The Campaign for Critical Thinking

This campaign, which I am officially launching, though nonchalantly, will likely meet with the same fate as my undeniably innovative and, I’m sure, verifiably effective, program for team problem-solving, the student-run animation workshop.   A good idea, no matter how good, is not enough, of course.  If the idea is not self-monetizing and irresistible to angel investors, one needs funding, or, at minimum, a large network of enthusiasts.   In our culture, money speaks, and spreads the word, and makes or breaks.  One billionaire backer makes all the difference.

Even in the case of genius, great skill, luck and complementary genius is often necessary before an idea can get huge, become a force in society.  The Beatles would quite possibly never have become the worldwide phenomenon they became without the public relations genius of Brian Epstein.   The president we have now would not be the president without the genius of those who helped promote him, target his message, data-mine voting patterns to pinpoint the exact number of districts he needed to win the Electoral College, an anti-democratic mechanism created by the framers of the Constitution that can only be understood in connection to protecting the rights of slaveholders, who were a tiny minority of the population.  In some cases these poor slaveholders lived in states where they were also part of the racial minority!  Can you imagine the pressures on them?!

The certainty of failure must not deter the pursuit of a needed idea.   I heard Chris Hedges couch this in terms of his Christian belief– the duty to intervene on the side of righteousness does not depend on your chances of success.  In fact, you could argue that the duty becomes greater as the abuse escalates and the odds of failure increase. 

A simple idea then.  Reserve opinion, and advocacy, until you have as many facts as you can get.   Facts, you will say, are slippery.  There are now also “alternative facts” and facts invented for profit.   Many of the unverifiable facts that influenced the outcome of our recent election were dreamed up by industrious young capitalists, creating a market-driven product for which there was a huge demand.  

Millions hated Hillary, it was simply shrewd business to create another incendiary reason to hate her.   Make it wild enough you could get millions of monetized clicks.  How about a factual account of a child-sex ring she was involved with, located in the basement of a pizza place that has no basement?  They got millions of hits on that one, each one sounding a distinct “cah-ching!”. The story was repeated over and over among those who hated Hillary, each time it was liked, more profit for the “content creators”.  A guy with a gun finally went to investigate, to free the child sex slaves that Hillary and her people had locked up in that basement.   Hard to blame the guy, in a way.  

The same cynical genius, or a similar nonpartisan businessman, also came up with the Trump and Sheldon Adelson gang-raping the under-aged girl story.  CAH-ching!  Much of this fake news was created by highly successful content creators who wrote the fake news of the right and of the left.   They had no dog in the fight, did not even like dog fights, maybe, but there sure is money in the right dog fight.

Critical thinking is harder than reflexive thinking, for sure.  It is harder than many things.   The confirmation bias is one factor, we tend to believe new things that conform to what we already believe.   This has been greatly exacerbated by that tsunami of capitalist genius, Facebook.   Most people get their news from their friends on there, and algorithms track the news and send them more like-minded well-liked stories (and related ads).  Everybody wins.  Except for critical thinking. 

There has been a deliberate campaign against critical thinking in the United States, accelerated since the days of Reagan when political debate began to be reduced to “I Know You Are, but What am I?”  That anti-intellectual ideology is now personified in a party “intellectual” like Paul Ryan whose political credo was forged while reading a really long novel by a supremely opinionated Russian anti-communist named Ayn Rand.  Paul Ryan considers this poet, a rationalist, a self-proclaimed Objectivist, who believed that the “Invisible Hand” of the “Free Market” would free mankind from the tyranny of altruism, a profound political philosopher.

In Ayn Rand’s gigantic allegories about the evils of Communism she makes her case that the remarkable man will always be considered an enemy of the State, hated by the herd.  The titanic struggle of the remarkable visionary protagonist of her books inspires readers to admire persecuted individual genius and to value it far above the craven needs of the masses, who are lazy, corrupt and indifferent to evil.   Her novels also hammer home the message that it is no virtue to want to help others.  

Paul Ryan is considered a Republican intellectual because his political epiphany came while reading a really, really long book.  Take a quick, mocking look at the philosophy of Ayn Rand.   Here is the visionary herself, explaining to Phil Donahue why wanting to do good in the world is not a virtue.   If you have the stamina, toward the end of her presentation, you can hear Ayn Rand’s attack on public education, which she says creates a class of brainwashed slaves to government tyranny.  She also states that she would never vote for a woman for U.S. president.  A female commander-in-chief of the Army, she said, is “unspeakable”.

I am not using this despicable example simply to bash Republicans and Libertarians.   Democrats may be arguably likelier to critically debate policy positions, at least during the primaries, but they are hardly great advocates of critical thinking.  They defend their own indefensible inconsistencies as doggedly as their colleagues across the aisle.  

Any time you have only two positions to choose from, you are probably leaving important considerations and options off the table, not thinking very critically.   And critical thinking is now more critical than ever, as vast areas of the inhabited earth will soon be uninhabitable, as we pass a climactic tipping point while false arguments are forcefully presented, at great expense, by those who profit handsomely by the destruction of the planet. 

Critical thinking.  The Campaign for Critical Thinking.  Hastag don’t be a fucking asshole.

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