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Mon Nov 24, 2014, 12:09 PM

Critical Thinking

“Learning without thought is labor lost;
Thought without learning is perilous.”
-- Confucius

The concept of “critical thinking” provides us with the best way to make sense of the world around us. This is true in terms of the social, political, and economic reality that confronts us, as individuals, groups, a nation, and part of the human race. Perhaps at no time in history has there been such a need for critical thinking than today -- a time where an increasing number of resources is available for consumption, and we continue to poison the very environment that is required for human survival.

People define “critical thinking” in a variety of ways. For sake of this discussion, let’s go with a fairly general description: a mental discipline that involves open-minded gathering of relative information; a systematic manner of organizing the information; and an objective, rational analysis of that body of information. It is, not coincidentally, similar to the process that was taught as the “scientific method” when I was in grade school.

It requires that one be, to a large degree, emotionally detached from the issue at hand. Indeed, emotions are but one of the stumbling blocks that can derail critical thinking. Another stumbling block -- one that I have frequently wrestled with -- is, well, arrogance. Believing that you are pretty darned smart. This can lead to an unfortunate dynamic in the context of discussions ….one that is known in the world “snaky.”

Let’s consider the recent discussions on DU:GD about the death of President John F. Kennedy. Leave out any thought of who may or may not have been responsible for the assassination. Instead, focus entirely upon how people here think about, and discuss, that important event in our nation’s history. It is my belief that good and sincere people, capable of critical thinking, can and do reach very different opinions about “Dallas.” Likewise, people who exercise something less than critical thinking can and do reach very different opinions.

One school of thought puts great faith in the Warren Commission, and a wonderful book by former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. The opposing school of thought has concluded that JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy; even among this group, there is an extremely wide range of belief regarding who was responsible -- the CIA and/or other military and intelligence groups; organized crime; Cubans in Florida who opposed Castro; big oil; and even, to some extent, the next two US Presidents (LBJ and/or Richard Nixon).

The Warren Commission’s Report was 26 volumes. Bugliosi’s 2007 book supporting the Commission’s conclusion is over 1,500 pages long. A resulting tactic of people who believe this version often ask those who are opposed to it, “Have you read the entire Warren Commission Report?” (Or Mr. Bugliosi’s entire book.) This tactic, incidentally, was made popular by Vince Bugliosi; it contains the unstated implication that anyone who hasn’t read one or both is incapable of having an informed opinion on them.

Now, let’s apply this same logic: there were literally hundreds of potential valuable witnesses the Commission never interviewed; agencies including the FBI and CIA withheld documents that had to do with things such as Lee Harvey Oswald’s connections with the said agencies; and literally tens of thousands of documents have been made public since Bugliosi’s book was published. Hence, literally everyone who holds or expresses an opinion does so, based upon an incomplete foundation (note: thousands of documents remain classified, and others were destroyed decades ago). Thus, either no person is entitled to forming an opinion, or we should be able to agree that people are capable of reaching a conclusion based upon what they have read.

There is a tendency to label certain schools of thought as “conspiracy theories,” and dismiss them as wild speculation or paranoid thinking. Yet, as we know, a Congressional investigative committee concluded that President Kennedy likely dies as the result of a conspiracy. More, Vince Bugliosi, shortly after retiring as a prosecutor, was involved with a civil law case that was based upon his belief that Senator Robert Kennedy was murdered in 1968, as the result of a conspiracy.

Thus, if we apply critical thinking -- and this isn’t about any one potential “conspiracy” -- we find a two-sided coin: because one case is not a conspiracy, does not indicate all others are not; and because one case is a conspiracy, does not indicate that all others are. Indeed, each individual case has to be considered and evaluated on its own merits.

The benefits accrued from critical thinking are not, of course, limited to considering conspiracy theories. An obvious example would be US military actions. Let’s take the nation’s response to 9/11. If one believes that our country was attacked by a foreign entity (I know not everyone does), then the response in Afghanistan was correct. But that hardly applies to the Bush-Cheney attack on Iraq. Indeed, by definition, the Bush-Cheney administration engaged in a conspiracy to fool the American public into supporting an action that literally had nothing to do with 9/11.

More, the example of Iraq highlights that stumbling block which can short-circuit critical thinking: emotions. In that example, the Bush-Cheney administration played upon the public’s fears and hatreds, in order to gain support for an immoral war. On top of that, they ushered in a set of laws known as the “Patriot Act,” that not only restricts “freedom,” but discourages citizens from critical thinking.

A common appeal to emotion that has too frequently been part of discussions on DU:GD is the insult. One need not use a magnifying glass to find examples on a daily basis here. Yesterday, for example, one OP implied that the belief that there was a conspiracy in Dallas is equal to a belief that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster. Discussions leading up to this month’s elections likewise contained numerous attempts to insult those with differing opinions. Threads with support for President Obama, and/or support for Hillary Clinton in 2016, almost always have some insults in them.

