There is a group of people I meet with on occasion, lets call them the Old Guy Liberals. It is a group of somewhat like-minded people who meet in a local library and talk about world events and politics and the like. There is a lot of righteous indignation over this or that particular political or otherwise contemporary issue, with some expressing moderate thoughts, and others expressing, shall we say, opinions that align with Marx, Lenin, Castro and Che’ Guevara. No really, I meet with these guys once a month or so.
Anyway, we were discussing the state of education and other such banalities when someone who is considered one of the more reasonable members brought up the subject of critical thinking, somewhat as if none of us had ever heard of the concept before. He lamented that “kids today” are not as good at critical thinking as, I guess, we, or maybe just he, are, or is. As soon as he bellowed this oft-repeated lament, I slowly counted down, commenced and brought to completion a full-blown, appearances-be-damned obvious and quite ostentatious eye-roll. This guy had to be kidding.
Critical thinking is one of those expressions that, in the negative, usually refers to others yet, in the positive, usually refers to ourselves. Kinda like being good in bed, possessing excellent driving skills and having above average children. Everyone thinks that they are, have and do, yet are eager to point out their uniqueness among what is commonly referred to as “most people” or some abruptly pulled-out-of-their-asses “percentage of the population”. Like most things you pull out of your ass, those thoughts tend to be covered in…I digress.
What many tend to leave out of the equation is the need for originality. You can’t think critically if you can’t think originally. For a Repub, when your favorite political personality says that Barack Obama is a Socialist, Marxist, Nazi, your options are to nod your head and say “yeah, he sure seems like one of those” or to question, well, what exactly is a Socialist, Marxist, etc? Then, once you’ve done that research, try to find specific instances were he has acted like one of those people. That is original research and original thought, which leads to criticality.
For a Democrat, when you hear that there is a “war on women” within the Republican party, agreeing with it after listening to the pablum promulgated by your favorite pundit is one way of forming your conclusions, but it is not critical thinking. In order to think critically, you must assume that this person potentially is motivated by agenda other than your own, and you must critically take all that he says and research it yourself, arriving at a conclusion that will, quite possibly, contradict what your trusted newsman has been saying.
For those of us who believe that we are critical thinkers, ask yourself: Do you believe in any generalities, like all Repubs are racists, or all Democrats are tree-hugging communists, or Donald Trump is really thinking about running for president again, or Sarah Palin has ever actually read the Constitution? If you do, you are being influenced by what you are being told by those who you assume to have done original research. It is quite likely that they have not, and are simply repeating to you what they know you enjoy hearing.
Criticality is originality. You can’t espouse a commonly held (or simplistic or reductive) belief and say that you think critically unless you’ve arrived at it yourself, including information which may not comport with your preferred conclusion.
Lefties can’t think critically unless they have the courage to watch Fox. (I know, I know, its hard for me too). And righties have to really listen to at least a few Rachel Maddow shows before they can say that they’ve arrived at their convictions in a critical manner. You can’t claim to think critically and do so in a comfortable manner. It takes work, it is stressful and it takes being willing to be proven wrong-sometimes by your own actions. Critical thinking is hard. And it is critical to rationality.
And that guy at my meeting who complained that kids today don’t think critically, well, he thinks we’re all going to hell in a handbasket any day now.