One of the biggest drivers behind our political divide in the US is a pervasive lack of critical thinking on both sides of the aisle. As I look at the issues dividing us, the first thing I have to ask is, “What were they thinking?” Of course, most of us from both sides of the aisle will smirk and answer, “They weren’t.”
As humans we are supposed to be able to form independent chains of thought that elevate us above other animals. We are capable of doing and thinking more than what others tell us. How do we get to the point of being able to use critical thought?
In my work in progress, Lucy Goes Home, the students are required to take a Critical Thinking class in secondary school. The curriculum includes a section on cause and effect reasoning. As humans, maybe we should work on developing such a course of learning for ourselves.
In my book, my characters didn’t like the cause and effect reasoning because it required them to search out long chains of connected events. This type of reasoning is a learned behavior. I confess to sitting open mouthed in one of my psychology classes as my professor spent class after class listing variables that influence the outcome of behavior in baby chicks. Now baby chicks are not very complicated animals, but the list of variables that cause a chick to peck at blue grains of corn as compared to yellow grains of corn is quite complicated.
As humans, the chains of cause and effect that lead us to choose one brand of cracker over another are way more complicated than chicks pecking at corn. We may choose to shut down our thinking process and choose the box of crackers like the one our mother served us. This reasoning may not lead to the outcome we want. It may actually lead to an outcome we want to avoid.
Thinking through a chain of events.
I tried choosing the same brand cracker my mom bought when I was a child. They were my favorite. Over the years, I stopped eating them. Still, occasionally I would remember those crackers and buy some only to be disappointed by the tasteless gluey mess they formed in my mouth before giving me a rash. Now here is where the chains of reasoning come in. The crackers didn’t meet my expectations.
I could conclude either I had no discernment as a child, or the recipe for the crackers changed. Knowing a bit about the sugar industry, I could guess perhaps the recipe changed and corn syrup was substituted for the sugar. I read the ingredients on the box. Yes, the recipe changed.
Now, I could wonder what possessed the cracker company to not only substitute out the sugar but add cornstarch. No wonder the crackers turned to paste in my mouth. Having studied food chemistry and enzymes I understand how these substitutions degrade the product. Why would a company do such a thing?
Still irritated over the loss of my favorite cracker that has now become not only tasteless but a trigger for my allergies. I could shrug and say that the company was crazy, but I’ll go back another step. Why substitute corn sweetener for sugar and replace some of the flour with cornstarch? This is where I needed to do some research to discover the brand had been sold. More research was needed to discover that the same company that bought the cracker company also grows the type of corn used for sweetener. Now, we have gone one step back in the chain of cause and effect to discover why my favorite crackers are no more. They fell victim to corporate Darwinism where big corporations eat smaller companies.
Still, the new product is gross. I understand wanting to use ingredients the company produces, but why would they want to produce corn sweetener instead of cane sugar? Or substitute cornstarch for wheat. The answer to this question takes us back one more step in the chain of events leading to the death of my crackers.
A very little research reveals that the government subsidizes the production of corn sweetener. The farmer buys seed, grows the crop and sells it to the corporation for cost, then the farmer gets a check from the government for his corn production. Stop and think about this. The farmer does all the work of growing the corn. The corporation gets the product but doesn’t pay for his labor. The US tax payers, you and I, pay for that labor and what we pay isn’t enough for the farmer to live on but that becomes another string of cause and effect.
Why does the government subsidize corn? Lobbyists. Those big corporations that ate my little cracker company pay huge sums of money to influence elections to put someone friendly to them into the house. Those bought and paid for representatives make sure their sugar-daddy corporations are well taken care of. So at this point I’ve discovered that not only does my favorite cracker no longer exist, but there is a huge problem with social justice, in that the farmer isn’t paid enough for his labor, and the tax payers are footing the bill because the corporation that ate the cracker company isn’t paying full price for production. Instead they are buying politicians, who pass laws that benefit the corporation.
Now, as we dig back through this chain events, we find the ad company and those lobbyists who are insisting that their business practices are ethical because they are keeping the cost of food low to help the wage earner. Um, no. The wage earner pays for those crackers twice, once when she buys them in the store and once when she pays her taxes. In the end, the product also does not have the same nutritional value as the old cracker made with more wheat.
So, at this point in this chain of events I see how unlimited corporate Darwinism, influences the quality of products I used to buy. The ability to follow my pasty cracker back to the source of the problem convinces me that our anti-trust laws protected the consumer. I’d like to see them enforced.
Steps 8, 9, 10
The chain can be traced back farther to see how bad farming practices produced the vulnerabilities that led to the move away from family farms to corporate agri-business. The chain includes lack of services to rural communities produced by poor voting choices by farmers. Our glorification of ignorance is a variable that influences the choices that enabled the corporate take over of our farms.
Once we start following chains of events we find side trails that take us to different problems. While I may be complaining about my cracker, I also see how this same chain of events leads to unemployment as the family farms have been replaced by agri-business that supports mono-cultures, leading to the death of more small businesses related to producing a variety of crops, but that is a story for a different day.
We really need to be teaching our students and ourselves to engage in critical thinking that helps us get to the roots behind the issues we see in front of us. It is only when we see the causes behind the immediate cause that we can begin to see the source of our problem and find effective solutions. When we begin to search back through the layers leading to our differences of opinion we begin to find our common goals and values. We must start using our human ability to think critically.