Critical Thinking — Examples

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Example 1: Paris Attacks – November 2015 – or Orlando Attack of June, 2016—Where Should We Place these horrible crimes in the Spectrum of World Events? Where On the Scale of Threats to the World?

Obviously you can see other problems in the world that are more scary and threatening than ISIS? See below for our picks of world problems number one through three.

ISIS is certainly a serious problem to be dealt with and controlled; but some are seeing the over-reaction by the media and the political class as hysteria. We’ll examine that here for a start on examples of critical thinking.

(You might start your thinking on this question with a review of what sustains ISIS? Imagine we were to destroy ISIS within the next year by military means (massive invasion of the main countries where it is located and destroying as much of its facilities and an many of its armed men as possible). Wouldn’t it be highly likely that they, or some similar group would be reformed in very little time. Why? We need to get at the root of the problem.  We suggest this article as a start relative to that concept.)

Much warmongering has been seen from politicians, the media and the public in regard to the Paris November “terrorist” murders. An example was  a New York Times article by Roger Cohen on 11/19/15 calling for immediate war, boots on the ground, invasion by the US and these kinds of statements:

  • ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it……………..But Obama does not have the will………..The West has lost its spine……….if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement……….This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11.

This is irrational and emotionally based and not critical thinking; it is primitive, reptilian brain reflexes.

Several thoughtful comments by New York Times readers on Mr. Cohen’s article:

(Adam S: Maple Grove, MN) This is one of those times I’m thankful I voted for president Obama. One thing I had hoped for, though, was slow, measured reactions at times when anger may get the best of us. I’m thankful we got that. On Friday the 13th, terrorists killed 130 innocent people. It’s absolutely tragic. Taking nothing from the victims, this is a blip that amounts to almost nothing on a global scale. The fact that terrorists take their victims in one day rather than slowly and steadily over the years, like gun violence, obesity, and natural disasters such as climate change, should not promote our response to a higher priority. This didn’t even happen in our country. I’m saddened that people lost their lives, but terrorism is a small issue that has taken a couple thousand western lives in the last 50 years. Our response should match the scale of the problem. We’ve had one terrorist attack that took a few thousand innocent lives over ten years ago. We responded by going to war which took hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and led to the mess we have now.

(yogi29073: South Carolina) Boots on the ground is not the solution. Boots on the ground is a reaction to the problem, not a resolution of the problem. Too defeat ISIS requires more then military might, it requires, as our President rightly insists, a political resolution as well. All of the counties that want ISIS defeated need to cut off its life blood, money and guns, from reaching it, then offer political solutions that rebuild a functional; government. These are suggested solutions; whether they actually happen is problematic. Tribalism, sectarian divisions and differing power struggles within ISIS itself and the region in general have created almost insurmountable walls to any real solution.My only suggestion at this point is to coordinate Intelligence between European and American agencies to stop further bloodshed in Europe and America and take our time in looking for ways to starve the ISIS beast and cut off it’s fresh flow of fighters, money and weapons. That would be a good start.

(Tim C: San Diego, CA) Obama’s caution is appropriate. We are all outraged and saddened by the events in Paris, and certainly no free country is safe. But the problem of terrorism confounds traditional military solutions. We need patience, and continued investment in security, intelligence gathering, and better screening across boarders. The lethality of modern weapons means that one or a few individuals can wreak havoc, and free societies have not really figured out what to do about it. There is no single solution, but it is clear that more collaboration and investment in security is needed.

(The Ancient One: Cambridge, MA) Roger. This was a most disappointing column, a view seemingly shared by the vast majority of the commentators. For me, your suggestions are written out of disgust, fear, and anger, as opposed to your normal reflective judgement. As horrible and gut-wrenching the attack, the responses to it must be clear-eyed and detached; we should not be responding from a stance of anger. Obama’s decision on this one should be lauded and not treated as spineless. It is a decision of a courageous leader willing to hold off pointless actions such as committing US troops and resources to a three-cornered battle, based on who knows what, with no agreed upon outcome. We would only lose if your strategy was followed. Obama is correct to avoid the path that Bush would have taken us down, wrapping himself in the flag, peppering us with empty bravado, and sowing the grounds for yet more terrorism.

The above comments are excellent thoughts from thoughtful Americans using Critical Thinking.

