Critical Thinking is Dangerous
It’s a matter of who it is dangerous for that matters.
The danger of critical thinking is this – you teach people to think (not what to think) and to question things. This usually leads to questioning the status quo and authority, rather them memorize the approved answer. This can make those who are more concerned with control and order a bit nervous because critical thinking places a higher value on seeking knowledge and truth, rather than order and control.
Critical thinking, in whatever form it takes, is the antidote to authoritarianism, which is more interested in control. Authoritarianism doesn’t want people to think – or rather to think for themselves or to think critically. It would rather indoctrinate and tell people what to think.
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about authoritarian politics, religion, or anything else. It’s all the same. It’s about maintaining a controlled status quo, keeping order (as if it were sacred), and centralizing power. Critical thinking is antithetical to authoritarianism because it is about empowering people, rather than hoarding power in the hands of just a few. Authoritarianism is dehumanizing to its core because it asserts that only a select few are chosen by God to lead, so don’t question them or the system they maintain. It’s a modern day version of divine right kings.
Want to spot an authoritarian tactic? Simple – anything that tries to limit thought, conversation, hides facts and history. It demands compliance and demand that everyone agree with the authoritarian’s version of reality and facts, regards of the truth. Banning books fits into this. So does restricting what can be taught about history. Authoritarians and authoritarian systems exist on both the left and right.
Critical thinking is dangerous. But not thinking critically is more dangerous.
Always thought provoking at least, Matt.
(And I am still waiting on my copy of the last book you posted about…)
Authoritarianism vs critical thought. As usual, I am not sure where I come out at the end of the wash. This is not a field I “studied” before, though like a lot of people, I have kicked the tires on these ideas for sure.
How critical does a thought need to be before it is “critical thinking”? What exactly is “authoritarianism” and what is the difference between “authoritarian” and “authoritative”? I am clear which one is the negative label, but what exactly is the difference?
I ran a quick search on such terms, but I found no authoritative source (not in a quick search) that I could trust to iron out the wrinkles. I immediately think of Psalm 23 or 131, neither of which appears to advocate much critical thought.
I sense I am playing devil’s advocate here – something I don’t actually desire. But bear with me as I stretch these ideas a bit. I am sure disagreement will offend authoritarianists, but just because I exercise a bit of critical thought about the value of not thinking critically does not either make me right or you wrong. There is still the matter of sorting out the categories among other things.
So much of our life as humans is held in some kind of tension. I am all for FREEDOM, but I am for reasonable freedom as opposed to chaos, which freedom run wild surely is. Still, I am not apt to talk much (or think much) about any restrictions on freedom. In simple terms, I am just for freedom.
So back to Authoritarianism vs critical thought.
I see a democritization of thought in “critical thinking” which definitely is dangerous. Of course, not thinking critically is dangerous too. But the democritization seems to me to be the danger you likely are referring to there. Your thoughts and my thoughts have similar (if not equal) value on this or that topic.
However, the moment we begin discussing my cancer prognosis and treatment plans, I will gladly listen to any information, resources, even critical thoughts you have on the matter, but I am going to trust my doctor’s critical thoughts a lot more than yours.
I know that when it comes to pandemic measures, I am a fairly smart guy who can plainly see the value in a mask. In fact, I remember way back when President Trump declared the whole thing would be over by Easter (TWO EASTERS BACK NOW!!!) that he also advocated “face coverings” of anything – even a scarf if that is what you have. (Never mind the fact that he quickly stopped promoting that and undercut his own message by refusing to wear a mask.) (This simple example gets complicated fast.)
In simple terms, I trust “the science” more than the rightwing politics.
Are there problems with “trusting science”?
Uhhhhh…. yeah. That’s been an issue for a very long time already, but this is simple science, a large swath of which I was already almost expert level knowledge with before the pandemic. I have worked in healthcare for years, and good handwashing, protective gear… all that has been standard for a very long time.
Let me think about this critically a moment.
A deadly virus is airborne and highly infectious. It spreads more rapidly than people get sick, but many of them get very ill and die – in fact, people might be said to be “dropping like flies.”
Until the scientists studying this thing gave the all clear about surface contamination and transmission, I was wiping doorknobs, steering wheels, gas pump handles and all that, plus washing my hands constantly. I was a little slow to do the mask at first, only because I couldn’t believe how it could spread through the air so bad. But reasonable studies conducted by people I trust were demonstrating it. So, I trusted them.
On the other end of this… The mask. They were in short supply at first. Before widow ladies, God bless em, began stitching them on sewing machines, I used an old bandana for a mask for months, and just like President Trump had said, it served me well. However, I sensed that his declaration of the effectiveness of a scarf was not really a way to reassure me as much as it was to dismiss my concern. (Let’s lay down a marker about TRUST here in this conversation.)
Oh… by the way, am I thinking this through critically?
I will assume so for now.
