Skip Pollard: Critical thinking
During a discussion among The Union’s editorial board recently, I found I had to admit to myself that I was guilty of not having done enough research into the subject before offering my opinions.
I thought, as a fairly well-informed person when it comes to matters of history and politics, that I had a decent understanding of the issue at hand.
But then some board members — people who are, at the very least, as well-educated and informed as myself — made comments that didn’t align with my beliefs.
So I did a little more research and discovered my take wasn’t as fully informed as I’d thought. I had failed to apply critical thinking to my position, believing I knew more than I really did.
It’s human nature, I think, to think we know more than we do. There’s a certain psychological comfort in thinking we have all the answers. Unknowns are uncomfortable. And nobody feels good about realizing they’ve been wrong, no less admitting they’ve been wrong to themselves or to others.
Just look at the newspaper funnies to see how many couple’s spats are parodied with neither partner wanting to admit fault or incorrect thinking, even when caught red-handed being wrong. What makes these funnies so funny is that they’re true, and to some extent we’ve all lived them. The dynamic has been played out for decades by Blondie and Dagwood.
So how does critical thinking come into this? First, we have to acknowledge the fact that we probably don’t have all the facts. Ever. And we have to remember the fact that history, as we’re taught it, isn’t necessarily accurate. Truth is, history is often written by people who have a stake in the game.
Politicians continually skew history to fit with their own political narrative. “Manifest destiny,” for example, was originally cited in an 1845 essay complaining about European meddling in American affairs, but was later adopted by politicians as a convenient, though disingenuous, rationale-wrapped-in-divinity for continental expansion, regardless of whether that meant exterminating indigenous people. History then became white-washed by politicians to make such acts more palatable, less heinous.
And just look at what’s happening currently with the events of Jan. 6, as Trumpist Republicans try to redraft the narrative of the Capitol siege as a peaceful protest versus the violent uprising we all witnessed live on TV.
And then there are the talking heads whose cable shows are dependent on drumming up Nielsen ratings. They learned long ago that you get more viewers by stoking outrage than by simply presenting facts, the truth. So they skew the perspective to better align with their demographic’s sense of outrage, regardless of how accurate such perspectives may be.
Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of a TV news producer in Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient 1976 film “Network” summed it up when she said, “All I want in life is a 30 share and a 20 rating.” She then put deranged newsman Howard Beale on air to scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” and callously watched as ratings climbed while the man descended into ruin.
Perhaps we need to stop listening to all those so-called pundits with good hair, and stop buying into stories on social media where conspiracy theories spread like wildfires in a windstorm, and start taking time to do a little more research into things we think we know but which are at odds with the thinking of others.
We can start by looking up sources that have no skin in the game — authoritative sources providing disciplined academic research. One of my favorites of late has been Britannica.com (formerly known as Encyclopedia Britannica, for those of us old enough to remember large reference volumes sitting on the living room shelf).
And while, sure, they may not always provide the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — seeing as recorded history is constantly being updated as new information comes to light — they at least offer a more honest take on things than do most politicians, TV personalities, or your BFF Bob who read it on Facebook where it got like a gazillion “likes” so it must be true.
Skip Pollard is a member of The Union Editorial Board. He lives in Grass Valley.
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“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that ain’t so.” — Will Rogers and others