Problems Larger than ISIS: Number One:

Nine countries together possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status – ready to be launched within minutes of a warning. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people, with the effects persisting for decades. (reference link)

So we would lose millions if not billions of people in hours and have the persisting horror for many, many years. The classic dystopian fiction: creation of an utterly horrible world catastrophe that portends irreversible oblivion. One cannot say this is impossible; simply look at potential threats and souring of relations triggered by recent Russian invasions and incursions into Ukraine, Syria, and Turkey, their computer hacking and their lies about their goals in Syria.  Or Chinese claiming certain territories in the East China Sea and constant strife seen between Israel and other countries in the Middle East. And of course the mad men in North Korea who, as of September 2016 with some apparent success, are developing missiles and nuclear weapons. All of these countries are nuclear powers including Israel. Other nations such as Iran apparently wish to obtain such weapons in the volatile  setting of the Middle East. In 2015, several American Republican Presidential candidates stated that, if a no fly zone was established in Syria and Russian planes violated it, they would have them shot down; that is certainly the beginning of WWIII.  

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert. Thousands more—around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve.

Recent ideas supporting above statements:

Smaller U.S. Bombs Are Adding Fuel to Nuclear Fear; By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER

The Energy Department and Pentagon have been readying a smaller weapon, setting off a philosophical clash in the world of nuclear arms.

And Noam Chomsky gave us a recent review of all this.

Problems Larger than ISIS: Number Two: (Scientifically well documented on this website and needs little elaboration). A brief summary from this website:

There is no “controversy” about global climate change (GCC); it is occurring and is largely caused by human mining and burning of fossil fuels.  It’s empirical observation, objective fact. The world is in serious jeopardy of missing the emissions target agreed upon in Rio to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial level. Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences. An eleven degree Fahrenheit rise in the average global temperature, which is one scenario, would be cataclysmic and produce a nightmarish, unimaginable world. The World Bank has stated that “it is not clear that adaptation to a 4 degrees Centigrade rise world is possible.” (a 4° Centigrade rise is equal to a 7.2° F rise).

An excellent summary statement is this by Peter Thiel: “Only recently has climate anxiety challenged nuclear fear. Just as the impact of coal smoke dwarfs the effects of radiation from Fukushima, global warming is predicted to be far worse than mere pollution. The problem is so big that some prominent environmentalists have already declared defeat.”

Hence this is another event which could lead to an utterly horrible world catastrophe that portends irreversible oblivion. And this will happen if we stay on the “business as usual” path.This year, 2015, will undoubtedly be the hottest year on record for the Earth. Climate change is  occurring now and not dependent on any threats or strife between countries as is the nuclear war scenario. But those tensions  between countries will rise as climate changes, water and food become scarce and the warming planet in general causes more economic chaos.

Problems Larger than ISIS: Number Three: (overpopulation causing decline of resources, competition between nations for these resources,  poverty,  more climate change and difficulty dealing with it, etc.) 

Problems Larger than ISIS: Number Four: (you can decide this one —  your best guess and opinion). If you like, put it in a comment below. Is it ISIS?

So where do you put issues like gun control, abortion, immigration, health insurance, gay marriage, etc., when you think of the “big three” above? These social and national issues are of course very important in our lives for safety and freedom. But did you ever consider the thought that politicians might be trying to control and distract you with these smaller, non-life threatening issues to avoid dealing with the larger, really existential issues of nuclear weapons, climate change and overpopulation? Why would they do that? Yes, pretty cynical. 

Here is an excellent one for you; it may be crudely put but its literary form is effective.

……..the privileged Americans, the ones who had the least to fear from the powers that be, the ones with the surest paths to brighter futures, the ones who are by every metric one of the most fortunate groups in the history of the world, were starting to die off in shocking numbers.

The Case and Deaton report, Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century, describes an increased death rate for middle-aged American whites “comparable to lives lost in the US Aids epidemic.” This spike in mortality is unique to white Americans – not to be found among other ethnic groups in the United States or any other white population in the developed world, a mysterious plague of despair.

In one way, it was easy to account for all this white American death – “drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis”, according to the report.

