A safer future contingent on critical thinking now

This beautiful place and the calm water surface masks the danger that lurks below.

In this era of instant gratification and supposed connectivity, it is possible to assert that we have never been so advanced in terms of privilege and opportunity, at least in those countries that respect universal human rights. Meantime, while simultaneously many of our planet’s inhabitants (all living beings and flora, marine life, etc) face numerous existential threats, it seems our capacity for critical thinking is on the wane.

Rather than adequate levels of critical thinking prevailing among decision makers and constituents alike in democratic societies, instead I observe what I may call primal thinking to be on the rise. Sure, we have always had people who blindly follow the urging of others with confident voices. Or those who are misinformed, lazy, selfish, disabled or belligerent. Sometimes these latter types are especially prone to congregating in positions of power and influence. Critical thinkers, apt at considering and assessing the consequences of individual and collective actions now, know power must be shared or be damned. Just check the wisdom of the American founding fathers and how executive power is shared in the United States.

And so it is (non) happenings in the US presently as the catalyst for these musings of mine. As President Trump battles the Democrats in Congress over his southern border wall funding request, a poll reports that 85% of Democrat supporters blame Trump for the impasse, while only 15% of Republican supporters do so. Perhaps this is not particularly surprising given the deep divisions of the American political system now. Nevertheless, I contemplate, where is the critical thinking among mainstream American adults, and why is there such divergent views based on group identification? Does the group identification compromise critical thinking? I suspect that is a clear yes.

Meanwhile, I am reminded often, and again in the context above, of the neat tenets of social identity theory (refer https://www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html as a cool reference). This theory describes three related human tendencies. The first is to create group categories. These are often dichotomies or ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups – remember George Bush’s refrain after 911, “you are either with us or against us”). Once in existence, those with power or freedom identify with or choose their group membership. Those without such privilege or are different may be assigned to the ‘outgroup’. Finally, comparisons between groups occur, whereby group membership is leveraged to boost individual self-worth, as they work to elevate the importance or prestige of their group, while deriding or vilifying their opposition group as opportunities permit. All pretty standard fair in the realm of politics.

Sadly though, the scenario above all too often evolves into pritoritising preservation of the group rather than valuing the benefits for individual members. The pigs take over the farm (circa: 1984). Primal, short term thinking takes over, survival of those with the power and influence takes precedence, and utilitarian aims are waylaid. Bugger the consequences, bugger the farm, we just have to ensure we (pigs) have food in the trough.

Without digressing too much into the ‘triune’ brain (maybe google or see an earlier post of mine at http://red-maverick.com/2018/10/16/the-hidden-folly-of-seeking-to-prove-others-wrong/ sorry, a bit verbose!), critical thinking involves higher order cortical processes, emotional intelligence if you like, while primal thinking is aligned to the hindbrain and the emotional mid-brain (including the fear centre). More of us need to think consequentially and critically, now as much as any time. To do otherwise will be to our detriment, or to our grandchildren’s. Or maybe the karma will be more instant – see below.

Value your freedom to think critically, and be grateful for those of us, including me, who are sufficiently liberated and safe, to have the capacity to think beyond simply where we can source our next meal or take refuge for the night. For that I am grateful. And perhaps, for that privilege we have a duty to act. To be honourable. To step beyond our default group. Tob be brave. To use our intelligence. Or we can become complicit by our silence. And part of the problem.

Finally, I was seeking a song that made sense for this topic. For that I thank John Lennon. Here is just a snippet of that song, with its profound message:

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev’ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you’re ev’rywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on.

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