The Decline Of Thinking

The Decline Of Thinking

An interesting observation about the prevalence of inconsistencies and contradictions is making the email rounds. “Food for Thought” by someone named or pen-named Junius P. Long is a simple list of eleven examples, including these:

Children need a note from parents to bring an aspirin to school but not to get an abortion.

We need photo identification to buy liquor or get on a plane but not to vote.

In New York City, two 16-ounce sodas can be purchased, but not one 24-ouncer.

Workers gives tax money to the government, then the government gives it to non-workers.

Long’s list can easily be lengthened. Here are ten more examples:

Global warming alarmists fly in private jets and ride in gas-guzzling limousines to give speeches shaming us into lowering our carbon footprints.

Those who shout the loudest for tolerance and diversity are most inclined to excoriate those who disagree with them.

Books claiming people are already wise and wonderful and therefore don’t need improving are classified under “self-improvement.”

Political Correctness demands protection for baby turtles, small fish, seals, trees, and coral reefs but not human fetuses.

Teachers encourage students to think for themselves and then punish those who question textbook assertions.

Activists stage demonstrations when a police officer kills a black suspect but say nothing when black hoodlums kill hundreds of black citizens.

TV networks offer programs filled with every conceivable form of brutality and then run specials deploring the rise of violence.

Many religious people claim that faith is a free gift from God that cannot be earned and then proceed to disparage those without faith.

People who believe that the Bible should be accepted literally devote considerable time to interpreting the meaning of biblical passages.

Many doctors are quick to warn of the potential dangers of vitamins and herbal supplements yet hand out more dangerous prescription drug samples like candy.

Such inconsistencies signal a troubling poverty of thought. The ideas in each example are clearly (or at least very likely) incompatible. Worse, the people involved seem unaware of that fact.

Logical thinking depends upon recognizing when two ideas or actions (or an idea and an action) are in conflict and then resolving the problem. Consider, for example, this inconsistency mentioned above: We need photo identification to buy liquor or get on a plane but not to vote. Seeing the incompatibility of these requirements will prompt us to ask whether voting is a more or less important activity than buying liquor or getting on a plane, whether it is more or less open to fraud, and whether fraud in elections has greater consequences than fraud in the other activities. That inquiry will help us decide how to overcome the inconsistency.

The same is true of the other examples. Recognizing the inconsistency is the first step in overcoming it. Not recognizing it virtually guarantees that we will not address it.

Why do so many people fail to recognize inconsistencies? It is not enough to say that they are careless or distracted by their electronic gadgets because the question then becomes, why are they careless or distracted? There is a deeper reason—because logical thinking is no longer valued in our culture. (Many social agencies profess to value it, of course, but that is not necessarily the same as actually valuing it.)

Logic was valued in the Middle Ages and in the period known as The Enlightenment, but over time it was challenged by a number of movements. The Romantic Movement did so by elevating emotion over reason, Freudianism by arguing that conscious mental activity is less significant than the workings of the unconscious, and Behaviorism by denying the existence of human intellect and will.

The greatest challenge to logical thinking in our time, however, has come from Humanistic Psychology (HumPsych), in particular the ideas of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, which rode the technological wave of the late 20th century and became central to the “mass culture” that displaced traditional philosophical thought.

Rogers argued that truth is personal and subjective rather than impersonal and objective. As he put it, “Can we today afford the luxury of having ‘a’ reality? Can we still preserve the belief that there is a ‘real world’ on whose definition we agree? I am convinced that this is a luxury we cannot afford, a myth we dare not maintain.”

Rogers also argued that emotion is more trustworthy than thought: “When an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing. . . . I have learned that my total organismic sensing of a situation is more trustworthy than my intellect.”

HumPsych affected our cultural values in other ways, as well, but these two are sufficient to demonstrate its undermining of logical thinking. As HumPsych spread through society by means of self-improvement books and tapes, talk show discussions, films and dramatic programs, millions of people in all walks of life came to believe that truth is whatever they feel it to be.

Note the double emphasis in “they feel it to be”—each individual creating his/her own truth and doing so by emotion rather than thought. This belief incorporates five other beliefs, as well:

(a) that individual opinion, being one with truth, cannot be mistaken;

(b) that logic, careful reasoning, and critical thinking, which serve to avoid/uncover mistakes, are unnecessary;

(c) that there is no need to defend one’s opinions or support them with evidence (no need to prove what cannot be disproved);

(d) that since feelings can change from day to day, or even moment to moment, truth can change with them;

(e) that since truth changes as feelings change, inconsistency in one’s beliefs or statements is natural and no cause for concern. Thus there is no need to strive for consistency or be alert for inconsistency.

This cluster of beliefs plays a major role in the poverty of thought so much in evidence in every area of society. It explains why the wisdom of the past and the lessons of history are ignored in classrooms, why legislators pass laws without reading them (let alone pondering their potential consequences), why jurists are more inclined to re-write the Constitution than to apply it, why journalists present only news that flatters their personal perspectives, and why more and more citizens are too absorbed in tweeting and “Facebooking” to care about what is happening outside the narrow world of self.

Have we reached the point of no return in the intellectual decline of our culture? Probably not, but we are certainly headed toward it and no social agency seems prepared to take the lead in reversing our course. For the moment, our best hope is that a sufficient number of individuals will join “Junius P. Long” in calling attention to absurdity and championing common sense.

Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero