Archive for December 8th, 2020

How to Think

At its heart, language is about connecting with others and sharing experiences. Yet, it is, more often as not, a case of fog heaped on top of fog. Subterfuge, ambiguity, misdirection, spin, and intentionally dodging inquiry seem more the point of language these days.

Reason is touted as the one gift that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Truth is, we are not born with reason, but the equipment that makes it possible. Thinking itself is a discipline that requires training over many years.

In university, one of my philosophy professors taught a course entitled “ How to Think”. This course comes back to mind in these days of rampant deceit boldly packaged as high art. It’s objective is clear: the seduction of millions who have been irretrievably duped by one fantastic lie after another. An entire alternative reality has been conjured by the virtually illiterate and unintelligible word salad of the current occupant of the Oval Office.

I’ve been thinking that this one course ought to be mandated for high school graduation. Advanced classes in the same should be present in every semester at college as well and built into every other class. All speech and all writing should be interrogated for the presence of one or more logical fallacies. Integrity of thought is the foundation of mature thought and spirituality.

As we await the end of 2020, we see a number of flagrant examples of logical fallacies perpetrated with stunning frequency by a prevaricating Whitehouse. Without the antidote of knowing what these fallacies are, it’s no wonder that millions have been mesmerized by the “ Huckster in Chief”.

Let’s look at just three such fallacies:

1. Unfounded generalization: Yes, bleach will kill a virus. Suggesting that injecting it into our bodies as a prophylactic in the absence of a vaccine is a mind-boggling leap! Yet, we saw cases of self-induced poisonings as some Trump followers took the impulsive Presidential advice at face value.

2. Proof By Assertion: Saying something incessantly is used as its own proof of veracity. Trump and the GOP continue to press the lie of rampant voter fraud and bring frivolous legal challenges to the Biden-Harris victory without any evidence. Some 37 successive losses in the courts, and scathing judicial commentaries on the merits, seem to border on grounds for disbarment of several Trump attorneys ( notably Rudy Giuliani). The histrionic lieutenants of the Trump noise machine simply press on arguing that each loss is further proof of the truth of fraud.

3. Special pleading: This refers to an argument that one is the aggrieved party because of the consequences of one’s own actions. The best example is in today’s news. Trump pouts over his clear loss while arguing he is the victim of a fraud because he cannot possibly lose and would be the winner otherwise. The loss was his own doing, but his argument is that his genius makes clear that something foul is going on.

None of this is to suggest, as partisan critics might quickly complain, that I am suggesting that Trump supporters are “ dumb”. Intelligence is simply not the issue. It’s how our intelligence is focused and used that matters. In a society where news is real-time and social media carries all manner of conspiracy theories, the skills of well honed reasoning have never been so important.

One additional fallacy we see every single day is interpreting the meaning of what someone says out of context. This is a particular favorite of the political establishment, on both sides of the aisle. It usually accompanies the ad hominem attack fallacy: undermining the perceived integrity of a person rather than addressing the facts s/he presents.

There are, by my unofficial count, somewhere in the vicinity of 110 specific types of fallacy. I’ve seen most of them show up repeatedly over the last 5 years. We are all susceptible to their lure. Just knowing that our thinking is prone to them should alert us to be more vigilant seekers after truth.

Integrity of thought is a foundation of living life in good faith with our eyes wide open. It is a foundational virtue (especially in a democracy). We must hold ourselves accountable to cultivate intellectual honesty. Like most things that matter, the discipline is hard to sustain, but the benefits to a life lived authentically are inestimable.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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