Need for critical thinking

In my search for brevity, I may oversimplify the following and not fully explain *why* I believe these things. If you want to know how I arrived at a particular conclusion (especially one you disagree with) just ask me.

Submitted for your consideration:

1. People too often vote their emotions rather than their beliefs.

They do this for a number of reasons. For one, the items they are asked to vote are artificially narrow. Most often they are voting for a person rather than an issue, and the person they are voting for may represent some positions they agree with and some positions they disagree with. So, they are being asked to prioritize some beliefs over others. Which beliefs do they hold most strongly? Which are most relevant to the job the representative will be doing? Which are they prepared to compromise on for the sake of other beliefs? Which will the representative most likely act on in the next few years?

For example, someone who describes himself as a good Christian might believe that abortion is wrong, and might also believe that charity toward the poor is important. Instead of voting for both of these beliefs, he must instead choose from a representative who claims to support anti-abortion actions, but takes a dim view of charity, and another who claims to support choice, but might be more likely to support charitable causes. How should he decide which is the most important belief? Which collection of beliefs best represents his own? Which belief is more likely to lead to positive action from the candidate to change things for the better, and which is more likely to result in lip service and not cause change at all?

So, rather than weighing lots of conflicting factors against each other, most people deal with this by picking one, or at most two issues that they care most about and vote for the person claiming to support that belief. But, it’s also possible for a belief to be deeply held, and vital to who we are, and still not excite emotions in us… and on the other hand it’s possible, maybe even common, for us to get quite emotional about an issue which is not really a “core” belief, or which candidates who agree with us still won’t be able to act on.

Many voters may not even examine things this closely, and may simply vote according to emotion and not reason. Or, they may reach for reason after the fact, by hearing and repeating reasons that agree with the decision they already made, or by failing to hear reasons that choice may be wrong.

2. Politics is too often about influencing emotions rather than appealing to reason.

People in general are just not that good at critical thinking. Most people don’t have adequate defenses against arguments “appealing to faculties other than reason.” This includes a number of different types of fallacy-based or non-logical arguments: appeal to authority, arguments against straw men, reduction to an absurdity, flat-out begging the question, insulting/mischaracterizing one’s opponent, selective display of facts, and many more.

Most people probably *can* work out whether an argument is logical, well-supported, etc. but may not take the time to do so. They may be comfortable listening to someone who seems to be saying something with which they agree. They may not spend much effort analyzing the argument objectively. They may listen and then decide an argument sounds convincing without being too critical of it. They may even find sloppy, careless, misleading, unsupported arguments to be “just fine” if they support something the people *want* to believe, and they may be more skeptical, analytical and harsh with arguments supporting something they don’t agree with or don’t want to believe.

Finally, politics seems to be more polarized and emotionally charged than ever before. Agreeing to disagree politely hardly happens anymore. I am not sure why this is but I think TV has something to do with it.

3. It’s very difficult to be objective.

People are more likely to disagree about matter of degree, relative importance/priority of things, or allocation of scarce resources, and they are less likely to disagree about absolutes.

Also, nobody can observe the entire world, nor think about the entire world, so people rely on summaries. Truly objective summaries are rare; most summaries have an agenda built in.

4. Based on the above, there is a need for more critical thinking tools that can be made available and accessible to ordinary people.

There is a dire need for truly objective analysis of speech (by which I mean any verbal communication, written or spoken). By “analysis” I don’t mean “concluding if an argument is true/logical/well-supported” — I mean actually showing how an argument is constructed. Which statements are facts or objective observations? Which are statements of belief? Which are value judgements or opinions? Which are supported by logic and which are relying on emotion? What statements are drawing a conclusion based on factors not mentioned?

There really should be a method for analyzing speech that is objective (meaning that two people who disagree on the topic would come up with the same analysis of the content.) There should be an easy way to translate an argument into a form that carries no emotional direction or emphasis.

*That* is what I want to figure out. I want to figure out the algorithm of critical analysis. I want to see a web site where users can post speeches, transcripts, writing, messages, ads, etc. and analyze them for pure semantic content, and post some analysis where others can view it, correct it, etc.

Now, is that too much to ask? :)

0 thoughts on “Need for critical thinking

  1. nplusm

    I agree

    I have been often surprised about how little people know about the positions of the people the vehemently support.

    I was thinking that, as a first step, I think it would be beneficial to have party memberships removed from ballots. Political parties are not mentioned our accounted for in the constitution and have peverted our system of government a great deal.

    Now, in Federal elections, this would probably have little effect, because the parties of Federal candidates is usually well known. However, I wonder if it would have any effect in local races.

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