Critical Thinking in an Age of Feelings

The COVID Internment, the rise of Mask Empire, and the normalization of Black Lives Matter and Antifa violence have clarified in spades that critical thinking, as opposed to mindless emoting, is more necessary than ever.

It is misleading to suggest that feelings or emotions are of no consequence.  The difference between the critical thinking and feeling is that whatever feelings a person experiences at any given moment are no substitute for clear, honest, and authentic thinking.

Feelings in and of themselves, divorced from reason and the sensitivity to contextual considerations, undermine the God-endowed dignity of the human person by diverting the mind away from truth.

Just because a person feels this or that most definitely does not mean, as the feelers among us assume, that their feelings are infallible.  Feelings can be based upon a warped understanding of reality.

It is critical thinking that is a selfless activity, for the engagement of critical thinking is a mode of self-transcendence.  If human beings possess an inviolable dignity, it is because they are made in the image of the God Who created them.  And if they are made in God’s image, then this is because humans, unlike plants and animals, possess two faculties that distinguish them from the rest of living things on Earth: reason and will.  Yet even if one is put off by talk of God, one will still grant that, fundamentally, humans are persons because of their ability to think, to reason.

Intrinsic to thinking are canons of logic and rationality that are of no one’s choosing and that aren’t in the least impacted by one’s subjective emotions.  The critical thinker seeks to trade in a universally human currency.  Moreover, because critical thinking, like the language in which it occurs, is always, inescapably, interpersonal, the critical thinker seeks to make of others joint enterprisers in the search for truth.

The feelers, on the other hand, can’t get beyond themselves.  Far from welcoming discourse with others, they are conversation-killers; they render intellectual intercourse with other human beings impossible.

In the Age of the Great UnReason, critical thinking is as necessary as it has ever been.  But it is hard.  The costs — lost relationships, being on the outs with the herd — are considerable.  Most will not rise to the occasion.  But the rewards are great: by engaging higher capacities, critical thinkers emancipate themselves from their animal nature; affirm their dignity and that of those with whom they enter into dialogue; and acquire such virtues as good faith, analytical prowess, humility, honesty, civility, and courage. 

Hannah Arendt famously noted that it wasn’t the stupidity of Adolph Eichmann that led to his monstrous actions.  Eichmann wasn’t stupid.  Rather, the architect of the Holocaust suffered from “a curious, but quite authentic, inability to think.” 

This phenomenon, she made a point of arguing, was hardly limited to Eichmann, the Nazis, and their sympathizers.  It is endemic.  It is also connected to moral character in that those who can’t think beyond memes, bumper stickers, clichés, and the conventional wisdom are that much more susceptible than the critical thinker to conform, to go along to get along.

They are that much more prone to become complicit in all manner of evil.

If Arendt were alive today, in 2020, in the Age of the Great UnReason and the COVID Scare, she would undoubtedly regard her thesis as having been vindicated in spades.

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