Why should we develop a critical mind?

In present day society, there are numerous ways of thinking, which are cut off from us – not because we’re incapable of them but because various blockages have been developed and imposed to prevent people from thinking in such ways. Being open-minded and having the capacity to see things from more than one point of view is a virtue that people should be encouraged to strengthen from an early age and which can often be found absent in parents and teachers – the people who are responsible for our education. Thus we must take it upon ourselves to not naively accept what is placed in front of us as the only option and use reason and creativity as the tool to free us from the narrow sphere of thought that is adopted by most people in the world right now.

It is common belief that, “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.” Therefore we must ask ourselves whose choice it is. Parents invest their trust in education systems with hope that they will receive a more knowledgeable, cultured and improved version of their child. But does the education that school provides us with teach us everything we need to know (in order not to be ignorant)? It is the naïve opinion that people have, in which we should scoop up and digest everything teachers, media and politicians tell us as an objective truth, which sets the barriers to our own minds. In the age of information, it is our choice not to be ignorant; it isn’t upon our parents, teachers or politicians. We personally are responsible for our own education and therefore must develop “un esprit critique” instead of accepting things at face value.

In the 21st century no one asks big questions: “Should we accept that there is no better alternative to the political/economic structure as it is proposed to us today?” “Can things go on indefinitely as they are happening now?” If aliens were to observe our day to day life from the unbiased point of view of their spaceship it wouldn’t be hard to imagine them asking themselves how we are able to distance ourselves from such critically important problems as: mass resource depletion, overpopulation, global warming, gross wealth inequality, extreme poverty etc.… It is up to us as the citizens of our planet to question these radically urgent problems in order to find their solutions. The reality that these problems aren’t being addressed adequately is the proof that we aren’t sufficiently questioning them.

The problem with education systems is that they are trying to meet the future with what they did in the past. As Sir Ken Robinson explains in a talk about education paradigms: the difficulty is that the current system of education was designed, conceived and structured for a different age: “It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution.” This means we are not taught at a young age to question the structure of globalized society and the faults that come with it - since our method of education was constructed in a radically different era to our own. With this in mind we should not be surprised that we continuously ignore radically urgent humanitarian and ecological crises. Not only should we develop a critical mind in order to question our surroundings and lifestyle, we should encourage schools to teach their students to do so too. In my opinion this can only lead to a more benevolent society where people no longer dissociate themselves from global problems.

If having a critical mind and applying philosophy & thoughtfulness to everyday life is the key to leading a freer lifestyle then why isn’t it easy to adopt this liberal open-minded attitude? To answer this question we must look at the critical theorists known as the Frankfurt school. This group of neo Marxists argues that it is the mindless, superficially optimistic culture that is being mass-produced by westernized countries, which pulls the curtain over true Marxist reflection. It is important to point out that this argument is still valid without it having to be Marxist. It is through indulging in recent commercialized, superfluous, mass-produced culture that we find ourselves alienated from important realities, which aren’t being addressed. We can further this argument by saying that superficial, popularized culture also puts restraints on us at an individual level like how we allow ourselves to live and think through creating false, prejudicial values.

The danger today is that people make decisions without thinking. To enable us to make significant changes whether on a personal level or a global level – we must thoroughly reflect before proceeding to act upon our thoughts. This is why Slavoj Zizek – a contemporary Slovenian philosopher and psychologist – argues two points: first of all throughout the last century “we have tried to change the world too quickly, now is the time to interpret it again – to start thinking”. Secondly, he makes the point in saying that we should not just sit around and think – but be very careful of the decisions we make. It is quite easy to think of on going examples where reasonable thought is not applied sufficiently enough to resolve crises. For example: not making the necessary precautions to stop the global atmospheric temperature from rising above 2°C or invading other countries on terms of freedom. This capacity of reflection be it psychological, philosophical or moral is, radically important on many levels of human activity; political or emotional.

People want to explore, we want to press our capacities to our limits in order to be able to appreciate what we can. To enable us to do this we should question and observe what is stopping us from fulfilling these internal drives and encourage others to do so too. Through this process we will not only be able to address important humanitarian, political, ecological and economic problems but also break through social prejudicial restraints which stop us from living the life we choose. By developing a critical method of thought and encouraging others to do so too we can not only reintroduce old philosophies into modern day society but also recreate ideological values.

Article by: Seb K.

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