Alan Jacobs is a professor of humanities at Baylor University who has written often about cultural issues in publications ranging from The Atlantic to First Things. He is an evangelical Anglican to boot.
In 2017, he published “How to Think”, which almost anyone can finish in a couple of days’ time. The subtitle tells it all: “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.”
Apparently, not enough people in America have read his book yet. Coarse civil discourse and censorship has shut down thoughtful, reasonable political debate and compromise almost as much as COVID lockdowns shut down the economy last year.
His basic premise is that none of us know how to think 100% solely for ourselves. We desperately want to be accepted as part of a group, preferably in “The Inner Circle” of said group. We adopt the tenets and mantras of said group and then tie ourselves up into knots as we combine to fight the “Repugnant Cultural Otherness” (RCO) of the “other side.”
Faith-based believers combine against secular professors in academia. Black Lives Matter activists rail against all white people. Progressive socialists want to overthrow capitalism run by rich people.
No one wants to be a Lone Ranger so we stop thinking 100% objectively on every issue. We agree to parrot all of the prevailing positions of The Group and keep our mouth shut on the few issues with which we disagree.
Everyone has a blind side but almost all are unwilling to admit it. There are secular medical professionals and scientists who believe everything can be proven by “science.” However, those who are pro-abortion rights get the draw-ups when it comes to admitting the actual physiological biology — yes, the “science” — of a human fetus. They maintain that a human zygote is “just a mass of cells,” or as one abortion-rights activist told me with a straight face: “A human fetus is nothing but a growing wart until it reaches viability,” whenever that is supposed to be.
Conservatives who support President Trump and Republicans in Congress swallow their spending-control proclivities and balanced-budget principles and say and do nothing to protest their inability to cut spending when they have been in power during the past 20 years.
“Science” for liberals and “fiscal sanity” for conservatives quickly get sacrificed on the altar of rationalized political expediency when convenient to whatever point of view a person wants to take, apparently.
Social media platforms started out with the ideal of opening up debate and access to data and information to the masses to encourage thoughtful debate and exchange of ideas. Instead, social media has evolved into a tool to censor debate and force people to conform to the dictates of liberal groups…or else. One false step, as in speaking the truth as you see it, means you will be “canceled” or literally exiled from your group and forced to go find a new safe home that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere anymore.
Jacobs ends his book with a 12-point “Thinking Person’s Checklist” that offers hope. When verbally attacked by an opponent in print or in-person, give it five minutes before responding. Value learning over debating. Gravitate toward people who value community and can handle disagreement with equanimity.
Leaders in American history at the national political level and in communities have been people with intelligence and experience who can put aside their personal feelings and try to persuade others to come to their point of view through reason and facts presented in a winsome, sometimes humorous, self-effacing manner.
So much of the public political commentary seen on the daily news is flat-out wrong, incorrect, distorted and misleading information put out there by political spin doctors, not experts in any chosen field.
We can’t live in “Alice and Wonderland” where “down is up” or George Orwell’s “1984” where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” much longer, can we?
Try using the concepts in “How to Think” to try to help turn things around.