Critical thinking. It’s one of those buzz-terms my fellow Americans and I love to toss around… particularly Liberal Americans, one of whom I used to be. Any time someone disagrees with all of those facts you just know, it’s because they can’t do critical-thought (ha). It wasn’t until I started going to college in earnest and took several logic and ethics courses that I understood what critical thought really is, and it’s quite different from the groupthink that people think it is. That’s actually a nice segue into my first Great Doubt:
Critical Thinking Isn’t That Hard
Picture my embarrassment when I learned that I was also quite a shytty thinker. Even today I struggle to curb my impulsive first impressions and think “wait, a human wrote this, so it’s probably at least mostly wrong”. First, you have to notice when you’re disagreeing with someone. That’s really hard for most of us to do, especially those of us who are older and our habits of recoiling in fury at an alien idea are etched into the cliffs of our minds through decades of erosion. Then you have to know what you’re disagreeing with and why. Is it emotional(useless)? Do you know something to the contrary(more useful but what you think you know is probably wrong)? Finally, armed with this information, you have to argue against your own case. If you can easily dismantle your own beliefs, you’re probably full of shit. If you can do so for both sides of the argument, the whole thing is constructed out of tinder and you have to find some outside information to shore up the structure.
2018 is when I’d say I earnestly tried to start cultivating this new skill and it isn’t until quite recently that I’ve been able to notice the times I’ve been wrong and admit it to myself. Many of us notice when we’re wrong but we skip the self-admission. I can’t blame us; we don’t just believe that we’ll be ridiculed and insulted when we’re wrong, it’s actually true most of the time. Having the wrong opinion about something on which you are neither an expert nor have you thought very long about not only makes you a complete imbecile, it also makes you evil and the reason the country is falling apart1. On the absolute miracle that you manage to get past that, you now have to research and form opinions and arguments. Nobody has time to do that with the mountain of deceptive bullshit we have to climb every time we get out of bed. I’ve found it’s safer, in those instances where I don’t have the time or interest, to assume the person doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Nothing bad has ever happened to me because of this.
Knowledge is Very Important
(And Even Possible to Obtain)
Going into detail on the philosophical history of what it means to know something is beyond what I’m willing to write here, but it shall suffice to say knowledge is something you gain through the experience of something’s truth. You can’t get it by reading a book or listening to somebody speak. You can gain insight that way, which can help you form an opinion, but you can’t truly know the subject. To take an oft-criticized group of people (and I’ll be the first to tell you they are ridiculous and shouldn’t be given any credence), one of the claims the Flat Earth Society makes is that you can’t trust scientific books that say the Earth is spherical, because you don’t know the things in those books are true. It might shock you that I agree here (more likely you don’t care). You shouldn’t implicitly trust anything just because other people say you should. Unfortunately they believe the Earth is flat because it was written in another book that they trust implicitly because it’s the word of God. How do they know? Well the book says so, stupid2!
What makes science different from anything else ever devised by man is that anyone else should be able to reproduce the experiments therein and get the same results. This has worked for most of post-Enlightenment history but now we’re at a point where everything is so complex that one person really can’t learn everything and run every experiment, even if they dedicate their entire lives to this pursuit. So, most of us trust science because the stuff based on it more or less works as expected. One definitely shouldn’t just trust some new theory written about in some news blog just because a scientist wrote a paper on it, though. More on that never.
Conservatives are Not only Racists, but Stupid Racists
It should be self-evident: if this is a serious thought in your mind, you’re not thinking very critically. Generalizing whole groups of people is precisely what proponents of this idea claim Conservatives are doing despite likely never meeting a genuine Conservative in their lives. If you meet even one Conservative who isn’t a racist or stupid, the whole idea doesn’t work. I’ve met quite a few, sadly. The mirror transformation to this argument is that Liberals are all hyper-educated and open minded which, again, can’t be true if even one of them aren’t. I’ve met quite a few as well.
So what is more true, then? There’s certainly a segment of the population comprised of value-less people, intellectually speaking. Sides of the political spectrum don’t have any relevance here, because these people don’t have any beliefs. They download the daily talking points from CNN, Fox, etc. and delete them the next day when the new batch is available. If you look at the trends of these people’s bickering over a long period of time, you very quickly learn that nothing they ever care about matters in the least. All of the civilization-ending doomsday scenarios that gripped this chaff over the decades has amounted to nothing, and all of the truly horrible catastrophes that have occurred went completely unnoticed until it was too difficult to ignore them.
Long story short, real Liberals and Conservatives are intelligent, great people. You probably don’t personally know any, though.
America is Systemically Racist
Yes, I was one of those people. At some point in the 2000’s, racism was redefined to mean when one race has power over another through institutions. This isn’t what it meant when I was growing up though and I now reject this interpretation, not because it’s wrong (although I think it is) but because it’s clearly ideological. Interestingly, the books and people who changed my mind on this were the very people pushing it so hard. The more liberty they gained through the social climate giving them room to ramble, the crazier they sounded to me. Finally, I was banished from the group of heckling Liberals I’d been a part of for daring to say that looting is a crime. That opened my eyes wide to how this thought trend is… I suppose I can’t say crazy because it follows a pretty simple recipe. As I wrote in the past, Americans at large have lost the ability to think critically.
