You May Not Be A Critical Thinker If You’ve Said These Things

With the political season heating up, it may become difficult for even the most thoughtful people to remain respectful during election debates.  We could all use a reminder on the way to maintain civil discourse and keep debates focused on real arguable issues.  Having the freedom to debate and state our opinions is what makes this country great.  Voting is a privilege and we should treat it seriously.  This requires careful consideration and critical thought before casting our vote. 

The essence of critical thinking requires questioning.  A critical thinker must question everything he or she is told or believes and this includes even that which the person considers common sense. Critical thinkers are open minded because they seek to draw conclusions after asking many questions both about the information they receive and that which they locate through research. It requires us to think further and consider both our position and try to see the other side.

Here are some examples that may indicate a lack of critical thinking:

1. President Obama is evil. Mitt Romney is evil. Joe Biden is evil. Paul Ryan is evil. There many variations of this. Each reflects a lapse in critical thinking.  Just because you differ with any of these men on political or social policy does not make them evil. 

2.  President Obama, Mitt Romney, etc., doesn’t like America.  Why would anyone subject himself or herself to all the rigors of running for office if he or she did not genuinely love this country?  Could we just allow for the possibility that each candidate is truly patriotic?

3.  President Obama was not born in the country.  Please put this one to rest.  He was born in Hawaii and has the birth certificate to prove it. 

4.  President Obama (or President Bush) is not my president.  If you are an American, the president is your president.  You may not have voted for this person, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is (or was) the president.

5.  I’m leaving the country if Obama or Romney wins.  Please stop making empty threats like this one. If you think the value of living in the U.S. is conditional upon the current president, you are missing a great deal. 

There many examples of a lack of critical thought.  These are just a few. 

Please remember that the goal is not to call people out for their lapses in critical thought because we have all (myself included) made mistakes.  Let’s all make a vow to refrain from personally attacking those who disagree with our point of view. Civil discourse is possible and it is necessary.



Using Vulgarity Reflects Absence of Critical Thinking

When it comes to an absence of critical thought, using vulgar language is a clear giveaway. 

Earlier this week, University of Iowa (UI) professor Ellen Lewin responded, “F— You, Republicans!”  What elicited such a response? UI College Republicans were promoting a “Conservative Coming Out Week.” 

Is the phrasing “coming out” restricted?  Apparently, Lewin thought so and even deemed it offensive to the gay movement. 

The UI College Republicans email said, “Conservatives in Iowa City it is now time to come out of the closet!”  According to the Chicago Tribune article about this issue, “It also listed many events including a blood drive, flag football games against College Democrats, a showing of a movie about George W. Bush, and a ‘wear red’ day.”

I applaud UI President Sally Mason for condemning intolerant political speech.  Mason wrote, “Intolerant and disrespectful discord is not acceptable behavior.”

Lewin’s own apology seems rather weak, however.  She wrote, “I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities.”

Is Lewin unaware that there are gay conservatives?  It appears so.  I wrote about this topic months ago for Politics Daily in a piece called, ” Gay Conservatives, So What Else is New?

Does coverage of such a story by the Chicago Tribune indicate that our nation is demanding more critical thinking?

Are You Ethical?

Before pointing a finger or judging politicians and celebrities for their ethical scandals, we should question our own actions to see if they meet the same ethical standards. Today’s news is filled with reports of ethical lapses and commentary. Politicians and celebrities are under tremendous scrutiny and it would be interesting to see how many average Americans, who would consider themselves ethical people, make unethical decisions every day.

When a person makes a promise with no intention to keep it, he or she is being unethical. Consider traditional marital vows and the promise to remain faithful. Yet, how many married people commit adultery? When a person becomes a licensed driver, he or she promises to abide by all the laws of the road. But, how many people knowingly exceed the speed limit? Stealing is unethical. Still, how many people take things from their company’s office supply closet and bring them home for personal use? Using force or fraud is unethical. Yet, how many people lie on their resumes to obtain a job?

Children see things clearly when it comes to ethical matters. Ask a child if stealing is wrong, and he will say it is without question. Ask another child if lying is wrong and she will say that of course it is. Adults, however, find a way of justifying and excusing unethical behavior.

On March 3, 2010 Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) temporarily gave up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee after being admonished by an ethics panel for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. The panel is also investigating Rangel’s campaign finances and possible unreported income from rental properties. There are additional inquiries into whether Rangel paid taxes on a property in Dominican Republic and an allegation that he used his office to raise money for an academic center named after him.

Republican Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford’s marriage infidelity and ethical lapses have also been widely reported. He is now facing 37 ethics charges. The charges include allegations that he broke state laws more than 36 times by violating rules on airplane travel and campaign money. Sanford continues to ignore members of his own party who urge him to step down because of his ethical lapses.

Best-selling author Charles Pellegrino is coming under fire for lying about his credentials and making up sources. His recent bestseller The Last Train to Hiroshima is an account of events leading up to the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. It received excellent reviews. But now it’s alleged that Pellegrino made up portions of his book as well as lied about completing his Ph.D.

Critical thinkers must question their own behavior before judging others. When we force ourselves to act more ethically, expectations will change and society will benefit.

“Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid”

I’ve frequently used the reference “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” to illustrate the dangers of group think and the benefits of critical thinking, but I didn’t fully understand the Jim Jones mass suicide until I watched an interview with Jim Jones Jr. on Oprah February 17, 2010 and researched the 1978 Jonestown massacre myself.

Jim Jones formed the Peoples Temple in 1956 in Indiana and said it stood for, “Divine principles. Total equality. A society where people own all things in common, where there is no rich or poor, where there are no races.” Jones was an engaging speaker with a charismatic personality and a desire to change the world. As the Peoples Temple grew, he moved to California. It’s important to remember that the movement started out as a good idea in response to the civil unrest at the time. His followers included people of different races, ages and both genders. Most were educated, functioning members of society who wanted to make a difference. But as Jones grew more powerful, a darker side of him began to rear its ugly head. He demanded followers turn over their pay checks to him and asked them to pledge their lives to him.

After facing criminal investigation in California, Jones formed a town in Guyana called Jonestown. Nearly 1,000 followers joined him there. In theory it sounded great. After all, It was touted as Uptopia—heaven on earth. This was a well organized and planned community. It had an agricultural team, schools and hospital. Jonestown flourished and Jones began to manipulate and brainwash his followers constantly broadcasting messages through speakers. Some believe his sickness and even insanity were a result of drug experimentation.

Congressman Leo Ryan of California went to Jonestown to investigate after several of his constituents claimed their family members were being held against their will. Reporters with cameras filmed first a very joyous celebration and then later several defectors asking to be taken home. Upon hearing of this, Jones ambushed Ryan and his team at the airstrip. Ryan and four other members of his team were shot and killed.

Jones called an emergency meeting. He then told followers “They are after us. Die with respect. Die with dignity.” Mothers were instructed to give the Kool-Aid-like substance with poison to their babies, children and then drink it themselves. As a result, 900 people died a painful death at Jonestown including 300 children.

Death by cyanide is not painless. Victims actually die a violent death. Officials say it took victims five minutes to die. Tim Carter, a survivor calls it, “a senseless death.” And it was both senseless and tragic. This was the biggest mass-murder suicide ever. The word murder is an important addition here. There is evidence that some did not drink the poison willingly as many syringes were found later. Many claim armed guards also surrounded the pavilion to ensure cooperation.

On November 18, 1978 Jim Jones, Jr. and his two brothers were 150 miles away at the time playing in a basketball tournament when he received the call from his father saying, “We are visiting Ms. Frazier.” This was code to commit suicide. While Jim Jones Jr. says this shocked him, he said there had been loyalty tests and suicide practices before. During these drills, people would pledge their lives to the cause.

Jim Jones Jr. was 18 at the time and refused to his father’s order to commit suicide. To understand why others didn’t do the same, it’s important to remember Jim Jones and the initial intent of the movement. The idea was to create a new world without bias—no racism, sexism or ageism. His followers wanted to make a difference. For much of his life, Jones lived as he preached. Jim Jones Jr. is an African American adopted at 10 weeks old. Many say he was the first African American child adopted by a Caucasian family. Jim Jones adopted Korean American children, and had a natural son as well. They called it a rainbow family.

The Peoples Temple followers really believed they were creating a new world. Why would 900 people agree to drink the Kool-Aid and knowingly commit suicide? Jones had told people they were about to be invaded and their children would be taken away from them. He said they needed to lay down their lives in protest. His strategy was to have parents give their babies and children the poison first. This was part of the manipulation because after seeing your child die, who would want to live? Absolute power, combined with mental illness and drug abuse resulted in self destruction and the mass murder suicide of 900 people.

Critical thinkers must question everything they are told, believe and even that which they consider to be common sense. When we study the 1978 Jonestown massacre, we learn how very important it is not to subscribe to group think and the dangers of unchecked power.

Social Media: Shouting from the Street Corner

Recently there has been a barrage of political patianship spreading through social media. Spouting political insults on Facebook or Twitter has become today’s equivalent of shouting on the street corner. Hurling accusations along the lines of us versus them only appeals to one side, whereas critical thinking engages the opposition.

The ability to voice differing opinions is part of what makes America great. It’s this idea that every person’s perspective counts that helps define democracy. Opinions should lead to discussion, however. There is not enough discussion today. An intellectual exchange of ideas is fruitful. Change and understanding are the byproducts of it. This takes critical thinking, however.

Critical thinking requires us to question not only the ideas of others, but also the views that seem obviously right to us. Critical thinkers can’t simply dismiss their opponents. They must listen, question and analyze their opponents’ views. Learning and understanding often result.

While there is no shortage of opinions, there are few critical thinkers. Instead there are assaults and counterattacks. It has sparked an ugliness that has become all too common in America and reflects a complete absence of critical thought. Each time a person thinks he or she has a monopoly on the truth and no other viewpoint is valid, there is an absence of critical thought.

There are many who post things on Facebook or Twitter that they never would say. It’s interesting that a feeling of anonymity has extended itself to the world of social media where a personal photo often accompanies the words posted. Still, most won’t confront the poster when partisan comments are made and so it appears as if these rants are either supported or at least tolerated. The worst part is that no discussion follows. The rants may satisfy the poster in the short term, but the critical thinkers in their audience may react very differently than the poster considered.

Social media has great power to unite. Unless people require more of themselves and undertake the work involved in critical thinking, the power of social media will be wasted. Are Americans brave enough to start a discussion?