Critical Thinking as Productive Thinking


1. Why is it important to ask questions about human nature even though they are essentially unanswerable?

2. While we know that humans are capable of unimaginable maliciousness AND self-sacrificial kindness, what presumption should we have about the other person when we encounter one another?

3. How do music concerts serve as a rich opportunity to gather evidence for ascertaining the extent of our ethical awareness?

Nancy (wife) and I recently attended 2 concerts that in our experience are quite typical---replete with signs of ethical obtuseness on full display.  While ethical reasoning is incredibly complex and requires our most circumspect reflection, certain situations are, I believe, ethically straightforward.  It is most difficult to justify standing during a concert and thereby blocking the vision and enjoyment of those behind.

Few pay inflated concert ticket prices for the opportunity to spend a couple of hours studying someone's backside.  

We left both concerts because we were not allowed to see the band, and the standers seemed immune to our protestations. 

Now I fully appreciate that a few genres of concerts would not have people standing while the concert evolves.  But the 2 concerts we abandoned featured 2 quite different genres of music. We have been to concerts when we and everyone else stood.  I have no problem with those. But when the front third of concert attendees decide to stand non-stop with not a single look over their shoulder to acknowledge the existence of anyone else at the concert, I am fascinated.

We could, I suppose, launch into a discussion of collective behavior, what Hannah Arendt called "the blob," but that kind of analysis misses an important point, majoritarian behavior in these situations is frequently to sit and listen.

Who are we?  Where would we begin to answer that question?  Right? Because we cannot capture nature, we are left with its 2nd cousin, human proclivities as they are observed.  We may not know what is natural, but we can measure in a rough fashion what human tendencies commonly are. Identifying these proclivities gives us our baseline.  We can observe it and then make a decision about whether we should try to alter proclivities.

We could claim that those who sit passively at the concerts are the TYPICAL people in terms of ethical proclivities. But I am not so sure.  They may just be tired, reluctant concertgoers, or simply too out of shape to stand. Maybe they are the reflective people who know it is ethical savagery to elevate the self to a level that clearly prevents others in large numbers from having the same concert experience that you desire.

While their visibility may be distorting my judgment (multiple meanings intended!), I see those who stand as accurate first approximations of humanness. In doing so, I am agreeing with the human nature assumptions of capitalist theory and discussion of factions in the Federalist Papers. My fascination with those who stand at concerts and thereby prevent others from enjoying the concert is intense.  I want to interview them.  Do they think at all about others?  Is a concert venue destructive of their more typical ethical awareness? Are they lost in an egocentric fog? 

Concerts are not seminar rooms where people can pause and luxuriate in slow thinking.  Rather, they are often impetuous and at least mildly frenzied. So I suppose the most that could be said on behalf of my assertion about who we are is that the first approximation of the proclivities of a substantial number of our tribe is to engage in egocentric excess for hours when not in an ambiance quite distinct from a seminar room. But, if true, I find that observation hugely important.  On the one hand, it could make me misanthropic as a quid pro quo self defensive reaction. But for me my observation makes me see anew the importance of training in ethical reasoning, not because the result would be a kinder, gentler world necessarily, but because at least then, more people would have the ethical awareness to at minimum wonder on a regular basis: 

How is what I am doing affecting the other people in this crowded human community?

1. Is the Dionysian atmosphere at some concerts so overwhelming that studying humans at a concert is immensely unfair?

2. Why do the majority of concertgoers, who are not obstructing the view of others, sit passively in the face of standing concertgoers?

3. Is there any ethical justification at all for the behavior that seems so clearly to me to be ugly solipsistic behavior?

AuthorM Neil Browne