Blog Post: Will Critical Thinking Accompany This Newest Revolution? What Does History Tell Us?

Linda Elder
Jun 15, 2020 • 25d ago
Will Critical Thinking Accompany This Newest Revolution? What Does History Tell Us?

{"ops":[{"insert":"The variables that have given rise to this newest black rights movement, with people flooding the streets and demanding justice, and the ways in which the police have behaved in response, lead us to believe we are in the midst of a revolution that may or will permanently change the way we think of skin color in the future. But the fight for equal rights is long and hard, and frequently there is a backlash that then takes years to recover from, if ever. Some people, mainly those who have lived through it, relate the protests in 1968 to what we are experiencing today. But history will remind us that achieving an egalitarian world is more or less out of reach for us humans. Upholding rights for all humans as well as other sentient creatures across the globe through universal compassion should be our goal. We could imagine a world in which skin color has nothing to do with how we judge a person, but that world is a long way off, at least here in America - the great land that requires students to pledge allegiance to a flag that promises freedom and justice for all but frequently delivers the opposite. We could imagine the kind of world envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Some of us have that dream too. But it seems we are more divided than ever, and moving in the wrong direction, even with talks of equal rights, and despite fresh promises against the use of brutal police tactics.\n \nEgalitarianism, which embraces the treatment of people as equals, has never been achieved on a broad scale in modern human societies. In many ways we have regressed from the progress we seemed to achieve in the 1970’s, after the protests of the late 1960’s. For instance, as a backlash from due to fear of potential sex abuse, we can no longer touch one another except under strict guidelines (so much for the free love movement of the 60’s and 70’s). Hugs are forbidden in many schools. We now must not show affection or caring through physical touch unless under permission. Faculty in many colleges are forbidden from dating any students attending any classes at those colleges. Some will see this as progress. Others will recognize problems - in this, and in the many, typically simplistic approaches humans use to address complicated issues. For another example, consider that the freedom of speech we fought for half a century ago is now frequently violated, and it is rare to see anything like freedom of thought fostered in our schools, colleges and universities. Or to take yet another example, you may recall that not long ago, those who initially protested the Iraq war were basically marginalized. Many were referred to as “those same hippies” that protested the Vietnam war. And in terms of the current crisis, equal rights for Black Americans has of course never been realized.\n \nNowadays, we choose to divide ourselves in any number of ways in arguing for rights for our specific groups. Some of this is necessary, like in the case of the police murdering people based on skin color. But those who have lived through so-called revolutions are wary of the moment, all too alert to the fact that change typically occurs only under certain conditions, given forces that come together which are often unpredictable and frequently not lasting.\n \nThe power elite soon calculates and develops schemes to get the people back in line by throwing them just enough bones to placate them. In the US, the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"power elite"},{"insert":" entails the ultra-wealthy, and the politicians in bed with them. The military are frequently required to do their bidding. This is true in large part because the populace, on the whole, lacks the skills of criticality essential to figuring out when they are being oppressed (except under egregious conditions), when they are being manipulated, and what can be done to change the power structure. It is therefore fairly easy for those in power to keep their knees on the necks of the people. This is done through propagating various ideologies (e.g. social, religious, legal) as well as through promises made to the people (which those in power have little or no intention of keeping). Consider, for instance, how politicians frequently refer to “God,” and use religious symbols (such as holding up the Bible), for the purpose of manipulating naïve people.\n \nWill some things change for the better as a result of George Floyd‘s death, and of other murders and outrageous acts at the hands of the police now coming to light? Most likely, yes. Will those things lead to some improvement? Most likely, yes. Will we be limited in how far we can progress during this hour of revolution? Without question, yes. Enlightened people who protested for change during the Vietnam war to bring our troops back, as well as those who fought more generally for freedom of speech, and those who fought for African-American rights, would likely agree that what they envisioned for the future of our country is very different from the future we have achieved.