can hope for. We need to strive to tweak the system by working for change, voting for our brand of politician, and speaking out against corruption. Someone else might laugh and say, you are naïve. We live under an Oligarchy and we are participating in a superficial form of sham democracy and the general population is seriously deluded with almost no understanding of what an Oligarchy is let alone that we are living under one. How would you even begin to reconcile these two views?
Getting into a heated argument will not qualify as Critical Thinking. Rather we need to uncover some strategies to take us to a new level of challenging our assumptions. We will return to this below.
Are You Asking The Right Questions?
It is possible that asking to what degree we are operating in a democracy, a political consideration, is not the best question to get us where we want to go. We could start with an ethical question: how can we deal the problem of greed and self interest? Or we could ask an economic question: what is causing the growing disparity in incomes and wealth? Or we could ask a financial question: how does the 100 year old debt based monetary system skew free enterprise? Or a legal question: how does contract law trump national sovereignty?
Wait a minute you say, this is getting way too complex. I would respond with this:
“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
The journey to the other side requires a lot of effort.
Do You Know Your History?
I would suggest that we know far too much trivia and not enough about the history of political organization, the history of money, the history of the commons, the history of innovation, patent law, contract law, mining rights, systematic exploitation, religion, imperialism, anti-trust legislation, banking, etc. The list is long and arduous.
There are not enough people who have a sufficient grasp of history to support healthy discourse that would rise to the level of Critical Thinking. We have a lot of really smart specialized people who are not fully educated. Without a firm foundation in history, Critical Thinking is impossible.
Do You Understand the Present?
We suffer from an explosion of information that is impossible to fully encompass into our framework. And so we come to rely upon various sources that we trust. And we separate ourselves further and further from the source. The so called Main Stream Media (MSM) becomes the arbiter of knowledge and custom for most and the population at large flounders in an ignorance that serves the interests of the few. It is ironic that the free flow of vast quantities of information is masking the manipulation of the memes that dictate outcomes.
So ask yourself the question: am I digging it out or am I surfing the web?
Shaping Our Strategies
I maintain that there are more than enough honest self proclaimed Critical Thinkers out there to transform our world in short order, if we would take our game to a higher level. As it is we are stuck in boxes with labels and spend a lot of time flailing in frustration against the myriad systems that entrap us. We cluster around our particular causes that promote something near and dear to our hearts: less government, more government, an end to human trafficking, global warming, poverty and hunger, lower taxes, universal healthcare or cleaner air. We are not bad to do so.
However, we could seek to formulate a strategy that changes the way things are done. We could doubt the very foundations of the systems that we have come to accept as inevitable. And in our doubting we could imagine a world that honors our humanity. I return to the tag line for this blog:
“The opportunity to shape the artifacts of our lives into forms that align our goals with our values and complete our humanity has never been greater.”
But it is a steep mountain of complexity to climb to get to the simplicity on the other side.