Thinking about thinking

I have been thinking about thinking lately.  I know, I know, if I’m not careful, I’ll hurt myself!

But seriously FYI you guys*, I have been thinking about critical thinking.

You know those paranoiac facebook status memes that people are cutting and pasting into your life with ever-increasing frequency?  I think they’re kind of like postmodern urban legends, only dumbed down for the post-MTV internet age. Less believable. And definitely less entertaining. My deep-seated contempt for herd mentality aside, I really have to hold myself back from lashing out when I see people carelessly feeding those monsters. I mean, did people *really* believe that facebook was going to start charging users? To me, falling for that is only a notch above believing “I am a Nigerian prince and I need your bank account information to wire you a million in cash.” And apparently the gulliblometer needs to read up to about 100, because a lot of people seem to be candidates for buying some waterfront property in the desert for cheap! (I just made up the word gulliblometer, and am now obsessed with it.)

What I’m getting at here is that critical thinking skills are apparently not as developed across members of our society as some of us might like to believe. Maybe just a tiny wee little bit of critical thinking before cutting and pasting panic-laden lies all over the internet would be nice, right?

To delve deeper into the topic of critical thinking — and also in the interest of full disclosure and complete fairness to everyone who I may have just offended by calling them gullible — I have to say that I am only recently seeing myself growing as a critical thinker. One thing that has spurred growth in that area for me is my work in a rhetorical criticism class. It’s all about looking at examples of communication and attempting to discover how they work. Certainly I have analyzed music, literature, media and other subjects critically before, but I’m also realizing that I have taken many things at face value for many years.

A glaring example — and I am 100% certain that I am not alone in this — is my previously putting on a pedestal the Founding Fathers of the United States. Like most of us here, I completely accepted and perpetuated a belief system around the United States mythology I was fed in grade school. Now, we are all victims of the education system in this regard.  And there are certainly debates raging far and wide about how and what to teach.  But, after we reach a certain level of development, I think we have to be held responsible for the frames and contents of our belief systems.

It seems that when it comes to things that people feel loyalty or emotion toward, like governments or religions, we as humans tend to deify the mortals who created them. We forget that they were just people. Certainly this must be in our nature as humans, because it seems to have been happening for eons.

I realized that I have pretty much always deified the “Founding Fathers” when I picked up a book of American Oratory and read Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address. If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it. He sounds very human, even mentioning that the demands of the Presidency are beyond the scope of his “talents.” That shocked me.  Imagine a President saying something like that today!  That would be a sure-fire way to lose power. And also — how humble.  How real. And yet we have trouble imagining these people going to the bathroom or laughing hysterically at a stupid joke? I mean, I always have, at least.

I read Andrew Jackson’s second inaugural address in which he mentions his vision for the country’s foreign policy as “to do justice to all and submit to wrong from none” – and I realized how ironic that sounds now, coming from a man who ordered ethnic cleansing of Native Americans during his presidency.

Even now, I realize that I tend to assume that people in power in government are experts – and that they always have been. I assume that they all have read Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address and Andrew Jackson’s second and have thought critically about everything that every President has done before them — why they did it, how it affected the country, and especially that they know Greek and Latin and have studied the classics and the rise and fall of Rome, etc. etc. etc.

But they haven’t.  Sure, they may have had access to big expensive Brand-Name educations and more money than will ever pass through all our bank accounts combined, but they are fallible human beings just like you and me. And they are actually probably not much smarter than any of us, either. They do not know how to run this country any better than you or I do.

And as the photo accompanying this note shows, we absolutely must think critically about how the media delivers information to us. And we must ask that all-important question — what is being left out?  Because many times, what is *not* being said is more important than what is.

So, I am happy that I am developing the skills and drive to think critically. And I hope that sharing my interest in it may spark curiosity in others as well. Not only does it seem like the intelligent, evolved thing to do, but it also seems like the only way to have clear perspective on current affairs and our place in the world.

* phrase coined by comic genius Amy Poehler in the feature film “Wet Hot American Summer”

Jefferson and Jackson quotes are from the Library of America’s volume one of American Speeches.

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