Today, more than ever, we need to practice critical thinking and the principles of critical theory. We are bombarded with partisan media, politics and opinion. We are faced with both sides of “Big Lie”, “Stop the Steal”, and “journalism” and shameless editorials. Without a structured and standardized approach to analysis, we are destined to wallow in unverified and unchallenged fantasies which can then become the fabric of our society, our institutions and our legal systems.
Critical thinking and theory profess no bias towards results, rather they focus us on a process of questioning and allow the result to evolve and crystallize more with ever deeper questions. We should never just accept, but rather assume that something is wrong, that something can be improved upon and / or be more holistically true. Processes and practices that encourage us to do explicit self-examination and that are more concerned with preventing the loss of the truth than being afraid of the resulting outcome are good for individuals, institutions and societies in general. . Critical thinking and theory generally has three aspects: 1) presuming something is wrong and identifying what, 2) identifying aspects, or actors, that can and / or need to be changed, and 3) setting standards for routine criticism and analysis. The only way to determine if our institutional knowledge is institutional myth is to question, probe and analyze every aspect critically, on an ongoing basis. If that turns out to be wrong, let the facts prevail. If it stands up to scrutiny, either the challenge needs to be changed or the facts are firm. Therefore, critical thinking and theory are the antithesis of cancellation culture.
As for the critical theory of race, let us be in agreement; racism is not biological. We were not born racists. It’s learned. Therefore, racism must be a normal feature of our social fabric, woven into our education, public policies and legal structure. If so, our responsibility as a society, as members of a civil order, is to ask ourselves critically what needs to be changed in these institutions and the legal framework to eradicate systematic racism. Consider how fuller and richer our accepted history would be if it were written including all perspectives, including those of race, religion, and gender. Imagine how our legal system could be improved, assuming that institutional racism could be recognized and removed.
If you are not ready to accept the pretext of institutional racism, ask yourself why it took more than a hundred years after the end of the Civil War for the Civil Rights Act to pass and for the Supreme Court to recognize the legitimacy of mixed marriages? Ask yourself why the Civil Rights Act was even necessary? Why were the Jim Crow laws passed and brutally enforced? And why, even today, are voter suppression laws being proposed and passed by state legislators?
Those of us who refuse to challenge social norms and the status quo will forever be the pawns of those who want to manipulate the uninformed with disinformation, biased partisan perspectives and conspiracy theories. Ironically, those who claim to nullify culture are those who have tried for centuries to nullify and ignore the historical perspectives of others. We are all, to some extent, racist and sexist; our social culture has made us who we are. Perhaps we should also engage in a critical theory of gender and critical religion.
And who am I? I’m an engineer, trained to question everything, question the status quo, and continually seek a better way to make things, systems and processes work. Trained to never take anything at face value, no matter who propagated the thought or the policy. One who has practiced the art of critical thinking and theory as an engineer and executive in the private and public sectors to advance engineering, as well as corporate and public policy. #NeverFeartheDream
William Barron lives in Bend.