By Troy Headrick
There are two kinds of slaves: Those who don’t realize they are enslaved and those who know their status but don’t know how to free themselves. In my previous blog, the one that described the problem of intellectual enslavement, I focused mostly on discussing political manipulation by demagogues. In fact, this blog, which aims to set out solutions, deals with intellectual slavery and indoctrination of all kinds.
I’ll begin by setting out my assumptions. I start with the premise that most people, if given the choice, would choose to think for themselves and to think well. Even though there may be a small percentage of people who enjoy being slaves and puppets, the vast majority would prefer to be free of intellectual manipulation.
I also start with the premise that most people have grown up being told what to think but not how to think. It follows that a person cannot be expected to be skilled at doing a task that has never been taught. Of course, a few clever individuals are capable of learning, on their own, how to be skilled thinkers. Most, though, need to be helped to develop such skills. Educational systems are constructed around the idea that human beings are malleable and can be improved through training.
I think there is a widespread hunger to know. Most people naturally want to investigate, to experiment, to explore, and to gain new knowledge and abilities. Of course, having said all this, there are those who, for whatever reason, are closed to the idea of expanding their horizons and opening their minds. Some people are, for all intents and purposes, intellectually and emotionally fossilized.
If my father was right that the greatest challenge facing humanity is the widespread inability to think well, then organizations of all kinds, including governments, need to get involved in solving this existential problem.
While putting together this blog, I was reminded of the Lyceum Movement that took place during the nineteenth century in America, a topic I learned about during grad school. This movement was a precursor to the adult education programs of today. A version of this movement could be reinstated, leading to the creation of gatherings, workshops, and discussion groups. The purpose of these would be manifold: to bring diverse peoples together, to provide them with expert training on the rudiments of critical thinking, to get them to become self-aware (mindful) of how they think, to examine their own deeply held opinions, and to serve as a potent antidote to the powerful influence of social media. Organizations and governments could promote such educational opportunities and provide a variety of incentives for citizens to participate.
These workshops will be beneficial to both individuals and society. Individual attendees will be provided with critical thinking tools and then shown how to use them to examine their own opinions.
At the end of these workshops, the participants will have thought of themselves as thinkers who have thoughts. More need to be helped to learn how to think about their thinking and encouraged to scrutinize long-held beliefs. Most people certainly know that knowing is a good thing, but they need to be shown that the desire to know is even more valuable.
We need to get people off social media and provide them with opportunities to have deep and meaningful conversations—perhaps about uncomfortable topics—with people in a face-to-face setting. We need to help people think about their own thinking. We need to provide citizens with the tools to examine their views and foster a willingness to abandon those that are fallacious. If we don’t help individuals become better thinkers and people, we cannot expect democratic society to flourish.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.