\n \nAdvancing and upholding fundamental human rights is possible in human societies, but not probable, at least not on a broad scale. Basic rights for all will not be realized through narrow, simplistic answers like getting rid of the police entirely, or passing one or more laws that limit certain maneuvers by the police, etc. Any given changes such as these can be discussed, debated and enacted. But unless humans more broadly learn to think in disciplined, fairminded ways through complex problems, like those we now face, and unless ethical critical thinking can be sustained across cultures, we will continue to see little progress. Unless the police and others learn to routinely examine the assumptions and other aspects of reasoning that lead them to bad decisions and harmful behavior, nothing much can change.\n \nWhat it will take to bring about a more egalitarian world is what was missing in the 1960’s during that revolution, and what has been missing in human societies from the beginning of recorded history. It is a failure to appreciate the proper role of thinking or reasoning in human life. It is a failure to grasp the appropriate criteria we should use to determine which ideas to accept, which to reject, which to question, and which to act upon. It is a failure of humans to embrace empathetic, openminded, unbiased, thinking. It is through these failures that the people can never seem to really rise up and collectively create a more enlightened and fair world.\n \nDistinguished thinkers have pondered these same concerns throughout history, with Socrates as an exemplar. In the 2,400 years since his death, we have yet to achieve the world he wished-for - in which people routinely and systematically focus on their reasoning, and more specifically problems in their reasoning, in order to live "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"the examined life"},{"insert":".\n \nUntil we begin to take seriously the problems in human thinking that lead to so much anguish and suffering, we will not revolutionize the human species. And we will need to revolutionize the human species if we are to achieve our potential, if we are to get rid of unjust laws and reign in unjust people, and if we are to save the planet that is our very home. There are problems in thinking in every profession, and these are increasingly researched and documented. These professionals may be in the police force, the intelligence community, in social work, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, business, the military, indeed in any field of study and thought. If we replace police forces with social workers and other professionals, we will only then be victimized by the bad thinking of social workers and these other professionals. The police do not have a monopoly on irrational, narrow-minded thinking.\n \nWe would hope that George Floyd did not die in vain. His death represents merely the tip of the iceberg for injustice across many parts of human life. But we should know that whatever change is created out of this movement now is likely only to reveal further problems in the structure of a species that simply refuses to take its thinking seriously. Every human being is egocentric, selfish, self-deceived. Every human at least sometimes inappropriately seeks validation in groups. In our groups, we create belief systems. These belief systems then operate to control the behavior of people in groups. They permeate schooling and academic disciplines, with many teachers and faculty simply advancing the dysfunctional status quo within pathological institutions.\n \nWe need a society like those the Stoics sought in ancient times, following in Socrates’ footsteps. They perceived human’s upper-most purpose as living a life of virtue, with the goal of creating as much good in the world as possible. Coupled with this, they highly valued disciplined reasoning. They advanced precisely the opposite set of assumptions from those used by police officers who murder citizens in cold blood. Stoics live very differently in the privacy of their own minds than people who refuse to examine their own thoughts or take command of them. Enlightened people through time avoid bias, prejudice, partiality, and all forms of tyranny and bigotry. They continually work to embody intellectual virtues like intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, confidence in reason, and intellectual courage. They develop mirrors into their own neuroses and pathologies. They do not take out their frustrations on others or refuse to see their own weaknesses.\n \nHumans have the potential for good and for evil. Many variables determine whether a person ends up on the side of good rather than evil. In the long run, societies that value an educated populace and the cultivation of the critical mind will excel. Societies that do not value fairminded critical thinking will be like our society is today – grasping for straws, giving their power to others, and, in the end, allowing the power elite control over their minds. All human decisions should be made critically, with a focus on what is accurate, logical, relevant, significant, and with concern for what is fair, for getting at complexities in situations, and for understanding the broad range of viewpoints that make up large human societies.\n \nUntil we begin to focus on the serious problems in thinking that have given rise to the injustices we see today, nothing much will change, except a few new bandages placed on old wounds. And the human tragedy will live on.\n"}]}

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