Old Values Versus the New
I remember when I returned to university after my gap years and was accepted to the University of Toronto to study literature. Many of the people I knew saw no practical value in my choice and believed I was destined to a life of dead-end jobs, or at best, that I would end up becoming a teacher. As if that was such a bad thing, to become a teacher. It seems that at some point people stopped seeing higher education as an end in itself and a way of developing critical thinking, and started to see it solely in terms of whether it leads to getting a good job. This downgrading of the value of critical thinking is a fundamental element in the problems that plague us today and part of a larger trend in anti-intellectualism which Isaac Asimov believed undermines democracy by promoting the belief that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
You have only to turn on the TV or glance at social media to see where that attitude has led us. Conspiracy theorists are spinning all kinds of lies that are eroding the cohesion of society. Anti-vaxxers are undermining the efforts of health officials to subdue the Covid 19 pandemic. Many people deny the scientific consensus on global warming. The former president of the U.S. has a large percentage of Americans convinced that his victory was stolen and an imposter sits in the White House… The list goes on and on.
Re-embracing the Value of Critical Thinking
It is an interesting paradox that despite there being more educated people in the world today than at any time in history, we are being dragged backwards by a revulsion to progress and a repudiation of science and objectivity. How can we make good decisions if we’ve never learned to think critically? How can we determine the truth if we don’t know how to compare and judge competing narratives? How can we even make an informed vote if we hold allegiance to party over principles? Not until we restore critical thinking to the pedestal upon which it belongs, will we be able to counter the trends that threaten to drag us back to a mentality of the Dark Ages.