Sydney Kendall Says

Thinking in public about anything that matters.

Tag: justice

More thoughts on Critical Thinking

THinking_3_light_2_withBackground_signedCritical thinking is a mental process of identifying what you actually know and what is assumption, what is real evidence and what is mere assertion or faked.  (It also deals with what is a valid or an invalid or fallacious argument, but I’ll just deal with the issue of evidence here.)

When someone makes a claim, but doesn’t tell you their evidence for that claim, it’s good to point out to that person that he hasn’t presented sufficient evidence to convince you of his claim.  “Sufficient evidence” includes telling you where he got that evidence – the source – of the information, so that you, too, can go to the source and evaluate whether it is a “primary” and reliable source.

For example, there has been a screen capture, purportedly of a Facbook page, being used in discussions about the character of Trayvon Martin, the young man who was shot and killed in a physical fight with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman in a gated community in Florida.  This capture is being used as evidence to show that Trayvon was a user of a drug mixture called “lean” which can make some people paranoid and aggressive.

The capture shows Trayvon’s photo with the name “Trayvon Slimm Martin” having a discussion with another young man about the ingredients of lean, clearly with the aim of getting the ingredients together and using it.

Many people seem to believe that that capture is evidence you can count on.  But with Photoshop, I’m pretty sure that I could create such “evidence” myself, if I could find a conversation about lean on someone else’s Facebook page, make a screen capture of it, go to Martin’s Facebook page and screen capture a conversation between him and a friend, then copy and paste Trayvon’s and a friend’s photos and names over those of the people who were *really* having the naughty conversation.

Now, one could seek out “Trayvon Slimm Martin” on Facebook, which I’ve tried to do, and check to see that the discussion is on a real Facebook page.  (I’ve tried.  If the page once existed under “Trayvon Slimm Martin”, I can’t find it now.)

But even if I found such a page, I’d have to somehow verify that it belonged to *the* Trayvon Martin in question, that someone else faking that name (or who actually shares that name) didn’t just lift a photo of the famous Trayvon because he thought it would be “cool”.  That is not a farfetched possibility.  Those kinds of fakes are easy and some people love to do that kind of thing.

Critical thinking requires a person to be aware of when alleged evidence hasn’t yet been *proven* to be evidence, and to make yourself aware of what it would take to actually prove it to be evidence.  Until you can see for yourself that it is true, you should not accept it as such.  One needs to keep oneself aware of the actual status of an alleged piece of evidence in your context of knowledge.

Someone else may know it to be true, but they have to help you to know that it’s true, from the evidential source and through sound reasoning, or they should not expect you to accept their claims.

One of my points in my earlier post is that this is not an easy task, and even the most conscientious people make errors, sometimes accepting alleged evidence too soon.

I say “Conscientious people, unite!”  We should all happily help each other in a friendly way to be strict in our critical thinking.  And, because critical thinking is so important to such things as justice, we should do what we can to help those with really bad thinking habits to develop better ones by patiently pointing out errors and showing, by example, how critical thinking works.

I say “patiently” because if you treat a person with impatience it’s like saying “Don’t you know this already?  How could you make such a mistake?  Why aren’t you getting this without my help? You must be a stupid fool.”   So instead of focusing attention on the issue at hand and creating an atmosphere conducive to an objective examination of facts, you’re setting up the other person to feel defensive.  Now he feels like he has to defend his character and intelligence and feels all emotionally stirred up.  I hate seeing that happen when something constructive could actually be happening instead.

Whether it’s an error made by a habitually conscientious mind, or an error made by someone with horrible thinking habits, if you make the effort to address the error without attacking the person making it, you’re offering a small contribution toward making the world a more just and reasonable place.

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Thoughts on Critical Thinking

Thinking_2_plusBackground_grainy_signed

Critical thinking.   I try to be conscientious about it.   I’ve always been super-demanding with myself about this, even as a young child.  And it’s not easy, because you have to be on your mental toes all the time.  It can get exhausting, especially when you enter the world of the issues of the day and are confronted with so freakin’ many assertions that need to be hunted down to their sources in sound, reliable evidence.  And even when a person is super-conscientious – I know this first-hand – you can still slip up and accept something on less than a fully sound foundation from time-to time.

So it’s great to surround oneself with others who are also conscientious about evidence, who can catch one’s own boo-boos when they occur.

But the most important thing is *not* to somehow hunt every key assertion down to sound evidence.  That’s actually impossible.  One doesn’t have to know the answer about everything, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in every case, as much as some of us might feel compelled to do so.  One only has to be careful to keep aware of when you don’t actually know enough to draw a conclusion.

And you can help others by identifying when they have not presented enough evidence to convince a careful mind of their case.

 

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Know Before You Go

Here’s a little video from FIRE for college-bound freshmen about what to expect regarding college speech codes versus their actual rights of free speech, and who to contact if they run afoul of the codes.

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Student Governments Against Free Speech

I’m still reading Greg Lukianoff’s book “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” .  Truly hair-raising.  (Lukianoff isan attorney and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, aka FIRE.)

I’ve just finished the section called “Student Government Gone Wild”, about the shocking – but not surprising – tyrannical nature of many student governments at colleges across the USA.  I say that it’s not surprising because, after having read the previous 10 chapters of this book, I can’t imagine that a significant portion of the student body would not have learned how to be tyrants against non-PC points of view.

Here are a couple of excerpts from this chapter:

EXCERPT: “Something that should probably keep you up at night is the fact that student governments, which are often seen as training grounds for future politicians and lawmakers, harbor attitudes towards basic free speech and due process rights that are more akin to petty dictatorships than to the American Founding Fathers…”

EXCERPT: “At the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, students organized to get rid of copies of a conservative newspaper that mocked student government officials.  A UMass police officer stood by as angry students tore copies of the newspaper out of the hands of another student.  Rather than distance itself from this effort at censorship, the student government later passed a resolution in support of shutting down the newspaper if it did not apologize for mocking them.  The university eventually rejected the resolution to punish the paper, but only after FIRE stepped in.”

COMMENT: Since student government and student journalism are both rehearsals for real-world government and real-world journalism, the student government should be held to the strictest standards of respect  for freedom of speech and press.

We do not and should not legally punish regular newspapers for editorials mocking government officials.  University administrations should have the sense not to allow student governments to infringe on the right of the student press to mock the student government *or* to mock the university administration, for that matter.

That it took an organization like FIRE  to get the university to do the right thing should be troubling to everyone who understands the importance of freedom of the press.  This is not an isolated incident – the book is rich with examples of tyrannical breaches of freedom of speech and failures to uphold the individual rights of students in other areas as well.   FIRE is overwhelmed with cases that need defending.

I believe that college campuses are among the most important – if not the most important – places to take a stand for individual rights.  This is where young people should be learning about the principles and procedures that keep corruption and dictatorship at bay.  That’s why I’m bugging people to read Lukianoff’s book and – if they agree that it’s an important book – to blog it and Facebook it and tell their face-to-face friends about it.

I’ve been talking to people about the topic of the book, and it looks to me that a lot of people have no idea what’s been going on at colleges in regard to this most important aspect of our liberty.

 

 

 

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