The Decline of Thinking in America

The Decline of Thinking in America

Late one night many years ago, my college roommate awakened me with the announcement that he had just written a profound essay and wanted me to read it right away while the “ink was still fresh.” I stumbled over to his desk, looked at the typed page and saw what seemed to be words in a strange new language. Looking more closely, I realized that he had recorded his profundity with his hands placed on the wrong keys!  I suggested that in the future he record his thoughts before drinking too many beers with friends.

My roommate’s beer-sodden thinking was laughable but harmless. Much less amusing and considerably more harmful is the sober nonsense that passes for thinking today. Here are some examples:

1  Parents who believe their children are perfect creatures with no need for self-control and restraint spend years boosting their self-esteem with praise, indulging their whims, and defending them when they behave badly. Later, when the children are fully-grown, the parents struggle to figure out why they are not kind, sensible, or humble.

2  Elected officials who convince themselves that their purpose in office is to impose on others rules and restrictions that they exempt themselves and their friends from following, and then wonder why their constituents are offended. (A notable example is with the imposition of masks to afford protection from Covid 19 despite early and increasing evidence that the masks had little or no bearing on infection.)

3  Federal officials who believe it is unnatural and therefore shameful for their country to have borders but natural and virtuous for every other country in the world to have them. More insultingly, these officials believe that their constituents should willingly, without grumbling or protesting, bear the cost of millions of illegals taking up residence here and enjoying not only the freedoms that citizens enjoy but also some they do not enjoy. From all indications, the officials are oblivious to the illegality and fundamental unfairness of these ideas.

4  Frightened people who believe Global Warming is a clear, present, calamitous threat to the planet (and, by the way, whose parents believed the same about Global Cooling) and support forsaking energy independence by shutting down pipelines, closing coal mines, banning fracking, and relying on Russia, China, India, and Iran for energy. The obvious but unstated assumption is that energy-producing processes in those countries are less harmful to the planet than U.S. processes. But that notion is manifestly false and therefore certain to result, not in a positive contribution, but to a worsening of whatever threat may exist.

5   California officials who have made “stealing merchandise worth $950 or less” a misdemeanor, shortened sentences for prisoners, including violent felons, suspended the death penalty law, and made it possible for 63,000 prisoners to be released before serving their sentences; and then wonder why incidents of shoplifting have increased dramatically and assault and homicide statistics are soaring. “Could the cause of this mayhem be COVID?” they ask, “Or perhaps Russia’s attack on Ukraine?”

6  People who persistently vote according to highly questionable or demonstrably false assumptions, such as these: that they are honor-bound and/or logic-bound to support candidates of their parents’ political party; that all the candidates of that party are, without exception, more honest and wiser than those of the other party; that any failure of their political party is unquestionably the fault of the opposing party; and that disliking the style or mannerisms of a candidate is a reasonable basis for voting against him/her even if that person’s policy achievements in office have been outstanding. 

7  People who believe that teachers have the right to teach students in early grades whatever they wish without informing parents, to refuse to provide that information when parents request it, and to ignore related questions about it raised at school board meetings. This belief ignores the fact that parents have traditionally had primary rights and responsibilities over their children’s well being, which includes health and legal, as well as educational matters. Such usurpers of parental rights never subject the matter to debate, or offer evidence that 6 or 7 year-olds need to be acquainted with varied sexual activities and techniques, that gender is a matter of personal desire and decision rather than biological reality, or that changing one’s gender is a path to personal fulfillment.

8  College professors, politicians, and mainstream journalists who stubbornly ignore the fact that the social problems faced by black Americans have been mainly caused, not by racism, but by the very “solutions” advanced by liberals/progressives. This fact has been demonstrated again and again by distinguished black scholars and commentators, including Ken Blackwell, Robert Woodson, Jason Riley, Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Armstrong Williams, Walter Williams, Alveda King, Deroy Murdock, Shelby Steele, Larry Elder, Harris Faulkner, Candace Owens, Tim Scott, Jason Whitlock, and Ben Carson. Time and again these individuals and others have documented how misguided progressive solutions have weakened black families, undermined black education, slowed black economic advancement, and destroyed black communities. Yet instead of being offered the courtesy of debate, they have been dismissed as ignorant of black experience, or accused of racism!

What all these examples have in common is poverty of thought, which results from rushing to conclusions rather than pausing to ask, “Might I be mistaken? Have I missed some important facts? Is there a better interpretation of the facts than the one I formed? What could go wrong if my idea is followed? How can I modify my view to avoid that outcome?” The search for answers to such questions may be simple or complex, easy or difficult, but it is indispensable to achieving knowledge, insight, and wisdom.

Developing the habits of mind that produce an abundance of sound, helpful ideas is challenging enough in our own lives, but making those habits prevalent throughout our culture will be much more difficult. For example, schools’ main emphasis will have to shift from telling students what to think to teaching them how to think. Colleges and Universities must stop the censoring of speakers, increase the number of public debates they offer on timely issues, and make them more accessible to the public. And news media must replace single-viewpoint commentary on issues with honest, multi-sided discussion and debate, and reduce commercial interruptions that break the flow of ideas.

A tall order, to be sure, but one that is necessary to end the decline of thinking in America and the social chaos it is causing.

Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero