The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Just Thinking

In a recent column in the NYT, Tom Friedman (by paid subscription only) writes about China’s “new national strategy” to become an “innovation country.” He goes on to argue that “In a global economy, our workers will get paid a premium only if they or their firms offer a uniquely innovative product or service …” He correctly contends that we need to teach our students the basic elements of creative thinking so that they can become the innovators of the 21st century.

I agree with Friedman’s sentiment completely, but I think he’s missing another much more important kind of thinking—the ability to think critically.

The citizenry of the USA, both young and old, exhibit a troubling lack of critical thinking. At a Web site dedicated to Critical Thinking, the concept is defined:
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Because we don’t think critically, urban legends become perceived as reality, low probability dangers become instant crises, the misinformation, fear-mongering, and outright bias served up by the MSM is taken as the gospel truth. As a consequence, our politicians rely on our lack of critical thinking to institute bad policy.

A few simple examples:

(1) Politicians on the Right argue that a “marriage” between two gay people “threatens” the institution of marriage as a whole. People listen and react to a new social contract (between two gay people) and perceive it as a threat. Someone who thinks critically is forced to ask: “Please define – explicitly – exactly what the threat is?” Of course, our politicians never respond, because there is no threat that arises from gay unions. Gay marriage may be unpleasant for some to contemplate, but a threat – nah, it’s just not real.

But because few think critically, polls indicate that 60 plus percent of the public believes there is a "threat" that arises out of gay marriage, and as a consequence, bad laws are passed.

(2) One of the main mantras of the Left is their insistence that catastrophic climate change is in the offing – that global warming is solely man’s fault and only we must take draconian steps to remedy it. This “fact” has become so completely institutionalized that anyone who tries to think critically, who questions 100 year climate predictions as possibly flawed (even though 100 year predictions of anything are inherently flawed) is shouted down as a pro-pollution, pro-corporate slug. As a consequence, we set bad policy.

(3) Or on the international scene, consider the Iraq Study group recommendation that implicitly ties a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to peace in the ME: "The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict."

David Frum exhibits critical thinking when he comments:
That's a familiar enough thought. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made exactly the same point in his address last month to London's annual Lord Mayor's banquet. "[A] major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it. . . . [W]e should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core."

An al-Qaeda terrorist detonates a car bomb in a crowd of schoolchildren--and in revenge, a Shiite militiaman kidnaps and murders his Sunni neighbours. How exactly are they motivated by the Arab-Israeli dispute 600 miles away? How would an end to that dispute persuade them to live in peace with their neighbours?

In fact, if you think about the situation in the ME critically, it might occur to you that the conventional wisdom (i.e., the Israelis must do (give) even more to help solve the problem) is exactly backwards. Again, Frum comments:
Might it not be closer to the truth to say that Arab radicalism is the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute--not the result of it? There is no peace because Israel's neighbours--and too many of the world's Muslims--cannot accept the right of a non-Arab, non-Muslim minority to live unsubjugated in the Middle East. That is the true "core" of the dispute, and it cannot be fixed by negotiation.

Indeed, it could well be argued that these endless attempts by Western powers to negotiate Israeli-Palestinian peace make the problem worse, not better. At Camp David in 2000, for example, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the most favourable deal ever offered to the Palestinians. Arafat rejected the offer, and started a war to get better terms. He lost. Did that kill the deal?

Not for long. If Blair and Baker have their way, the U.S. will soon press Israel to revive and improve it.

From the point of view of the Arabs and Palestinians, Western peace efforts create what a stockbroker would recognize as a unique one-way option. If they win, they win everything. If they lose, they lose nothing. There is no reason for them not to continue rolling the dice forever. But why would a savvy deal-maker like James Baker propose to sign up the United States for yet another doomed, futile round of this crooked game?

Three representative examples among thousands upon thousands of instances. In each case, many choose not to think critically – to accept what their told, particularly if it fits their prejudices and word view. As a result we often follow the wrong path for the wrong reasons, reaping results that hurt us instead of helping us.