As I drove through the outskirts of the ruins of Detroit, across the I-94, one of the ugliest highways in the United States, the old familiar lightness fluttered to my heart. I love America. America is not my mother. Canada is my mother. But America is an unbelievably gorgeous, surprisingly sweet rich lady who lives next door and appears to be falling apart.

On the I-94 you do find yourself asking: what the fuck is wrong with these people? I mean, aside from the rapid decline of the middle class obviously. And the rise of precarious work and the fact that the basic way of life requires so much sedation that nearly a quarter of all Americans are on psychiatric drugs, and somewhere between 26.4 and 36 million Americans abuse opioids every day. Oh yes, and the mass shootings. There was more than one mass shooting a day. And the white terrorists targeting black churches again. And the regularly released videos showing the police assassinating black people. And the police in question never being indicted, let alone being sent to jail.

And you know what Americans were worried about while all this shit was raining down on them? While all this insanity was wounding their beloved country? You know what their number one worry was, according to poll after poll after poll?

Muslims. Muslims, if you can believe it.

The white man pathology, The Guardian, 


Example 2: Comment on PBS NewsHour, January 5th, 2016 Regarding Gun Control

On the date indicated, President Obama announced changes to clarify existing gun laws he would make by executive order and other policy changes he would like to see. He would like to see more spending on mental health, make mental health treatment more available, and promote more advance research to make guns safer in the hands of children.

(In terms of mental health, we might mention here, that the mother of the young man who killed the 20 children and 6 adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT, knew her son had mental health problems but kept the family guns in an unlocked closet in his bedroom. Where is the mental health problem there? The mother was also a fanatical Doomsday Prepper, a survivalists  who was preparing to survive the various circumstances that may cause the end of civilization, including economic collapse, societal collapse, and electromagnetic pulse.Should we hold parents and persons in general responsible for such irresponsible behavior?)

The day President Obama publicly announced these changes and new suggestions in the area of Gun  Regulation, the program PBS NewHour reported the event and one of its co-anchors and managing editors made this comment:

Others wondered just how much impact his changes could have in a country where Americans own an estimated 300 million guns.

They were not quoting anyone and it appeared to be an editorial statement of the Program. DO YOU SEE ANY ILLOGICAL THINKING OR LACK OF CRITICAL THINKING IN THEIR STATEMENT? Even if it was not an editorial statement but just mentioning a popular irrational belief, why should they repeat such nonsense? It definitely appeared as though they thought the statement had some kind of  rational validity.

(Think about this and we will be back to give our opinion regarding what appears to us to be a very irrational editorial comment. (hint: there are 258 million registered automobiles in the United States and in 2013, 32,719 auto deaths occurred. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Firearm homicides in 2013 were 11,208; Firearm Deaths per 100,000 population were 3.5.  More data coming. Keep thinking)


Example 3: United States Supreme Court Decision on Prayer at Government Meetings-2014

Supreme Court

This 5-4 decision stated prayer is a fine thing to do at public government meetings based on the fact that it is a “tradition” and “custom.” Of course slavery, only allowing men to vote, only allowing white men who own land to vote, only allowing heterosexual couples to marry, etc. were all once considered fine traditions and customs. We could add many other traditions and customs that we now believe are not good ideas.

This error in thinking has a formal name in Latin: “argumentum ad antiquitatem.”  In other words, “this is correct because we have always done it this way.” It is also simply called “Appeal to Tradition.”

The five Justices voting for this decision, the “politicians in fine robes” are also all Catholic. Could this be another error —  “Argumentum ad populum;” an appeal to the people. A fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because the court majority believe it or many or all people believe it; it alleges that “If many believe it so, it is so.” In ethics this argument is stated, “if many find it acceptable, it is acceptable.” But we are  not dealing with ethics here. The United States has a Constitution that protects the civil rights of minorities from majority rule and religious beliefs are well known to be covered under that concept.

And these trite arguments from the Supreme Court of the Land.

Bad practices should be abandoned and that includes listening to other persons religious beliefs at government meetings! Richard A. Posner, a United States federal appeals court judge, wisely noted this regarding court decisions and state statutes against same sex marriage:

“Traditions are not invariably or reliably good. They can sometimes be bad (“cannibalism, foot-binding, and suttee”) or sometimes neither good nor bad (“trick-or-treating on Halloween.”). Tradition per se therefore, cannot be a lawful ground for discrimination.”