Monday, March 6, 2017

Thinking about the Unthinking

 I'm unsure whether this is a photo of an actual billboard nor do I know, if it is one, whether it still is up displaying its oddly worded message or has now been replaced by some advertisement or another sign making a similarly bewildering statement.   I found it on (where else?) the Internet. 
I'm not convinced a syllogism was intended, and hope that my lack of conviction has some basis.  If it was intended as a syllogism, despair may be appropriate.  I suppose it can be deciphered as saying "anti-God is treason", and therefore those who are "anti-God" are traitors.  That seems easy enough.  But the basis for the claim "Traitors lead to Civil War" is lacking, and certainly that claim is not clearly accurate.  One may be a traitor without causing a civil war; two, in fact, may be traitors without doing so as well. 
I'll admit I take some delight in the fact that it is addressed to "Lunatic Atheists & their Lawyers."  The reference to "lunatic atheists" naturally implies that there are some atheists who are not lunatics, though that may not have been the author's intent.  But why single out the lawyers of those atheists who are lunatics?  Are lawyers who have sane atheists as clients less reprehensible in some sense?  Perhaps they don't require the stern warning made in the billboard.  Do all atheists who are lunatics have lawyers?
Regrettably, though, what the author of this message meant to communicate and why he or she meant to do so isn't the subject of this post.  What I'd like to remark on here is the great task or quest with which I think we're faced.  That is, to get the unthinking to think; to render the thoughtless thoughtful.
I've noted before that I believe the ability to think critically is--well, critical--especially in these times, when thought itself is discouraged even by our technology.  When a person accepts a world in which the need to think is limited in time to, e.g., that needed to read and respond to a text or tweet, and in space to what might be expressed in a limited number of words or letter, a person has in effect given up on thinking of the kind which requires real study, or consideration of alternatives, or consequences, or discretion, or analysis.  Thinking on one's feet is considered admirable, but thinking with one's fingers is not, at least not yet. 
I think this limitation is beginning to show itself in such things as our acceptance of conspiracy theories and of the opinions of those who, for no clear reason  as far as I'm concerned, are held up as knowledgeable and intelligible or hold themselves out as being experts, from those looked to by the media to those who earn their bread and butter by pontificating on talk radio.  Even our president seems inclined to accept as true what he sees or listens to on TV, God help us all, regardless of what experienced professionals tell him is the case.  And, unfortunately, he himself is prolific in his confabulations and the purveying of misinformation.
What would seem to be necessary is the teaching of practical reason, or logic, or perhaps rhetoric as a therapeutic study, from an early age.   That may well be an impossibility, though.  We have difficulty enough teaching our youth how to read and write and do simple arithmetic.  But in dreams I think of a course in logical fallacies, in ascertaining the tricks of salespeople and politicians in playing on our fears, desires and  emotions.  Perhaps even more important would be a course of study which would teach how to express objections and formulate arguments.
Perhaps through the use of practical examples derived from our day to day lives it would be possible to demonstrate the problems which result from thoughtlessness.  It might even be an interesting course of study.  But the problem with critical thinking is that it leads to questioning of the settled; customs and norms and the various shibboleths on which so many things are based, and the one thing we may be sure of when it comes to educating children is that their parents won't tolerate any teacher or course of study which might lead their children to ask difficult questions.  In this way, we propagate our ignorance and leave ourselves open to those who manipulate us.
We're in sad shape, as is demonstrated by the venal, self-serving, ignorant, inarticulate and mean Sad Sack we've elected to be our leader.  It's true he will pass, much like a kidney stone, in time, and we may take comfort in that.  But there is the potential that he'll be replaced by someone even worse, and we should try to take steps to lessen that possibility. 

No comments:

Post a Comment