May 7, 2013

Committing Critical Thinking

It is hard to believe in global capitalism once you start
critically thinking about it


North America, in my experience as both a student and a teacher, has always been proudly anti-intellectual. Why? Because decision makers have always known that an uneducated, uninformed population is easier to exploit and manipulate.

The blissfully unaware are easier to lead to their mundane jobs, and then to the mall after work. Such a population won't notice the degradation of the environment or personal freedoms.

I used to look south across the border and cringe at the anti-intellectualism of the Bush years because it went way beyond the usual dumbing us down routine. Now my own country has been invaded by a leadership that preaches the uselessness of critical thinking of any kind, and then formulates new laws to back up the sermon.

In response to the horrific Boston bombings, Canada's Prime Minister basically responded by telling us now was not the time to think (or "commit sociology" as he inanely put it), but to look around for the biggest stick we can find and start bashing suspicious looking foreigners.

Is there ever a time to not think? Isn't that what has gotten us into the messes we currently face on a global scale? So much for being proactive and practicing evidence-based prevention to ease and perhaps solve our pressing problems.

I found the following open letter at straight.com (a local online news source) that reflects my frustration, embarrassment, and shame in the great leaps backwards that our current anti-intellectual government has been taking us on every front.

Open letter: Thou shalt not commit sociology (or critical thinking of any kind)

by Staff on Apr 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm

The anti-intellectualism of Stephen Harper demands a reply. In face of global capitalism’s mounting crisis, critical interrogation of social phenomena, causes and consequences is urgently needed. We invite Canadians to ‘commit sociology’ and indeed ‘history’, ‘literary criticism’, ‘philosophy’, ‘political science’, ‘anthropology’, ‘critical legal studies,’ ‘political economy’, and ‘feminist studies’. 
The latest attack on independent research and scholarship is part of the current Conservative government’s attempt to keep Canadians in the dark. Since at least the 1960s and 1970s, evidence-based research in the humanities and social sciences has illuminated pervasive injustice and inequality.  In Canada, long-standing colonialism in dealing with the First Nations, the ‘patriarchal dividend’ in employment, politics, education, and social security, the gulf between rich and poor, the scapegoating of racialized immigrants and foreign workers, the criminalization of the poor, and the hollowing out of the middle class have been confirmed.  To a significant degree, anti-racist, feminist, and other critical scholars have shaped policy and improved outcomes for the less powerful. Their scholarship has also encouraged social movements such as Idle No More and Occupy, which reject the market capitalism embraced by the right as the solution to global immiseration. 
Harper’s administration and its allies have mounted a general attack on critical research, be it in the humanities, the social sciences or the sciences. They want data-based interpretations of Canada that document elite, corporate, European, and male abuse to disappear. Their assault on the humanities and social sciences, like that on the sciences, began with censorship. Statistics Canada, archives, libraries, and parks and historic sites, not to mention programs of scientific research, have been hobbled.
National history is one special target of conservative efforts to cleanse Canada of proof of inequality and injustice. Ottawa’s 2011 “Discover Canada” guide to the citizenship test and 2012 immigrant guide, “Welcome to Canada,” foster a deliberately naïve patriotism.  Political decisions to turn the Canadian Museum of Civilization into one of History, to embrace reactionary commemorative practices, to militarize patriotic mythology, and to attack Library and Archives Canada, the principal depository of our history, aim to dumb down the electorate. 
The contest for hearts and minds goes far beyond anti-intellectualism. Current government practices form part of a broader process of public ‘de-gendering’ that aims at the systematic elimination of gender, racial, and class justice from public policy. That result threatens hard-fought struggles by Canadians of every description and scholarly investigation of every variety. 
In face of a world that is so self-evidently badly served by reactionary forces, we rededicate ourselves to committing critical scholarship.  We also support scientists who document the precarious state of the environment.  Like them we embrace the ‘sin’ of employing data in aid of a proactive public policy that fosters a sustainable and equitable planet.  We urge all Canadians to do the same.

The open letter was signed by 80 concerned critical thinkers from universities across the country.

When the leader of any country tells the population "now is not the time for thinking" it means they are hiding something and now is the time for thinking. It means that critical analysis and sanity is under threat.

It means that they know there are more of us, and that in spite of their attempts at obfuscation and befuddlement, we are educating ourselves. We are becoming aware of what is going on, and we don't like it.

With awareness comes the knowledge that we can, and will, stop the things that assault human and environmental rights. Like the fanatical right wing governments that are trying to take over the world and perpetuate their self-serving, harmful ways.

I hope Canadians will lend their critical thinking skills to our current management's manipulations, and help oust them all at the next election... if not sooner.

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