What Ever Happened to Critical Thinking?
I recently have been put to a great deal of trouble based on information that someone got from a website that I hadn’t updated in over two years. It would have taken less than five minutes to find out if the information was accurate but the person took the page as current and never bothered to follow up, even though logic would have told him that it put me in two places at the same time.
This was annoying but it also brought home to me how much we believe these days from only looking at single sources. Part of this is, as someone explained to me, “People like to believe things that confirm their prejudices.” If what you read does, why bother to check further?
One result of this is that people are happy to base their votes on the certainty that Mitt Romney personally hired Chinese peasants to take jobs from Americans or that Barack Obama is on the payroll of the Israeli government. (I’ve heard both of these. DON’T cite me as a source) Which you believe depends on how you already feel about these men. How many of us are happy to hit “share” without finding out if there is any truth in the statements?
We have always been inclined to do this. Word of mouth has been a source of “accurate” news for thousands of years. Advances in the means of communication has only accelerated this and not just recently. As I say in THE REAL HISTORY OF THE TEMPLARS, King Philippe IV had broadsides read throughout France telling of the crimes that the Templars confessed to. These were so successful that some people still believe them.
But now anyone with internet access can find both totally unsupported gossip and also, with more work, the facts behind it. The problem is that few people bother. One of the things I notice most, as an historian, is the way in which myths root themselves like stinkweed and can’t be eradicated. I know for a fact that there are people who believe everyone in the Middle Ages was five feet tall, didn’t live past thirty, thought the earth was flat, never bathed, put women in chastity belts and believed everything the pope told them. (Of course my readers are smarter than that) All of these things have been proven many times to be false but, because so many people WANT to believe they’re true, they never bothered to find out. Even worse, they are sure that historical and archeological reports to the contrary must be fabricated.
Why is it that so many people thought/think that the Mayans predicted the end of the world? How many are certain that aliens have visited earth? All rich people are heartless and greedy. All poor people are lazy and don’t want to work. We love thinking in generalities. I include myself in this, but I have also been trained as an historian and that means finding more than one source to prove my assumptions. It also means being able to accept that my first impressions and preconceptions might be wrong.
I’m posting this on both blogs and my fan page. It covers everything. I suppose it’s a sort of manifesto against fuzzy logic. Along with the grammar police, I intend to submit a bill in the Senate requiring schools to emphasize analytical thinking. I shall also establish remedial classes for anyone entering politics. Any out-of-work historians or experimental scientists like to apply to teach them?