Monday, April 2, 2012

Real Thinking is Hard

I have a bit of a confession to make.  When I typically read the writing of others on say, Atheists of the Dawkins/Hitchens type, my eyes have a tendency to glaze over.  Not so much the arguments themselves (such as they are) but the insults, ridicule, and integrity attacks often make me skip over those sections, looking for when the argument comes back.

A mind that cannot think without vulgarity is a mind polluted.  A mind that assumes the worst of the other person is a mind that cannot consider another point of view.  And a mind that is unconcerned with the truth in small things is almost guaranteed to be wrong about the larger truths.

I don't know about you, but for me when an argument is laced with invective I often find myself thinking one of four things,

  • "This person hasn't really thought out his position"
  • "This person really doesn't understand the other side's argument"
  • "This person hates the other side so much he doesn't bother to understand the other side"
  • "This person is so infatuated with their own opinion that this person hasn't really checked their argument" 

In my own writing most of the time I find I'm too focused on the topic at hand to start launching an invective salvo.  This is not to say that I cannot do such a thing.  I've posted plenty of comments that I've wanted back.  But in my general writing on this blog I find that not so much that I cannot spew venom, it's that I don't have the time.

Real thinking and argumentation requires work.  It is hard.  It requires discipline. It requires focus and an attention to detail.  It requires checking and cross-checking assumptions and the thought processes that lead to the conclusions.  And ultimately it requires humility and a willingness to be wrong.

To me the breakdown in civility is a symptom of our societies' inability to think. We substitute invective for rational thought because we have lost the ability to articulate our position to others.  Our thoughts become our own personal mantra, our own creed, not the shaky personal knowledge that it really is, subject and vulnerable to our own bias and disordered natures.

On a more positive note, real thinking can be done by anyone.  It is much more an issue of discipline and virtue than any special talent.  There are wiser janitors in this world than some statesmen.  And a PhD is not an indication if one is wise.  But as I've written before, wisdom is available to everyone, provided one is willing to put in the effort to court her.

The question is, do we have the courage to "man up" and seek her?


Heidi said...

Great points!
This reminds me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "People generally quarrel because they cannot argue."

CatholicGuy said...