Monday, August 02, 2010

Undermining a Society with Critical Thinking

Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was, hands down, the most influential history textbook writer of the last half century. I could remember members of the professoriat falling into fits of ecstasy as they discussed Zinn's framing of history.

There would be discussions about how to use Zinn's work to propagate the radical left world view.

Zinn's gift to the world of propaganda history was a particular form of critical thinking that would draw students squarely into resonating debates on the faults of the Free Market and inequities of American History ... with the implication that there's just gotta be something better.

Well, a Freedom of Information Act Request just released the FBI's investigation of Zinn.

It appears he was a member of the Communist Party of the USA as well as a radical activist for left wing causes.

All of the praise I heard about Zinn was how he was a master of critical thinking.

It was actually by reading works by Zinn that I came to the epiphany about the nature of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a valuable tool for self reflection. By using critical thinking an individual (or even a group) can uproot contradictions and broaden their thinking.

However, critical thinking only works in forms of introspection. One can apply critical thinking to one's own ideas, but one cannot apply critical thinking to another.

Applying critical thinking to another person or group is, and should be recognized as, criticism.

I am not hip on Obama, Iran, Joseph Smith, Socialism and a bunch of other issues. When I discuss these issues, I am not engaged in critical thinking, I am engaged in criticism.

I strongly believe in the Free Market. When I engage in deep thought about the free market, I usually am in a critical thinking mode.

During the financial crisis, I did a great deal of soul searching about things like short selling and derivatives. This thinking led me to reject short selling and deratives.

It would be disingenuous of me to stand in a group of free market loving day traders and engage in critical thinking about the merits of short selling. I rejected the idea and now criticize it.

Masking criticism as critical thinking is a blatant form of lying.

As key distinction between critical thinking and criticism is the intent of the thinker it is impossible to look at any given piece of writing to determine if it was the product of critical thinking or just a form of criticism.

For that matter, it is not simply the thinking of the writer that matters, but the thinking of publishers and distributors that matter. For example, one might find a wonderful piece of critical thinking in a soldier's diary. A publisher might see this as a club to bludgeon an enemy and distribute it. The intension of the publisher turns the critical thinking into a criticism.

Of course, we can't read other's intensions and should simply accept that all critical published materials are in fact criticisms.

There is nothing wrong with criticism. A well written criticism might even encourage a person to engage in introspective critical thinking.

The purpose of critical thinking skill is to help people engage in the pursuit of truth. The manipulative approach to history that has become popular hampers the pursuit of truth.

As for Zinn, Zinn's new think about history has been the prevailing style of think for decades. I wish the world would notice that the world has become much more divisive in their thinking as a result of Zinn's work.

The FBI file opens the possibility that Zinn was in fact working with groups seeking to divide and undermine our nation.

But, I have not been ordained with magical powers to see the mighty Zinn's intentions. I don't like his spin on history and openly criticize the propagandist. I hope that future historians recognize the dangers that feigned critical thinking can cause.


Jeffrey Ellis said...

I disagree strongly that critical thinking applied to others' ideas is "criticism" rather than critical thinking. It may include criticism, but it does not stop being critical thinking just because it also becomes criticism.

Critical thinking is, in a nutshell, the set of thinking skills, habits, attitudes, and practices that are intended to get our opinions as close as possible to the truth, or in the absence of a knowable truth, as close as possible to the most defensible opinion. The means by which this is done can be stated (perhaps oversimplifying just a bit) as evidence-based reasoning.

Using this yardstick it should be easy to distinguish between criticism that is critical thinking based and criticism that is just plain criticism.

y-intercept said...

Thanks for the reply.

Schools have been emphasizing "critical thinking" as opposed to traditional logic for decades.

Sadly, I believe the evidence shows that discourse within society is becoming shrill and less civil.

IMHO, the evidence seems to show that the way we are teaching people to think is not resulting in high quality civil discourse.

Critical thinking falls about when applied to itself.

BTW, criticism can be thinking based.