Thursday, October 16, 2014

Independent Thinking: The Dangers of Protesting a Wee bit Much

Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as independent thinkers? Perhaps those who more value obedience to authority, I suppose, but many pride themselves on their individualism, and this is not necessarily a bad thing but also not a good thing when done without integrity and introspection. 

For we are often tempted to congratulate ourselves overmuch, and some of us protest a bit much about what wonderful independent thinkers we are in discussions with others. No one is immune to being taken by charlatans and frauds, especially those we are prone to agree with for their pandering to our biases and values.

I identify as a skeptic, and this means I hold certain intellectual virtues as worthwhile to cultivate and improve upon. I do not here, and have never on this blog or any other venue claimed to be especially rational or objective, and certainly not a stranger to deceptive ploys. There are times I’ve been fooled, and those were times when weaknesses in my skepticism were in play. These have been valuable lessons for the future. I find no reason to laud myself overmuch on skeptical thinking as this opens the gates to deception by myself and others. I must always consider that I can be fooled.

Independent thinking, when it’s actually being exercised, is a wonderful and valuable thing in my culture. It is hardly at work, however, when you believe everything you are told by those who agree with you along partisan lines, simply because what they say is prefaced or appended by the incantation of the magical phrase, “check my facts.” 

There’s a bit of a rhetorical trick with that phrase, and it is meant to preempt skepticism and actually bothering to check the facts. Its utterance renders the speaker more seemingly trustworthy, making us vulnerable to credulity and exploitation, particularly by partisan media outlets which have been polishing their technique and manipulating their audiences for decades since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine during the 1980s.

That goes for all partisan ideologies.
And “checking the facts” does little good if you only check them on sources that you’ve been manipulated for years into trusting because you’ve told that only they speak the truth. Or when you’ve been told again and again that those guys on the “other team” can’t be trusted and are out to get your money, or your vote, your children, your rights, your guns, your bibles, or otherwise ruin the country for their own nefarious purposes.

*twirls mustache* *cackles diabolically*

That’s the problem with “Team Spirit” ideologies of any sort, and when it comes into play one’s status as a smart, self-actualized thinker is in danger, if not compromised beyond hope. 

Hubris, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and gullibility along ideological lines is dangerous. Glomming a bit too much on what a wonderful and great independent thinker you are sets you up for a fall. None of us thinks of ourselves as extremist, even and especially when inclined to think that more of any partisan leaning is actually a virtue. We almost all of us think ourselves the moderates, the sensible ones.

We must acknowledge our biases, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities, understand them as best we can, and take real steps to offset them, seriously considering when those who enjoin us to trust and believe them, as they have for years on our favorite media outlets, might not have our best interests in mind, just our ad revenues, our ratings, our corporate sponsorships, our votes in the next election, and sometimes, our lives.

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