By this point in my comment, you probably sense that I am not particularly enthused about Donald Trump. You might even think I disapprove of him or even hate him. If you are thinking critically about the way I mention him, you likely are considering such things right now in addition to the point(s) I address at hand. (Of course, there are some who might read this far and just automatically think I am a Trump hater, and probably bow out of reading my comment any further. That wouldn’t be the best critical thinking, but they might.)
If you are itching to know what I think of Trump more than what I think about authoritarianism vs critical thought, I will just say, No. I am no fan, no supporter. Not a hater though. I will give President Trump this praise and gratitude: He cleared the way for a vaccine with Operation Warp Speed which likely saves hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives to this day! I am grateful for that! THANK YOU, PRESIDENT TRUMP!!!)
Okay… so… I see that wearing a mask is a very simple measure that costs next to NOTHING with such a huge benefit! I can’t imagine why anyone thinks this is hard to do or not worthy of our obligation to humanity in general.
Is it full proof?
No. I make no such claim. But my mask saved lives. I have no idea how many lives I personally saved by wearing a mask, but it was quite literally NO TROUBLE even on its worst day. And I would rather wear it a year longer than necessary than one day too short if it cost someone their life. The cost of wearing it is really than miniscule!
The vaccine, of course, is a bit more complex, but in my critically thought-out opinion, not all that different in our case.
The fact is that people were (there for a while) dropping like flies from a virus, but I don’t know of a single death FROM THE VACCINE. I am aware it had an adverse reaction in a few people, A FEW PEOPLE, but I am unaware of a single death from it. In a risk management analysis, this is a no brainer. The critical thought need only go skin deep.
But here is where my critical thought dives down at least one level deeper: the subtext of everything I just said (not the surface level logic, but the below-the-surface level) strikes all manner of political cords.
There are SOME who see the enforcement of mask and vaccine usage as a threat to freedom. There is a legitimate and logical argument there to be made. Forcing people to take these simple, highly cost effective measures does override their freedom not to do it. And that is a president worthy of which needs to be noted.
However, there is yet another level just beneath that too which is about party politics and smear tactics. We divide up on this simple issue and claim more for it than it deserves. Some of us champion the mask because we are liberals and those stupid conservatives are just too damn stupid for their own good, and we need to run them out of office. But some of us embrace the mask and vaccine because it saves life, and we value that. Oh, and the cost is so small too.
On the other hand, those of us on the other side hate those stupid liberals, those babykilling liberals. We would rather die, rather kill our own grandma, than submit for one minute to the corrupt leftist agenda now forcing us to wear a mask – JUST ON PRINCIPLE!
Did I lay down a marker back there about TRUST?
This is where my critical thinking begins to undermine critical thinking, I think (critically). (I know, I am like a snake eating its own tail.)
Here’s what I suspect: I suspect that I cannot trust an authoritarian. He (maybe she sometimes) has his own interest in mind over and beyond mine or anyone elses either. He has a position of authority without authoring anything. On the other hand, if I submit to a trustable authority, I don’t really need to think too much about too much. I certainly don’t need to master thinking.
I mention this because I fear we might do much the same with “thinking” as we do with “guns” in this country. (I have met people who get red in the face about telling me I have a duty and responsibility to arm myself, to protect myself and property, my way of life, and my family!) I worry that we do that with thinking sometimes too. I cannot possibly be responsible to know everything there is to know about everything. I simply must trust some authority with some things some times.
Also, I sense the modern world with it’s democratization of information is partly to blame for the political struggles. We all want to be informed voters – at least. We, after all, are world orderers and ballot boxes are one of the main tools we wield with which to order the world.
But I think in the end, the world needs more trust. I think in more primitive times, an opinion on politics, finance, health, sexual gender and orientation, morality, technology, and culture, music, arts, and more… were not nearly so much matters of personal taste or thought as they were the domain of the community. We had shaman, village elders, kings, and councils to answer for us. I mean, St. Paul might evangelize a person and their whole household comes to faith together in THAT world. As it is now, I might evangelize one person at a time, and even then, they will believe some of what I teach, but not all, and maybe not even go to church with me at all.
The fact is this: I don’t TRUST Donald Trump – never did. I don’t trust Joe Biden either for that matter, but I have a lot less mistrust of Biden than Trump. I think this country wanted milquetoast for a president, and we may have buyers remorse now, but we had enough mistrust of the previous.
But even that sells short some pertinent facts. Donald Trump’s second election (the second time he failed to get the popular vote, btw) he managed to wrangle more votes than any candidate in all of American history except for the milquetoast candidate. It was still a close race! Wow!!!
I believe that IF Trump had taken seriously the pandemic and held true to his initial instinct to get us vaccines and face coverings, he would have been elected again. Not that I would trust him, but I think that is the point where his untrust caught up with him, because it was close twice.
But that last bit is just a freebee extra tacked on for good measure.