Monday, July 5, 2010

On the Lack of Critical Thinking in the Blog-o-sphere and Social Networking

Just encountered a great site from a Cuesta College in San  Luis Obisbo, CA on critical thinking and recognizing propaganda and faulty logic... and it occurs to me that these are important skills for those writing blogs, commenting on blogs, and re-posting without thinking through opinions not their own on Facebook or Twitter. (Thanks to Ian Jukes of the Committed Sardine for pointing out the site.)  The site is very good - as are the associated materials on anlayzing and evaluating information and opinoins.

It has been pointed out by others that there is often a lack of civility among those using these Web 2.0 tools, but more annoying than that, I find, is the frequent tendency to be illogical, uncritical, to engage in name-calling or other inappropriate strategies,  and often to have a knee-jerk response to re-post someone else's bad thinking - especially in the conservative political sphere. Most notable is the hostile rhetoric of the "Tea Party" advocates (or should I just call a spade a spade and name them as Anti-Obama-ites? That's not even name-calling - it's what they are.)  Some of the same behaviors are common to people who support without qualification the new Roman Missal (Mass text translation, for those of you who might not be Catholics.)

I have seen so many posts on Facebook or responses in com-boxes to blogs or to posts on Facebook that cause me to grind my teeth - not just because I do not necessarily agree, but because I am offended by the name-calling, "glittering generalities" and "card-stacking" - errors in logic and strategies that do not contribute to civil conversation or the pursuit of truth. I have occasionally called a friend or two to task - asking them to think things through before they post - but I see this over and over. Polls that give a choice that seems reasonable, but is in fact a half-truth or distortion, do not present a fair choice.  For example, on Memorial Day, there was a poll going around that made it appear the President was "skipping" the honoring of fallen veterans because he was not going to be at Arlington National Cemetery. Left out of the equation was the information that he was going to be at another national cemetery (and that half of the last 8 sitting presidents also "skipped" Arlington at least once) - so it did make it appear there was indeed something to criticize.

Regarding responses to the debate about the New Roman Missal - unqualifying advocates tend to beg the question, to make it look as if the choice is between faithful obedience to the church or rejection of that, when the questions are more subtle - whether or not people will understand what they or the priest are saying, for example.  These are NOT equivalent arguments - it is not a choice (or should not be ) between just these two alternatives.  We can be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church while questioning if people will be able to understand the words at Mass.  These are not mutually exclusive.

It becomes impossible to have a civil discussion on an even playing field when some participants simply want to judge others badly for having an opinion that is contrary to their own, and resort to tactics that hinder open discourse. In all cases, I know I am just voiding my bladder in the wind to ask these folks to think it through before they jerk their knees up to their chins and post or respond.... like civil discourse, logical thinking has become a lost art for the majority in our culture.  I think Ian Jukes is right - we are failing to teach it to our kids -  it died along with the priority for a good liberal arts education.

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