On Thursday evening at 7:00PM, September 6, 2013, Monkey Wrench Books at 110 E. North Loop Austin, Texas 78751, hosted UT professor of Journalism, Robert Jensen. Jensen’s theme for the evening was based on his newest book Arguing for Our Lives: A User's Guide to Constructive Dialog (City Lights, 2013). His talk considered what Critical Think is and what it is not.
Bob Jensen is a supporter of Monkey Wrench, and has been affiliated with the collective for a number of years. It began in 2002 and is sustained by a collective of people who support and are committed to looking at diverse and radical means to resist the inroads of corporate culture; the books on its shelves reflect an eclectic array of alternative and creative ways of viewing the world and engaging with it. Check out their website to learn more: http://www.monkeywrenchbooks.org.
Jensen observed that our contemporary bastions of non-critical thinking are found within the educational systems, in the public school system, and the universities. He noted that higher education has an agenda of educating students in tech skills for competency and breeding students who are politically compliant. Essentially, this is about power, and our current deficiency of challenging it in a deliberative, critical way.
Jensen’s definition of Critical Thinking encompasses many areas, not just a single, academic way of thinking: it consists of skills, rhetoric, the logic of an argument, and being able to listen in a discriminative way for logic in an argument put forth as critical, and the underlying assumptions within an argument. My experience has shown me that what folks get most extreme or argumentative about in their ideological stances, are often not facts and logic, but their own inferences and assumptions of those facts. In other words, there is a substitution of assumption for fact, which may or may not be accurate. Generally speaking, especially when we speak about those on the far right or left, there is often this dynamic in play.
In Jensen’s presentation and discussion he chose Capitalism as a case in point where Critical Thinking skills are very much needed in terms of evaluating its success or effectiveness as an economic, social, and political model that has brought healthy results or conditions.
Primarily, what kinds of consequences has Capitalism given to our culture in a holistic way? How has it affected class within our culture? How has it affected democracy and its functioning? How has it impacted the ecological systems of our nation and the rest of the planet? Most of us can see that our culture, and the global culture are systemically and interdependently bound together. Thus the drive and motivation of Capitalism that is based on greed and growth, continues on in a very self-defeating way. It continues on in climate change, and the de-population of human beings and cultures and other in the ecospheres of other beings on the planet, so ultimately, as Jensen views it, it is a culture of death.
Bob Jensen has a very pragmatic view of global systems. He believes that we are in a kind of shadow land, an apocalyptic time on no return: essentially, we either stop our cycle of denial, or we die. We are all indeed terminal. We, like Frankenstein’s creator, have created a huge distorted story line that has led to more and more complexity and a “no turning back” condition of life. Sometimes life shows us that there are simply no answers, if we keep doing the same things we have been doing, because of the complexity and delusion of human nature. It was Albert Einstein who said that we can't apply the same methods to design creative solutions, if the former have been ineffective.
Lemmings (the suicide critters), running for the cliffs in suicidal frenzy don’t find any way to stop right at the edge and say to themselves, “Wait a second, this is really crazy. Why am I letting my instincts run wild? I’d like a few more good years. You know what—I’m an empowered lemming and I ain’t jumping!”
I apologize for the metaphor (I don't like harm coming to any sentient or non-sentient being), but there’s more that’s true about it than not. The conditions born out of our addiction to Capitalism, Corporate Power and Unrestrained Growth aren’t life-giving, but crazy making. If the causes and conditions of our plight aren’t viewed honestly and fearlessly, how can there be any other harvest that’s different from the one we already are in. If there is not a change both in consciousness and behavior we can’t expect any other result, can we? Until both our thinking and our acting come into more alignment with the structure of life on the planet, there are few, if no options available to us. Twelve Step groups teach us that if you keep repeating the same actions expecting different results, you've entered the unsane zone.
It seems to me that a genuine way to change would be that a person would refuse to be the parrot-like imp of the Military-Prison-Techno-Corpocracy System, start using Critical Thinking skills--along with one’s own empowerment through personal responsibility-- living in a more way of awareness for themselves. We start with ourselves, and then find ways to connect with bigger communities that are involved in some sort of committed activism, because we're talking about the death of the earth, or the one we've known who has nurtured us since civilization began.
© Christopher Bear-Beam September 6, 2013