By Troy Headrick
My father is a creative genius and one of the most thoughtful men I’ve ever known. He’s a natural born philosopher and someone I love to talk with about all sorts of topics.
In February of 2020, during one of my last face-to-face visits with him—the pandemic has robbed us of many opportunities to spend time together—I asked him to name the greatest challenge facing humankind today. His answer was one I agreed with. He told me that there was a huge need for people to be able to think for themselves. He feels that too many lack the intellectual wherewithal to avoid being manipulated by conmen and demagogues. Such a situation means that many are enslaved by those who would propagandize or brainwash them for one purpose or another.
Lately, as a way of doing research, I’ve been regularly lurking on a political discussion board where most of the posters are—how can I say this diplomatically?—reactionary to the point of being scary. I have been studying the way they think and make arguments.
Here’s something I see happening by virtually all the aforementioned posters: They simply make assertions but provide no evidence in support of those claims. They believe that the claim itself is all the proof needed to make their argument valid and strong. (In other words, simply saying something is true makes it true.) If they do provide evidence, it usually comes in the form of something someone they admire has said.
Either these posters are being disingenuous, or they truly do not know that claims without proof are not true arguments. As someone who has spent decades teaching classes on critical thinking and argumentation, I find this astounding and disturbing. Once a large number of those in society no longer understand how to make reasonable assertions and provide relevant, sufficient, and compelling evidence in support of such claims, the ability to think logically—to move others with logic and be moved by it—atrophies. In such cases, persuasion is displaced by bullying and other forms of intimidation. A mind moved by logic and reason is orderly, strong, and just. Logic and reason are bulwarks against those who would foment racism, nativism, xenophobia, and other kinds of fallacious “thinking” to achieve evil ends.
My father is right. Those who can’t think for themselves become enslaved, making them victims. I would go further and say that they also tend to become victimizers because they begin to mimic those demagogic techniques they find so powerful.
We have recently seen what the intellectually enslaved and easily manipulated are capable of. They hold beliefs that cause them to act in ways that endanger themselves and others.
In my next blog, I want to talk about ways to free those who find themselves in this sort of bondage. I look forward to your responses.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.