Critical Thinking as Productive Questions


1. Are our brains so flimsy that persuasion requires us to completely support the ideas we like and wholesale oppose the ideas we dislike?

2. Do we feel disloyal to our preferences when we dare to highlight weaknesses in what we prefer?

3. Am I confused when I hear Donald Trump say insightful things that others are not saying and Bernie Sanders saying things that are highly exaggerated?

The value of moderation has always fascinated and repelled me. When we love marshmallows, we understand at some level that 1 marshmallow is not enough, but gorging ourselves on an entire bag is too much.

But ideas are not analogous to marshmallows in an important sense. Ideas are enmeshed in social struggle. People are involved, and as Trump's success shouts so clearly: LOTS OF PEOPLE LIKE STRENGTH.

If I put forward my preferred ideas with calm, persuasive moderation, that style will be effective with the few who eschew vigorous language or any embellishments that might stimulate emotional commitment.  BUT that approach to persuasion is for the quiet intellectual and almost no one else.

And I want my ideas to win, or at least so I think at this time. So what happens all so often, and what stimulates this post, is recognizing that we seem to think that we must embrace or savage Freud, capitalism, an increased minimum wage, women's reproductive rights rights, and free speech. 

But every time I risk admiring a particular meme that Donald Trump repeats or listen in amazement to Bernie Sanders effort to minimize any unemployment effect from a $15/hour minimum wage, I risk being misunderstood. Ideas at war seem to require zealous warriors. To admit that opponents possess occasional insight or that our team has severe inadequacies is to sound to most ears as if one has not made up his or her mind about which side to be on. "Are you with us or against us?"

Should not socialists be the loud and bitter enemies of wasteful government spending, whatever a person might mean by that term.  Should not a socialist aggressively condemn governmental behavior that wastes our tax money or what Justice Holmes called "the price of civilization."? (Please do not overlook Jeffrey Sacks, The Price of Civilization for its insightful denunciation of our current political system as CORPORATOCRACY.?

Does it not make sense for a lover of capitalism to condemn the asymmetric information, monopolization of industry, and private predation in modern industry? That those behaviors persist is an enduring insult to the moral case for a capitalism where transparency and consumer sovereignty prevail, in other words a capitalism long since forgotten.

Why does what I am advocating make sense? The answer is Hegelian, don't you think?  When people see wasteful government, what is the effect on their willingness to listen to the corner socialist?  When people see social devastation caused by the profit motive, how are they supposed to react to sermons about the need for free markets?  

1. Is the battle for ideas better conceived as a Gladiator's contest in which no quarter can be given for to reveal weakness is to run the heavy risk of certain loss.

2. Are cognitive heuristics operating that generally prevent our ability or willingness to see good in the dark and clouds in the light?

3. Does the battle surrounding ideas take place with the same (bizarre) assumption made in American jury procedures, viz., the best ideas are victorious when one combatant tells a distorted version of facts woven together in a managed narrative, while a foe presents a distorted set of facts and story designed to vanquish the perspective of her or his opponent?


AuthorM Neil Browne