Monday, August 25, 2008

Hope, Change, and Critical Thinking

I have long maintained that there are two distinctly different approaches at making decisions, in personal life, business, and politics. Understanding these widely different processes is key to understanding people’s values, philosophies, aspirations, and general make-up.

First is critical thinking. The first step in critical thinking is to identify the decision issue(s) in precise, objectivewho the decision impacts (i.e., who the players are); what the decision involves; when the decision is applicable relative to other factors that frame the decision (e.g., gulping in air is only appropriate before diving under water); where the decision is applicable (e.g., deciding whether to fight or flight only having relevance when confronted by a threat); how the options differ, and why the decision is to be made (motivation). terms. This includes understanding

Next, the decision options are analyzed to outline the key variables involved, contributions of each variable to the issue, relative importance of variables, sequence of events for the decision to be effective, etc. Most importantly, the different options of a decision must be analyzed to identify cause/effect relationships, and results of decisions.

Finally, a judgment must be made as to which decision options are preferable, based on objective criteria. In other words, a measurement of some sort must be made to see which outcome is best. Of course, defining what constitutes an outcome is of great importance, as it must be complete. For example, jumping off a cliff may be a good choice of ways to get a nice, scenic view, but the analysis must go beyond the first few feet of the fall, as the last few feet of the fall include data that may change one’s mind (or smash it!).

As you can see, critical thinking requires some effort, some discipline, and thought, which may not be desirable for some.

The second approach to decision-making is Intuition, aka Feelings, Inspiration, Emotion etc. This approach is appropriate in circumstances where objectivity is neither possible nor desirable, such as in artistic efforts, or when there is no time to make any other kind of decision, such as whether to duck or block a punch. When the issue being evaluated does allow for a critical analysis, it is easy to see where intuitive decisions lack the accuracy, specificity, repeatability, and justification of decisions arrived at by critical thinking processes. It must be admitted that sometimes better outcomes are arrived at by intuition than through critical thinking, but this can only be due to happenstance or faulty assumptions/processes/analysis.

Critical thinking is basically a means of avoiding error in decision making, but cannot guarantee errors are eliminated. Intuitive decisions are not concerned with error, as accuracy, propriety, quality are not even considered. And here is where I enter into the political realm.

Politically, some generalities: conservatives are more likely to employ critical thinking in decision-making, while liberals are more likely to employ intuition, feelings, and emotion. Case in point: Barak Obama’s slogan of “Hope and Change”. This mantra has been used repeatedly by Obama in every speech, interview, debate, advertisement, bumper sticker, and baby kiss in his campaign. But what does it mean? He has never said. There is no “there” there.

What hope? Hope for what? What kind of change? Change from what current condition to which future state? Without any details, and numbers, processes, metrics, or specific, critically arriving at any decision to support Obama is impossible. The only way an individual is allowed to decide to support Obama is emotionally -- which may arguably be fine in selecting a boyfriend, or a high-fashion model, or even a puppy. But to select the Leader of the Free World and Commander-In-Chief of the most powerful military in the history of history? I would imagine that this kind of decision is worthy of more thought and effort.

John McCain’s campaign has not revealed very much about his positions. Whether you agree with him or not, here is what we do know: he has stated that life begins at conception and he is committed to a pro-life presidency; he wants to cut everyone’s income taxes; he wants to eliminate earmarks and other pork-barrel spending; he wants to be assured of victory in Iraq before removing troops; he recognizes the threats of Iranian nukes and the Russian invasion of Georgia; and on and on. In other words, McCain welcomes critical thinking by providing the necessary information.

That is where we are with this campaign. Obama is committed to a liberal mindset to the extent that it would never even occur to him, or to his advisors, to provide the information necessary for critical thinking. His “Hope” is that the majority of voters will decide in his favor base solely on feelings, so Obama is only providing imagery and hyperbole to support that. McCain is confident that his ideas will stand up to the scrutiny of analysis by the majority of voters who will decide that his ideas are well-founded, well-thought-out, and will produce the desired outcomes for our nation.

Making important decisions based solely on emotion and intuition is potentially dangerous, because the conclusions are of unknown validity. This results in activated ignorance. To quote from Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life by Richard Paul and Linda Elder:

Some people believe, through activated ignorance, that they understand things, events, people, and situations that they do not. They act upon their false ideas, illusions, and misconceptions, often leading to needless waste, pain, and suffering. Sometimes activated ignorance is the basis for massive actions involving millions of people (think of the consequences of the Nazi idea that Germans were the master race and Jews an inferior race). Sometimes it is an individual misconception that is acted on only by one person in a limited number of settings. Wherever activated ignorance exists, it is dangerous.

Politically savvy people, such as campaign organizers and consultants, are very much aware of this. When Obama’s campaign structures their campaign to promote non-critical thinking, are they doing this just to get Obama elected and end there, or is this just the start of their means of communicating, managing, and ultimately, of governing?

I have a gut feeling, or a hunch, that everything will be all right. Even so, how will you decide come November?

1 comment:

Kay said...

Feelings are great tools for a first impression, but those who only use feelings to make decisions are often lead like sheep to the slaughter. Many of the people who followed Rev Jim Jones to Guyana felt good about the messages he was sending...but look where it got them.