One of the few things people of all ideologies seem to agree upon these days is that people don’t think critically. Some people say we don’t think critically “like we used to,” while many have doubts that we ever did at all. Some people complain that we don’t teach critical thinking in schools. Others say critical thinking is a lost art, or that it is absent from the public debate, or that the main stream media is devoid of any, or that it is lacking in online communities.
I don’t know, and I am not afraid to admit that. I frankly do not know whether critical thinking is dead or dying, but I intend to find out. The only thing about critical thinking that I do know is that we need it. Not “we” as in bloggers, or “we” as in any particular ideology. Nor do I mean “we” as Americans today, or Americans at any time in history. We, as human beings, all rely on critical thinking for our very survival.
As I see it, critical thinking may be divided into two distinct species, and one is certainly far from extinct. The most common form of critical thinking is the literal sense of thinking critically about something. There is no shortage of criticism. One does not need to look for long in order to find someone’s negative opinion about anything (thank you Google).
This negative form of critical thinking is not so named because it has a negative effect. On the contrary, identification of a problem is the first step in solving it. Critical thinking must always include criticism at every stage. Critical thinking cannot rely on faith, fear or emotional arguments. We must be willing to question everything, though this doesn’t mean we have to come to the conclusion that everything is wrong.
Today, there seems to be a surplus of criticism and a shortage of answers. Perhaps we are too critical of proposed solutions, especially those proven to be better than our current situation – or those that have never been tried. Perhaps we just lack the imagination to solve problems we never faced before. Whatever the case may be, it seems at times that we are frozen with indecision and left helplessly observing (and complaining about) the world crumbling around us.
I am not under the misguided notion that I can play a significant part in solving the world’s problems, but I also cannot convince myself to sit silently while the fires of injustice burn so bright. It is not enough that we focus our gaze upon a problem. I feel an uncontrollable need to roll up my sleeves and act.
Gandhi said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” With that notion in mind, I want to start a series of posts aimed not at merely identifying the problems we face, but at formulating solutions. Whether it be an impossible pipedream requiring the complete reconstruction of society, or a small action each and every person could easily perform, I want the focus of this series of posts to be one of active participation, not impotent resignation or despondent doom saying.
With that in mind, I want to know what you, the reader, think we ought to do to encourage action. Is there a lack of incentive? Is there a lack of direction? Is there simply an insurmountable sense of hopeless that drives people to do nothing? Are people too comfortable? Are people already acting constructively in ways that we can emulate?