Where Do Our Hyper-critical Attitudes Come From?

I’m asking if we can’t suspend our critical—in this case “critical” is used in the pejorative sense not the intellectual sense of discovery—pose long enough to find some balance in our world. We have become so knee-jerk critical of everything, every word, every thought that opposes what we have come to believe, we honestly don’t have any real idea of what truth is. Some of us will have to accept this statement—that we’re hypercritical—on a leap of faith and that there is a possibility that what we think we know and have declared others wrong they just might not be so wrong, after all. Just asking for a short suspension here, not a wholesale turnaround for a different position. Though maybe that just might happen.

I will admit that this first step will be the hardest for many of us because we are so intrenched in our emotions that to give them up feels like betrayal and the costs feel greater than the benefits. Unless we are willing to do this then all we have left is to collectively bend over and kiss our asses goodbye because there will absolutely be no escaping going over into the abyss of lost history. We will become just another fallen nation, a used-to-be curiosity of what once was. And history will have lost its best hope for a true future.

A bit dramatic, you think?

I’m concerned about this because I am a student of history and through all my readings I try to figure out how what we do in the now feeds what we do in the future. And what we did in the past feeds the now. I’m a student of humanity through my philosophical studies that helps explain why we do things both good and bad, that save us or destroy us. I don’t have perfect understanding. I do have enough handles to grasp that give me a better chance of understanding and from this view see things that I know will inevitably happen unless modifiers are introduced. I wish I could say I follow my own advice. I don’t. I always need others to help me out. But this is a necessary process, we always need others to give us a good kick in the butt to motivate us to good actions.

At this time I’m going to give you a good excuse for your reluctance to get out of yourself for a moment; the media. I was starkly make aware of this when reading this article in The Dailywire: “POLL: 72% Say Media ‘Dividing Americans,’ Spreading ‘Hate’”. (This article can be read HERE.)

Let me quote the first two paragraphs, though there are other things said, as well, but this sets the tone I’m going for:

“More than seven in ten Americans think the media are “dividing Americans” and spread “hate and misunderstanding,” according to a new poll.

“In a poll conducted November 7-8, Zogby Analytics asked 1,024 likely voters “Do you agree or disagree: The mainstream media has played a major role in dividing Americans along racial, gender and political lines. This has led to a spread of hate and misunderstanding among some people.”

This is one cause for our reluctance to suspend criticism; we’re being promoted to keep it up by our media. It just so happened that yesterday I was listening to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, Revisionist History, whose book Turning Point I read many years ago that really influenced me. Season 1, Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are essays on very intelligent students in poor neighborhoods and what’s happening to them in contrast to very intelligent students in rich neighborhoods. Malcolm’s title in episode 2 is “Food Fight”. He discusses the food offered between two elite Eastern schools, Bowdoin College and Vassar College. The real story is about the intelligent poor students and the intelligent rich students and Malcolm presented this in the context of the realities each school and the State was dealing with in how to accommodate both, seen in the different foods each serve for lunch. Hearing all this was a great reminder that issues are complex before they are simple. If I’m a social justice warrior I come at this in a typically caricature way; evil rich oppressing the poor and have only one point of argument. It’s the only argument I see today and the cry always ends up why won’t things change because they don’t? I’ll tell you why. We’ve missed the complexity of the issue, dismissed it for the simple. But we kind of come to this honestly because we are typically hit over the head with something called Occum’s Razor.

“Occam’s razor, also spelled Ockham’s razor, also called law of economy or law of parsimony, principle stated by the Scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) that pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.” (Encyclopedia Britannica:“Occam’s razor.”

William has been given too much credit for wisdom. Too simple can be just as wrong as too complex. In the end, what’s really simple is our understanding. What caught my attention listening to Gladwell was that this issue between the rich and the poor, both equally intelligent, had become so complex, unnecessarily, but if we just dismissed this because the complex confused the simple we have to untangle the complex to get to the simple. We just couldn’t dismiss the complex as evil.

Let me clarify what I just said because it speaks to where we began about being critical too much. Let me say that I got from Gladwell more than what he was talking about but it was there to see. Colleges and universities exist because someone pays for them; for the buildings, for the supplies, for the utilities, for the materials used, for the professors who teach, for the secretaries who keep it all together. All this costs money someone has to pay for because colleges and universities do not, other than creative thinking, create saleable products, widgets, if you will. State colleges are paid for the most part by the citizens of each state and the tuitions paid by students and by money given by alumni. Private and elite colleges are paid for by supporting institutions which could be churches, businesses, students, and alumni. No matter what the subscription service is, like magazines or television, or colleges (students) the subscription price never covers the basic costs, it always take more money than that. For magazines or newspapers or television that extra money to cover costs comes from advertising. We the reader or watcher don’t always like the room advertising takes up interfering with our reading or watching, but there would be no magazines or newspapers or television without it. That’s reality. In the same way colleges must do what it must to support all it does and collect money to continue its service. That includes keeping the majority of students from the rich side of life, a smaller portion from the poor side that requires support, that support coming from the money to run the college. It’s this I got a glance at listening to Gladwell and I had to say, “Yes, that’s true, these are things we have to consider and not just dismiss.” Now, this doesn’t mean the colleges always do it right. They often get it all out of proportion and do not offer enough to the intelligent poor, and if we start yelling at colleges because we think they are doing it all wrong and our yelling isn’t offering real solutions, it’s just noise. This is a critical that is just pejorative, not constructive.

Now, I’m going to repeat something I often like to say: Every action starts with a cause. You will never properly understand the action without also understanding the cause.

Here is a really funny phrase we’ve all said at different times in our life: “I’m an adult, I don’t need to be told what to believe or do, I can take care of myself.” Actually this is both true and a lie. It’s more a truth we want to believe than a truth we follow.

You know, it’s easier to spot hypocrisy in someone you disagree with than in those you do agree with, and of course yourself. That’s kind of natural and we have to choose to accept it in our friends and ourselves, that they and we are being hypocritical. The obvious, you know, is obvious. Too often our criticisms are just rantings because we are just knee-jerk reacting. We don’t see this because we’re not aware of the media leading us by our noses causing this and we’re just repeating what we are letting in us through the media we watch.

But here’s the kicker: the Zogby Analytic poll found that mostly we are aware of the media’s role in “dividing Americans” and spreading “hate and misunderstanding”. Okay, then here’s my question:

Why are we still letting the media lead us around by our noses?