The art of critical thinking.
Byline: The Register-Guard
Are Americans losing the art of critical thinking? Or are they simply abandoning it as an archaic notion, of little or no value?
Instead of seeking information, people seem to be increasingly seeking verbal brickbats to throw at those with whom they disagree. And there are only too many people or companies who are happy to provide those weapons, regardless of truth and accuracy, because they can make money doing so.
The expansion of technology to virtually all corners of the country, regardless of class or income, has brought many benefits and made life immeasurably better for many. But it also has given these verbal arms dealers an almost unlimited marketplace for their wares. Regardless of who or what someone hates or distrusts, there is someone willing to provide fodder for that hatred and fear - because it is profitable. The money can come from advertising sold on sites distributing this material, from supporters willing to fund the sites for their own reasons, or in political capital.
People seeking verbal ammunition are willing to suspend critical thinking to find it. They don't ask, for example, who is behind this website, that publication or radio or television station or whether they have an agenda and, if so, what it is. Nor do they ask where the information comes from, if or how it can be verified, or if it makes sense.
Even bizarre stories such as one alleging a pedophile ring involving Hillary Clinton was operating in the nonexistent basement of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. have been embraced by the credulous - including
an armed man who came to the restaurant to "rescue" the children, and endangered patrons by firing shots.
In addition to the overt, physical dangers that these stokers of the fires of hatred can provoke, there are more subtle threats, to American society as a whole and democracy. They feed a growing polarization and mistrust not just of people of a different political persuasion but of the government and institutions that are integral to the functioning of the country. In this respect, there is little difference between the extreme far left and extreme far right; there are people in both groups who are unwilling to accept differing views and seek to destroy that with which they disagree. There already have been calls to dismantle institutions of democracy, including the Bill of Rights, and threats of, or overt, violence as a result.
The best way to combat this dangerous trend is through tolerance and education, including being respectful of other points of view, and exercising critical thinking. This can be as simple as seeking information from a variety of sources - ones that provide verifiable facts and who, if they make an error, publicly correct it - and making an effort to understand, not demolish, people with different views. It also means a willingness to examine your own views, and change if there is good reason. Vigorous debate, founded on facts, is healthy and good for the country. Intolerance, based on false information, cynically purveyed, is not.