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critical condition of critical thinking

Sunday, October 11, 2015
Kevin Baldeosingh

Kevin Baldeosingh

​“Critical thinking” is one of those buzz-phrases that, in this place, is often pushed by people who are vehemently opposed to thinking critically.

Of course, these people usually believe that they are critical thinkers. But the hallmarks of a genuine thinker are reliance on empirical evidence, adherence to logic, and a knowledge base in subjects such as science, history, psychology and economics. By contrast, pseudo-critical thinkers (PCTs) reject the scientific method and are unread in the principles of the disciplines listed in the preceding sentence. This is why PCTs tend to be over-represented in academic areas such as cultural studies, anthropology and, of course, gender studies.

What literature professor Daphne Patai and science philosopher Noretta Koertge write about feminist academics in their book Professing Feminism applies to all flavours of PCTs: “Logic, the analysis of arguments, quantitative reasoning, objective evaluation of evidence, fair-minded consideration of opposing views—modes of thinking central to intellectual life—were dismissed as masculinist contrivances that served only to demean and oppress women.”

This is the kind of thinker who dominates intellectual discourse in our society, insofar as there is any such discourse at all. This may or may not have any effect on our state. But, although intellectuals in even the most advanced societies are always a small minority, history hints that, when socio-economic conditions are right, it is good or bad ideas which make a country better or worse off. For example, the Industrial Revolution certainly improved material conditions for the majority of people in Western Europe after the 19th century. Yet, without the ideas of Hobbes, Voltaire, Hume, Locke and Adam Smith, technology might not have facilitated the rise of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Similarly, oppression and cruelties and mass murders in Eastern Europe and China and Africa might have been mitigated without the ideas of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Rousseau, and Marx.

Which brings me to the first indicator of pseudo-critical thinkers: a reflexive denial that these ideals arose solely in Western civilisation and then spread to the rest of the world. Not only do these PCTs argue that such concepts existed in other societies and civilisations—a claim for which there is absolutely no ethnographic or other proof—but they ironically use the very tools of the dead white philosophers on whose shoulder they stand to intellectually (but not actually) reject the civilisation which invented these concepts. Literary critic Bruce Bawer in The Victims’ Revolution notes: “Once, the humanities had been concerned with the true, the good, and the beautiful; now they were preoccupied with an evil triumvirate of isms—colonialism, imperialism, capitalism—and with a three-headed monster of victimhood: class, race, and gender oppression.”

But if there is one primary criterion that identifies the PCT, it is their anti-capitalist rhetoric. This, mind you, is different from being critical of capitalism. A genuine thinker criticises capitalism by identifying specific conditions under which the market fails; the PCT, however, rejects capitalism wholesale. And, given the irrefutable historical fact that socialism has been disastrous in every country that ever tried it, while nations which adopted capitalist policies have prospered and lifted most of their citizens out of abject poverty, it is impossible to be both a critical thinker and anti-capitalist. This also reveals that PCT’s aren’t genuinely concerned about the moral issues they champion. As philosophy professor Ronald Craig Hicks writes in his book Explaining Post-Modernism notes, “Environmental issues, alongside women’s and minorities’ issues, came to be seen as a new weapon in the arsenal against capitalism.”

Inevitably, then, the PCT is always an ideologue, meaning that she adheres to a belief system which in her mind explains everything about the world and, like religious fanatics, is impervious to ideas which contradict her faith. Hicks notes: “Post-modernism rejects the notion that the purpose of education is primarily to train a child’s cognitive capacity for reason in order to produce an adult capable of functioning independently in the world. That view of education is replaced with the view reflects only or primarily the interests of those in power. To counteract that should focus on the achievements of non-whites, females, and the poor; it should highlight the historical crimes of whites, males, and the rich; and it should teach students that science’s method has no better claim to yielding truth than any other method and, accordingly, that students should be equally receptive to alternative ways of knowing.”

This being the case, PCTs cannot conceive that anyone else is not trapped by ideology (although they implicitly or explicitly deny that they are so trapped). So the post-modernist is anti-realist in that he asserts that reality does not exist independently of human beings’ perceptions; he denies that reason is a device that can yield objective knowledge about that reality; and he claims that individual identity is invariably constructed by the sociopolitical group.

This is why, any time you read or hear someone who adheres to this perspective, you can rest assured that their arguments are biased, bogus, and pure bs. And, by their very own post-modernist standards, they cannot logically or empirically refute this assertion. 

Kevin Baldeosingh is a professional writer, author of three novels, and co-author of a History textbook.


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