It can, of course, be fun to score debater’s points in an argument. It’s something that I am as guilty as anyone else here, in resorting to at times. It’s one thing to do, if a post is clearly the unintellectual property of a “troll,” and DU has had plenty of this species over the years. But it is a tactic that never enhances the value of a discussion or debate of serious issues among those who are here for the right reasons.

In my opinion -- for what it is worth -- the DU community would do better to focus on critical thinking, because the issues that confront us -- as individuals, a community, and a nation -- require our best efforts. Over the years, in a number of instances involving very serious issues, DU has acted as a grass roots think tank. Indeed, the quality of research, analysis, and discussion on this forum has reached far further than most people here are aware. The “Plame scandal” is perhaps the best example of this.

Any how, this is just the type of think that this old man thinks about while reading through the threads on DU:GD.

Thanks,
H2O Man

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 12:19 PM

1. Well said, as usual.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 01:15 PM

2. lof course you are 100% correct but it wont happen on the current du...

I miss the old du as well. I have those whom I suspect to be trolls or sycophants on ignore and that helps but every thread of substance is hijacked by some of the tactics you outline above..and it goes nowhere. I still come here and read everyday but there is a blind spot on du now which disregards truth. Discernment and critical thinking are impossible when there is willful obedience and ignorance of uncomfortable truth.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 02:24 PM

3. Can you make that into a bumper sticker?

Unfortunately, nothing this deep can, which is why it'll probably not be sexy enough for mass consumption.

When we can make "complex matters" fashionable again, instead of simple matters that can be boiled down to a few catch words for the Idiocracy to repeat, then the World will definitely be moving in the right direction.

Great post!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 02:30 PM

4. Well worth considering. nt.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 02:34 PM

5. As usual...

Well-stated and thoughtful.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 02:39 PM

6. Another excellent post from one of DU's finest members. Thanks H2O Man.

 

Saturday I was told that since I haven't been to the Gulf of Mexico and personally investigated the conditions since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that I cannot have a valid opinion on the matter. Bunk, of course.

As a fine point, I have no idea who killed JFK, or if there was a conspiracy to kill him. That said, I have no faith - none whatsoever - in the Warren Report. Similarly, I don't know why the Warren Commission produced this failed analysis, but it's clear that exposing the truth was not their motive.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Nov 24, 2014, 03:13 PM

7. You make some critical points here. What I've found disheartening at DU is a tendency to trivialize

...JFK himself, along the lines of: He wasn't all that, so he's nothing at all. Cold Warrior got conflated with Didn't Care About Civil Rights or the Poor, in one post. (Which is kind of stunning when you recall how many African-Americans wept openly at his death, and all that weekend.) There were certainly others, written by people who were not alive then but they read a book or watched a docu-drama.

But my observations about that trend are only a side-issue to your very good essay on critical thinking. We desperately need more of it here -- your last paragraph on DU as a grass-roots think tank is key. Thank you.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Nov 28, 2014, 12:41 PM

8. Central Teaching

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Nov 28, 2014, 12:50 PM

9. Emotion seems to drive a lot of the discussions around here

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can be when their is a dismissal of facts, lying or misrepresentation, smearing, or the appeal to emotion logical fallacies.

As far as the JFK, I think the Mafia Kingfish book lays out the most convincing case for me. In any case, it was a good history book on the city of New Orleans and an era of corruption that continues to this day as far as the NOPD is concerned.

Other than that, I don't know for certain what factually happened and haven't looked through all the countless arguments and presentation of facts so I'm still open minded as to what may or may not has happened.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Nov 28, 2014, 02:25 PM

10. An interesting post. I have been mentally considering the various views of "normal".

 

If your normal is "police are our friends" then it can be difficult to understand that someone else may have experiences that make "police are NOT our friends" as "normal." The same issues pop up with "orphans in different countries live in horrible conditions", "special needs parents dealing with the educational system", "domestic violence", "guns" and even "how votes are counted".

I do not think some of this can just be limited to "critical thinking" as we are all biased with our own experiences. The first thing we have to get beyond is that OUR experiences of normal are NOT everyone else's.

Some very good points. I am still chewing on this, and it really does seem to come down to how we communicate.

Good post!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Nov 28, 2014, 02:48 PM

11. Even if you "are pretty darned smart."

 

Sometimes that leads to making mistakes as well. If you tend to be right most of the time, it can lead to putting together a reasonable theory that fits all the available facts and yet still be wrong.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Nov 30, 2014, 10:59 PM

12. Clear Truth

"It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government." -- CIA CounterIntelligence head James Angleton, in testimony to the Church Committee.

https://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/The_CIA_and_the_JFK_Assassination



http://spartacus-educational.com/SSangleton.htm

Once we who know the facts are gone, who will tell the story? Certainly not those who know it. The libraries and online archives will be filled with disinformation created by the likes of those who lie the USA into wars for profit -- a mighty Wurlitzer of hacks hired to say the darndest things.

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