Our political, economic, and social culture encourages people to avoid the big picture, succumb to groupthink, and ignore history. It’s much easier to maintain our peace of mind if we simply conform our opinions with those around us and avoid a tedious examination of the facts. However, the price we potentially pay is that we will get blindsided by what in retrospect seems an obvious problem. That’s when most people finally adjust their worldview to new realities. But by then, any damage is generally already done.
The question is why a species with the tolerably impressive intellectual capacities we’ve got has done such a bad job of applying those capacities in the face of civilization-ending threats. From this perspective, our problem can be phrased very precisely: the vast majority of people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think.
President Trump recently tried to eliminate the National Education Association and National Endowment for the Humanities. This proposal is another step in the already long process of marginalizing the humanities in society. According to Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher, the effects of the devaluation of and growing disinterest in the humanities could jeopardise democracy itself.
Following the massive bailouts, stimulus spending and quantitative easing of recent years, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep, says Richard Heinberg. But the coming global energy crisis will likely provide the jolt that wakes everyone up again.
As our world views begin to shift, there will be a lot of discussion about critical thinking. Shifting world views expose flaws in people’s thinking, from the ways we protect our ideas, to inaccurate assumptions, and to the inferences that result. This is in part because fundamental assumptions of our society are beginning to show cracks. There are many descriptions of critical thinking, but most of them do not go far enough in describing the synthesis necessary in describing our global problems. Ecological, macroscopic, and systems-based critical thinking is necessary to ask the proper questions about our global problems.