Mike Kueber's Blog

August 5, 2012

Bumper sticker #1 – “Critical thinking: the other national deficit.”

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:18 am

While returning from the gym today, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Critical thinking: the other national deficit.”  Coincidentally, I received a blog comment yesterday from a close friend in Austin who suggested that TEA Party activists lack critical-thinking skills:

  • I don’t know enough about Ayn Rand to know whether she would be on the front-line of the TEA Party.  However, characteristics that serve mankind well as children, accepting as true what adults tell them without argument, lead to well-disciplined children who can progressive rapidly and successfully through childhood; the same characteristic in adults leads to the lack of ability to critically think and makes for indolent, dull followers who listen for what they want to be told and then believe that.  That, unfortunately, is what I see the TEA Party people being.”

I responded to my friend as follows:

  • I agree that the front-lines of the TEA Party seem to be ‘manned’ by an inordinate number of indolent, dull followers who lack the ability or inclination to critically think. But perhaps it seems that way because the movement is so de-centralized. Movements by their nature need to enlist support wherever they can find it.  As President Obama suggested, I think, personal initiative (and opportunity) needs to remain the cornerstone of the American way, not an enticing safety net.  Do you think your comments might apply more to the Moral Majority than the TEA Party?

Upon further reflection, there are two issues here:

  1. Is it accurate to say that political conservatives (fiscal conservatives – TEA Party; social conservatives – Moral Majority) have underdeveloped critical-thinking skills when compared to liberals?
  2. If so, why is that?

Critical thinking has been described as, inter alia, (a) thinking that clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions; and (b) the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

In my blog posting that elicited the comment from my friend in Austin, I described Ayn Rand’s contrasting of mysticism (religion) and reason, and  Rand’s “reason” seems equivalent to “critical thinking”:

  • Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and one’s reason.  Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as instinct, intuition, revelation, or any form of just knowing.”  Rand believes that mysticism was killed during the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment, and it was replaced by reason – i.e., “the faculty which perceives, identifies, and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” 

So, according to Rand, religious people are almost by definition more willing to “claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as ‘instinct,’ ‘intuition,’ ‘revelation,’ or any form of ‘just knowing.’”  And from her perspective, these methods of gaining knowledge are antithetical to critical thinking.  Thus, to the extent that conservatives are more religious, Rand would expect them to be lacking in critical-thinking skills. 

When I discussed this subject last night with my best friend, a liberal Catholic, he immediately rejected the premise that being conservative and an intellectual were antithetical and pointed to a conservative patron saint, William F. Buckley, as evidence.  (Famous atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair once chided Buckley for being far too intelligent to be a Catholic.)  I responded that the premise was not that it was impossible to be value religion and critical thinking, but that the two traits do not easily co-exist.     

When I searched the internet to identify any discussion of conservatives and critical thinking, I found a plethora of articles relating to a plank in the 2012 Texas GOP platform (which might have prompted my Austin friend’s comments).  The plank reads as follows:

  • Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Although I previously blogged about several remarkable planks in this platform, I failed to highlight this plank as significant.  Liberals, such as Stephen Colbert and Paul Begala, have made a lot of fun of the plank, and the Texas GOP chairman has admitted that plank was a bad choice of words because their objective was to come out against Outcome-Based Education, not critical-thinking skills.    Incidentally, Outcome-Based Education has been under attack by conservatives such as Phyllis Schlafly since 1993, but her key criticisms have little to do with critical thinking.  On one hand, however, as one blogger has noted, the prevalence of secular liberals in the education hierarchy causes many conservatives to be distrustful of delegating much discretion or authority to teachers.    On the other hand, it is difficult to teach critical thinking without “challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” 

When I goggled about conservatives and critical thinking, I received all sorts of references to the Texas platform debacle.  When I goggled about liberals and critical thinking, I found the following anecdotal bit of evidence from a blog called “The Liberal Lunch”:  

  • Do conservatives lack critical-thinking skills?  In my opinion, yes.  In an unscientific study (conducted by yours truly), it has been theorized that the farther right one leans, the more one loses their critical thinking abilities. On numerous occasions I have attempted to have a debate with a conservative. The following is the most recent example of an attempted debate with a tea party member from my home town, Rockford, IL.  I should have realized it was very unfair of me to have a battle of wits with an unarmed individual.

This guy does not sound like the sharpest tool in the shed, so I wouldn’t give his study much credence.  Fortunately, there were some other sites that provided information:

  • Livescience.com reported that research basically shows conservatives are less able to think creatively, and liberals are less able to think critically. 
  • TheThinkerBlog.com takes a contrary position.  “It turns out that the amygdala tends to be larger in conservatives, whereas the anterior cingulate cortex tends to be larger in liberals. The amygdala has a role in emotional thinking and fear; the anterior cingulate cortex is related to cognitive learning ability and the processing of conflicting information.”

And, according to a CNN report in 2010, there is a connection between liberal thinking and a high IQ:

  • Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.  Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women.” 

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive survey, and the conflicting conclusions create doubt.  More importantly, the question of whether liberals in general employ better critical-thinking skills is fundamentally irrelevant. 

Smart individuals do not get more than one vote.



  1. […] on my bike ride this morning, two thoughts struck me regarding my posting yesterday about the Texas GOP and critical thinking.  To refresh your memory, the problematic […]

    Pingback by Further thoughts regarding the Texas GOP and critical thinking « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 5, 2012 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  2. […] with more than its share of dullards who lack the ability to engage in critical thinking.  I responded in my blog that this perception may have arisen because the TEA Party is decentralized and thus doesn’t have […]

    Pingback by The Crackpot Caucus « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 28, 2012 @ 10:53 am | Reply

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