Opinion: Learn the complexities of issues
Last updated 3/8/2022 at 4:25pm
Back in the 1950s, in the thick of the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at that time, famously said, “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.”
Of course, they didn’t destroy us. The U.S. ultimately won the Cold War and saved the world for democracy.
But it’s a new day now, and such a threat may be more real than ever before — not because of the threat that Russia now poses through cyber-attacks and military incursions, but because of the dumbing down of our electorate.
Blame it on social media and its harboring of false and malicious information, or on our expanding demographics and a perceived threat to the privileged classes, or even our educational system and its apparent failure to teach civics and civic duty. But at its core the threat on our democracy lies with our growing inability or unwillingness to apply critical thinking to the issues we face.
Critical thinking is simply defined by Wikipedia as “the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations and arguments to form a judgment.” It is seriously lacking in our national discourse, as politicians and their constituents prefer emotional reactions to the issues we face — and that’s undermining wise and democratic decisions, from our local city halls to the hallways of Congress itself.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy, and he was right. Put another way, bad decisions come out of bad information, and we’ve got plenty of bad information literally at our fingertips these days. A sizable number of Americans — maybe a third of the voting public — depend on bad information to prop up their misguided beliefs.
Case in point: The belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, when there’s no hard evidence of any such thing. Critical analysis of the facts is sorely lacking among those who believe this fictitious narrative.
Then there’s QAnon, a made-up absurdity that should have gone nowhere if the “facts, evidence, observations and arguments” had ever been considered by its numbskull believers. Fortunately, it’s on the fringe of our culture wars, but the fact that it’s entered the mainstream of our national conversation shows just how far lies can go with an uninformed and cynical citizenry.
If democracy is going to fall to the autocracies of the world, it is exactly those kinds of irrational beliefs that will push us over the edge.
In search of a solution to this internal threat on our democratic processes, I went on an internet search and found Mind Tools (mindtools.com), which markets itself as a “one-stop learning hub” for businesses and professionals all over the world. I found its lesson how to spot “fake news” to be insightful.
Mind Tools offers six ways to recognize fake news: develop a critical mindset, check your source, see who else is reporting the story, examine the evidence, don’t take images at face value, and check that the information “sounds right” according to your own common sense rather than your personal biases, hopes and fears.
Each of these are steps in the process of critical thinking, which I’ll summarize like this: Use your brain to understand the complexities of the issues rather than your emotions to reinforce your own preconceived notions.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: