Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Critical thought or 'not': the real divider of humanity.

I suppose this post is long enough to merit a preamble. I have framed the following around critical thought, but this term could just as well be switched with ‘autonomous survival’: there are humans who have emerged from their ‘sheltered’ live-by-imitation childhood mode into one where they take the responsibility of making value judgements (and the responsibility for their decisions that result from those judgements) for themselves, and there are those who have not: the former have a clear advantage over the latter. Most of today’s problems are because of a few critical-thinkers’ exploitation of the greater non-critically-thinking populace (and their ‘leader-protector-dependant’ state) and the no-rational-solution-possible (because they're both guilty of the same thing) conflicts they create with other non-critical-thinker-exploiter leaderships. Here, I try to draw a line from the origins of critical thought, and the purpose it once served, through to the way it is used (or not) today.

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I'd like to start presenting my case by trying to improve on an earlier 'hunter in the forest' analogy, because it is the best demonstration I have about the origins, and original use, of critical thought.

'Human against nature' is how we spent millions of years of our evolution, and the resulting 'wiring' is still quite present today. Our emergence from that state (after the dawn of agriculture only 15,000 years ago) into a safer, 'shelter in larger numbers' environment, made that tool an option more than anything, but, as I will try to explain later, because of the advent of technology, if we are to survive past the next few centuries, it is essential that we all learn to use it.

Let's look at the 'knowledgable hunter' once again. Thanks to experience combined with the tested lessons of whoever taught them, they are quite familiar with their environment, and thanks to their always-developing critical thought, can judge the value and potential (change, danger, movement, possible source of sustenance, etc.) of every detail in it, even new ones. The hunter has all the knowledge and skills they need to survive, and feels quite confident in their autonomous role.
Now enter the hunter's children (or any group of children, for that matter): they are new to this world, and have neither the critical thought skills (their prefrontal cortex has yet to mature) or the experience to survive on their own. Should they want ato venture out into the forest, they have to do so in the company of a 'protector' (the hunter), and while on such an outing, because their survival depends on the Hunter's proximity and knowledge about what's dangerous or not, their focus is on the Hunter more than the forest around them: they will unquestioningly imitate the hunter's every move, and as long as they are not in danger, this is their definition of 'good (for survival)', and they will judge their own (and their peers') behaviour 'good' or 'bad' by comparing it to the hunter's.

With time, the children will grow to adults, and in the process become very good at imitating their hunter-protector, but they still have yet to venture out into the forest alone. Their prefrontal cortex has almost matured, but they have not yet begun to use it to test and compare their learned lessons, let alone use these to devise new methods or tools of their own. Their hunter-protector is still their key to survival, and as long as the hunter is around, their 'value comparison' reference (for 'survival value') is they, and all the details of their environment is compared to that 'what would the hunter do' reference, too.

They all have the same physical abilities at that point, but the hunter has a clear advantage over their protégées. The hunter has two options: they can send them out into the forest to test their skills alone, obliging them to 'activate' their critical thinking skills and progressively replace their comparison-to-hunter value (emotional) programming with autonomous-experience (the result of actually needing those lessons for actual survival) 'confirmed results' emotion-overriding (partly critical-thought) values of their own, or they can continue allowing their protégées to depend on them, and their presence, for 'hunter-compared' survival-decisions for the rest of their lives (or until they decide to make the switch to autonomy on their own).

Fast-forward to the dawn of agriculture and animal husbandry. When humans began to gather around it in greater numbers, they no longer had the need, nor the occasion, to make the formerly essential-to-autonomous-survival 'switch': the technological techniques developed over time (largely by a sporadic trial-and-error discoveries mixed with the contributions of some individual critical thought) could be simply imitation-passed from generation to generation; there was no need to develop new ones as long as the existing ones 'worked'. Thus, while we still had the ability to survive autonomously, a larger part of the population no longer used it, and spent their lives determining the 'value' of all they did by comparing it to the lessons taught to them by their leader-protectors and elders, as well as their peers who imitated those teachers.

Soon some critically-thinking clan-leaders, who were before obliged to maintain their leadership role through their entirely demonstrable superior knowledge, strength and experience, learned to exert their advantage over appearing generations of ‘new’ non-critical thinkers, and extend their rule to entire trade cities and dependancies of those unquestioning humans. At a lower level, critically-thinking heads of production began to exploit non-critical-thinkers, trained into a life of repetitive non-thought toil, through slavery (although a few of this 'new class' became educated, critical thinkers themselves). When rivalry between competing city-leaders began, their subjects would seek the leaders' protection, just like they would with the hunter of times before, but this time around, as non-critically-thinking able adults, they could man their leader's armies, too. But this class-separation system wasn't 'stable', as there was nothing preventing people from learning to think (survive) for themselves.

Enter religion. Kings would tap into existing superstition, ignorance and legends to invent a 'higher authority' to 'enforce' and 'validate' their own rule; their priests eventually rose in stature and political importance and began to impose rules of their own. Soon, some non-powers-that-be critical thinkers wanting in on the game understood that anyone who claimed that they were messengers of a 'higher power' could gain a non-critical, dependant following and earn a livelihood, and because of this, the religions, gods and messiahs became myriad... but even this system wasn't stable, as followers would change gods (thus religious leaders) at whim, and were potential prey for any proselytisation that 'sounded good'. Monotheism was the solution to this: one 'god', one set of rules.

Early humanity was indeed unruly: it was the result of a merging of sometimes very different cultures (tribes), and if most of the populace wasn't able to reason ('my way/clan or the highway'), the result was often... messy. So many religions also began as a social dictate for a given tribe, and their 'god' inventions served more as 'enforcers' than anything. Even that system was unstable, but indoctrination on top of that, in a culture made no-other-option (or else!) 'distinct' through religious dictate, pretty well sealed any hapless child unfortunate enough to be born into it into a life of critical-thought-free subservience to religious leaders and their largely self-serving dictate and (often other-domination) goals. So whether they ruled through fear of might or fear of 'might', these critical thinkers made a system in which they could maintain their advantage, and it worked so well that it lasted for the better part of two millennia. The 'marriage' between the two forms of dictate was rarely a happy one, though: while one form of dictate held power over the bodies of their followers, the other held their minds, and the two would often have to negotiate with the other to advance their own goals, or eliminate it altogether.

Re-purposing critical thought to other ends than survival, namely through the Greek invention of logic and reason, was still a fledgling idea when Rome put an end to its spread with its 'rule by might' over the known world, and it was all too easy for religion to step in to fill in the critical-thinking leadership void at its fall. Enter the Enlightenment, then the re-birth of democratic ideology: this resulted in, again, an unstable marriage, as, although on the surface the people had freedom to 'determine' what was best for society as a whole, their still largely-un-critically-thinking minds were still bound by and dependant upon the limited options imposed by religious dictate.
Religion is in decline in much of the western world, but, to varying degrees in different countries depending on their accessibility of education, other 'power-entities' (namely corporations) controlling commodities and services have stepped in to exploit the critical-thinking void: they, too, are rigging the system to maintain their advantage, but this time from behind the scenes, through influencing political 'democratic' power into making the rules as advantageous as possible for them, all while making it as difficult as possible for one to become educated or independant-minded enough to learn to ask questions about the mysterious entities, of which few think about beyond the face/facade that is the logo and jingle presented to them, that 'provide' for them.

Adding technology to the mix only makes things worse: it is one thing to invent a pitchfork, and quite another thing to simply use it (or imitate someone else doing the same). As long as the critical-thinking divide remains, society's inventors are not only the only ones detaining the 'secrets' of their technology (that would be accessible to anyone with a bit of research), but that technology also becomes an element of control: as long as the non-critical-thinking populace is 'comfortable', they will not think beyond the sphere of the 'survival (now 'comfort') tool'-filled environment made for them, leaving the critical thinkers to do pretty well anything they please, unchallenged.

And that is the scenario today. Our information age has led to a huge rise in the number of those who have learned to think (survive) for themselves, people who 'dare' question society's workings and would like to propose new solutions; unfortunately, to the opposite end of the spectrum, the die-hard 'live through imitation' (and those they imitate) clan-minders are becoming increasingly radical and active; and, a product of our (surveillance) technology, the emergence of overly-sheltered 'helicopter-parent'-raised children into active society isn't helping things either, because instead of assuming life's responsibilities and challenges, they would rather give their life-governance to a 'nanny state' (and other governing entities) to have them shut up anything that could risk 'offending' them.

There has to be a conversation between the critical-thought (or not) extremes, but this seems almost impossible, because it's almost as though they're speaking separate languages:

A critical thinker trying to rationally propose a new solution to existing problems to a non-critical-thinker will most likely be met with rejection if it doesn't match an existing method, or it is not endorsed by some authority-figure (and it will be rejected with a 'rationale' consisting of comparisons to things other clan-members or 'respected' authority-figures have done and said);

An insult to a clan-minded non-critical-thinker is an affront to their (illusion of) position in their particular clan-scale, and, instinctively, the threat of being humiliated and excluded from their 'clan-circle' (by those unable to judge the real value of the insult) is a threat to their very life, whereas an insult to a critical thinker will most often be met with consideration, followed by a rejection (if the insult is unfounded) or acceptance (because errors are bad for survival-knowledge, and corrections are good for it), with, at most, a 'you didn't have to be rude about it' as an expression of offense;

Words, even, don’t have the same use and meaning: a critical thinker will choose words best-suited to making sure what they are trying to communicate about reality is understood; the non-critical-thinker will try to make reality ‘match’ their programmed authority-given ‘definitions’ of words (as part of their ‘survival success example to imitate’)… especially towards ‘not-their-clan’ people (“my survival depends on what I was told about you, so you are what my protectors say you are, otherwise I don’t know how to deal with you.” It’s almost as though they think their words do affect reality). This ‘out-group-non-processing’ is also responsible for all forms of irrational (to a critically-thinking person) bigotry;

If a critical thinker and a non-critical thinker have a debate in which the critical thinker totally destroys their opponent's position through reason and logic and the non-critical-thinker gets their opponent to show hesitation, anger, doubt, frustration or exasperation, the audience supporters of each will walk away thinking that 'their guy' won.

I could go on about the actual effects of critical thought in dampening/overriding/cancelling emotions (that most that non-critical-thinkers have to rely on as a reaction) as well, but I think I have already written extensively about this elsewhere in this blog.

Let me close by saying that it's clear to me that, in this technological age (and all the high-speed trade and destructive power it brings), if we don't all begin thinking critically soon, we will be leaving the few that do an exponentially-increasing exploitable advantage over those who don't (look at the wealth-divide, already...)... and, as we saw before, conflicts between overlapping non-critical-thinker-exploiter systems most always end in war, and as time and technology marches on without us filling the 'critical thinking void', the potential consequences of such conflict grow exponentially as well.