Sunday, December 6, 2009

Critical Thinking vs. Criticizing Thinking

Rod Dreher is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Rod is on the conservative side and I tend to find myself disagreeing with some of his stances, but enjoying his writing. Rod, tends for the most part tends to seek the most rationale side of an argument sometimes with a simple not to his ideology in an effort to bring understanding to the issue with which he is dealing. I may not like where he comes down on a subject, but I usually can understand how he got there.

This ability to look at more than one side of an issue or subject is the hallmark of critical thinking - something that is not only in desperate short supply these days, but something which is more and more becoming disparaged. In a few short years we have gone from appreciating thoughtfulness and reflection, to believing in quick decisions and snap judgements.

A recent column by Dreher is painfully on the mark:

"Whether they realize it, ordinary people have become more comfortable with the idea that truth is relative and that emotion is a reliable and sufficient guide to finding it. For many of us, what's true is whatever is pleasing and useful."

"For at least a generation, this sort of thing has panicked conservative thinkers, who blame liberals for mainstreaming moral relativism and lack of respect for truth, except in the culturally Marxist sense of being a tool for social or political change. Relativism in this sense is no longer a specialty of the left. Here's the nut of an exchange I've had many times over the past year with fellow conservatives:

""Barack Obama is a Muslim."

""No, he's not."

""You have your opinion; I have mine."

"There is no way to argue with this, if by "argument" you mean the exercise of analyzing premises and data to reach a deliberative conclusion. This is argument as mere contradiction. You might say that approaching life this way will lead you into a world of trouble, but then again, you have your opinion, and they have theirs."

It would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact that this is the way public debate is carried out. Opinion becomes a valid substitute for facts; engaging in real debate is an exercise in 'elitism'; sloganeering and bumper sticker religious slogan compete with theological rigor - or at least rudimentary scholarship. In one race for the Texas Legislature, one candidate has actually been criticized for having a degree from *gasp* Harvard!

Don't get me wrong: critical thinking doesn't require advanced academic degrees. It does mean that one doesn't exalt experience, dogma and opinion to the level of ultimate truth. It means a willingness to examine facts in the light of history and some objective fact (or facts) which can form the basis for some 'argument'. Not simply a statement of some cherished belief or ideologically laced opinion dragged out into the public square as an empirical truth by which all should live.

Whether we are liberal or conservative, religious or irreligious, we all have some things about which we are right; we all have some things about which we are wrong - but a progressive society rests on the capacity to persuade, not just opine.

By the way, I've gotten word that Rod is leaving DMN! I'm going to miss being agitated by him. There's nothing like a great argument!


MattW said...

Ergo, criticism is ok as long as critical thinking was applied?

Gerald Britt said...

Clearly, one's criticism is not right simply because they arrive at it by thinking critically. If one begins with an immoral premise, then the criticism and proposition is most likely going to be wrong as well.

In public debate, criticism because you don't like the outcome of an election; you don't like a policy because you don't like the ideology upon which it is based; or you disagree with a religious teaching can be valid. And there is a healthy debate with the prospect of persuasion or understanding on either side. There is also the possiblity of some level of compromise depending on what the issue may be (the outcome of an election is pretty clear).

But simplistic criticisms which have has their main basis: 'because I say so'; or 'because I don't like it that way' or 'because it scares me'. Aren't substantial reasoning in moving public debate/criticism toward a workable solution.

Absence of facts; distortion;revising history;argument that is obviously self serving and personal attacks are not helpful and are not the sign of critical thinking.

Nor does critical thinking ensure that a person is right or fair in their criticism. But, again, there is the basis for real healthy argument vs. simply dismissing facts in evidence and declaring one's right to have their own opinion.

Chris said...

Yesterday I read a blog about how Obama makes decisions. I thought it was on yours. When I later went back to comment, it was gone. Am I mistaken or did you delete it?

Gerald Britt said...

You're mistaken. You haven't been so offensive that I've had to delete anyhting you've written. However, I would like to see the post and what you're response was, when you remember.

Chris said...

I didn't make a response because I needed to read it again. I'm not saying you deleted anything, it must have been my mistake what blog I was reading.

Gerald Britt said...

I didn't realize till much later, I inadvertantly posted today's (Monday's) offering early and then corrected it. Let me know if it is what you read, sorry for the confusion!