Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Basic Clear-Thinking Principles

Originally posted on June 11, 2015

Thinking isn’t what it seems. It’ll trick you! People think they’re thinking whenever they assess a situation. But assessment is not really thinking about whatever, it’s merely getting oriented. Feels like thinking. Maybe it is a first step. But rarely do they re-consider any impressions or assumptions. They’re easily tricked.

The first trick is the most pervasive and persuasive: It’s the mind generating the illusion that you’re not being ticked! Things are indeed as they seem. It’s as if a con man is saying, “You’re smart, clever, and indeed too clever to trick. I wouldn’t dream of tricking you, you’re so smart. So I’ll be honest. Can’t trick an honest man.” Yeah.

The first trick in magic is that you show that there’s nothing up your sleeve. (Of course not, it’s somewhere else!) Really, manipulation depends on your assuming a frank, open manner: There are no tricks. Our desire to be social whispers to us, “It would be churlish in the face of openness to be suspicious! Sort of ungrateful.” And the inner sucker whispers, “It’s all very simple and above-board.” And the con-man says, “I’m smiling. Would a nice guy like me trick you?” The trick is that we are programmed to not be suspicious, to say “nooo,” but of course we are tricked by nice guys and gals! If they were obviously mean we’d get suspicious.

What I mean here is that the culture overdoes the “build on trust” motto: Instead, we should be a bit more wary:Trust but verify. People who want to sell you stuff are everywhere. Against this is the fact that critical thinking is frowned upon, labeled as suspiciousness

So the first trick is the cultural convention or custom to act as if you’re not being tricked, and to believe that you’re not being sold a bill of goods. One way to do this is to get the teachers or sales people on board, to have them sincere, well-meaning. It doesn’t appear to us that they’re gullible, because everyone is gullible, it seems. It’s nice, it seems. Being non-gullible is grumpy, it seems.

The second trick is to pretend that words are clear: If one is noble then one cannot be capable of wickedness. On the other hand, there’s a saying, “The Devil can quote scripture.” How is that saying possible? Illusion is powerful! It seems that if one says the right words, then he’s on the good side. It’s considered unfriendly to be suspicious. All this obscures the truth that people can indeed be good in some ways and bad in some ways and genuinely think they’re all good. It just doesn’t seem that way. However, the point here is that seeming is not the same as reality.

Also, words can be twisted to make villains seem like saints and vice versa, and we see it all the time in politics and history. Religion too. This is taught in semantics, but I suspect they don’t teach much about this and most people don’t notice this missing from the curriculum.

The third thing to teach is that illusion is pervasive in culture, things aren’t what they seem, statements aren’t clear-cut. Indeed, the phenomena around “seeming” and illusion should be taught in middle school. It’s time to develop a willingness to be disillusioned about a variety of political and perhaps even religious themes. Indeed, I suspect this is part of maturation. Gullibility needs to be shed, like a beetle’s immature skin.

Meanwhile, television and many advertising and packaging products that depend on your purchasing what you may not really need really work to numb your brain and make you a semi-zombie, a blandly accepting consuming customer. Don’t kid yourself. This is political and commercial.

The fourth thing to teach is that you can kind-of learn something and then think you know it and then sort-of forget it because it seems as if what’s being presented to you pretends not to be propaganda. It gives the illusion of being simply “nice.” In other words, you can think you know how to think critically and yet be easily fooled. It’s a variation of “nothing in my hands.” It’s a variation of “I appreciate that you are discriminating customers.” But unless you apply these rules a lot, they’ll get you and get you again.

Many in history who committed atrocities believed themselves to be good and the enemy or those they were torturing and killing to be sub-human. These oppressors were in their own minds the “good guys” cleaning out people whom they thought were “really bad” even though in the eyes of history they were arguably innocent! That is, the judgment of history often blames folks who at the time thought they were doing good. Weird, huh?

Consumer shopping and guides and reports are laced with these ways “they” fool you. But at this point semiotics and semantics—how they fool you with pictures and words—are still part of college studies, and most college students are not required to take even this. A variation that should be taught before algebra is how to lie with statistics. How charts and numbers can distort any argument!

That speaks to the fifth thing: Numbers don’t lie. Ah, but they do! They do a lot! And who’s going to teach you this? There are whole books about how to lie with statistics and numbers, graphs and scales.
Well, I could go on and on…. and on. I’ve come to realize that hardly anyone has learned about logical fallacies, propaganda analysis, semantics, how to lie with statistics, and the like. Lordy! What am I doing on this planet? (Answer: To talk up learning about this stuff at the beginning of high school instead of learning facts about things that are becoming irrelevant!) In summary, I think most early adolescents need to be learning how to be a true “critical thinker,” beginning in Junior High School! Also, I suspect that few of their teachers know this stuff, too! In summary, teaching about illusion and logical fallacies should be a basic subject in school!

One Response to “Basic Clear-Thinking Principles”

  • Dick says:

    Whatever else the curriculum, The Newspeak Appendix to 1984 ought to be integral!

    I’d include “Politics and the English Language”

    Of course, almost anything by Orwell is an attack on obfuscation of clear-thinking principles!

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