For some reason we accept that reading the introduction to a book and accepting it as fact is the same thing as thinking about it. I was looking for a Thomas Sowell quote about how the best thing he learned at Harvard is that he shouldn’t listen to people with degrees from Harvard, but I can’t find it and am probably butchering it. I found another along the same lines:
“What I most disliked about Harvard was that smug assumptions were too often treated as substitutes for evidence or logic. The idea seemed to be that if we bright and good fellows all believed something, it must be true.” (Sowell, 2014)
This is as good a description of the Far Left and Far Right of 2021 that I’ve found. I’ve struggled to put into words how annoyed I always was at my “smart” friends who recycled other people’s brain worms in place of thoughts3. Make no mistake, I’m a firm believer that none of us has ever had or will ever have an original idea, but that’s not the important bit. The important bit is coming to understand an idea on your own rather than stealing someone else’s explanation of it.4
Mental Health is a Thing That Can Be Worked On Alone
We’ve all encountered this lie at one point or another. In fairness, it’s not a lie per-se because the people repeating it ad nauseam have accepted it as truth without putting any thought into it. Many of us have concluded that America’s mental health crisis is a symptom of our isolation and disconnection from any sense of community. How, then, can we attempt to cure our selves of this by writing in a journal alone in our bedrooms? Logically, we can’t.
This idea may have been well intentioned at some point in the past but in 2021 it’s no more than marketing. Self help books, journals, and so on are part of a very lucrative industry capitalizing on an epidemic. Giving people false hope while shoving an endless supply of cures in their faces is a proxy of the health care industry’s alleged focus on treatment rather than cure; it’s more profitable to keep people sick5.
IQ Isn’t Important
A major cause of strife in the United States could very well be that the entire premise of our nation was flawed from the beginning. “…that all men are created equal” appears to not only be verifiably not true but actually the opposite of the truth.
IQ, intelligence quotient, is a measure of an individual’s ability to solve several types of problems and thus generate an approximate metric. There’s plenty of debate on IQ’s validity, as there is with any metric that proclaims some of us are clearly better at some things than others (indeed, belief in the opposite is fair evidence one mustn’t be intelligent), but most clinicians agree that it’s good enough to provide clinical value.
Due to my repeated bouts of therapy, I’ve had my IQ tested multiple times and always get roughly the same score which says to me it’s an accurate test. I’m in the “gifted” category which separates me from average by around 25-30 points but there are still another 30 points between myself and a genius. Due to my “incellish” nice-guy nature I’d always erred toward giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming I simply wasn’t explaining myself clearly enough, and for a time I actually believed I was the one who was crazy or stupid in any situation.
After much reading on the subject of intelligence, I began to realize that it’s not stupidity or ignorance on my part. I feel like an outsider in most situations because I am. The interests of average people are extremely boring to me and my interests are too over their heads to be enjoyed. One must be careful here because this always looks like elitism but that’s only because the world is designed for average people (or even below-average these days6) so it’s difficult to defend claims of “you aren’t intelligent enough to get it” because you’re in opposition to everyone else in the room.
Also linked to being a “nice guy” is my compulsion to defer to people whom I think are obviously wrong. Don’t rock the boat, don’t start an argument, etc., because you likely won’t be able to win that fight. How can you win an argument against people who don’t understand what you’re saying? I’ve learned to instead accept that I am right and let them keep their irrelevant beliefs because in short measure they’ll return to watching “The Big Game” and forget all about the discussion.
IQ’s importance has nothing to do with problem solving or debates, though. IQ also has a well-documented correlation to emotional pain, anxiety, addiction, and so on (Karpinski, 2018; Coplan, 2011). Thoughts such as “why is _____ this way? It’s so backwards!” and “If only _____ would _____, the world would be much better off” lead to frustration and anxiety in anyone. Highly intelligent people have far more of these thoughts than the less mentally gifted.
This list could go on forever (and likely will in the future) but these are the most obvious things that came to my mind over the couple weeks it took me to write this. It’ll forever be impressive to me how ones opinions change as they gain confidence and improve their lifestyle. My opinions will undoubtedly continue to evolve as I spend more time in sobriety and improving the quality of friendships I obtain.
1 2 Allegedly
3 I have to attribute “brain worms” to Saagar Entjeti of Breaking Points.
4 As I alluded to in the section on critical thinking, this is some of the hardest work a person can do. Even the initial requisite action of noticing when you’re not thinking is extremely difficult in most cases.
5 A discussion on the health care industry is beyond the scope of this article but I must say I don’t believe in the vague conspiracy in which doctors all plot to keep us diseased while offering medicines that aren’t much better than placebo. Our health care system was designed alongside our culture as a whole and it’s clear to me that there’s a pervading sense of “good enough” in Western society. Drug companies are certainly willing to sacrifice human lives for profit (Beckenhauer, 2017; Van Zee, 2009) but they don’t represent the entire health care system, and the issue of “profits over all” is a much deeper issue and likely one that is impossible to correct without a major reengineering of civilization.
6 “No Child Left Behind”, anyone? How well has that worked out?
Beckenhauer, S. (2017, 21, Jul). 3 big pharma scandals that will make you sick. Represent.Us. https://bulletin.represent.us/3-big-pharma-stories-will-make-sick/
Coplan, J., Hodulik, S., Mathew, S., et al. (2012, Feb). The relationship between intelligence and anxiety: An association with subcortical white matter metabolism. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience. 3(8). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnevo.2011.00008
Karpinski, R., Kolb, A., Tetreault, N., Borowski, T. (2018, Feb). High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities. Intelligence. 66. 8-23. https://doi.org/10.1016.j.intell.2017.09.001
Van Zee, A. (2009, Feb). The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health. 99(2). 221-227. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2007.131714