INTELLECTUAL DANGER: Are our arguments based on ignorance, without hearing the other side?
AS civilisation gets more complex, societies uphold plurality of values, perceptions and worldviews. As change leaders have contending agendas, there is an assault on thinking capacities and reason.
Thinking has to do with clarity of values and assumptions. If the values and assumptions are not correct in the first instance, then the arguments used for thinking can lead to disasters.
This has occurred in the cases of the arguments in the Spanish Inquisition, and Adolf Hitler's rise on the purity of the Aryan race.
We can indeed be surprised by the lines of logic of arguments by leaders as well as by followers in public discourse. The lines of logic in Facebook, blogs and other social media which reflect high toxicity in reactions to all kinds of matters can be equally depressing.
Surprise about the types of thinking may have to do with individual emotional thinking. It may also have to do with systematic groupthink from racial, religious, cultural and ideological perspectives.
Good thinking leaders may also have flawed thinking in some areas of thought processes, especially in the political arena, because of the survival mentality of having to play to the gallery. Good people and true scholars will be steadfast and true to their thinking processes and their causes.
It is interesting to note that when invited to apply knowledge and thinking to some purpose regarding race, religion, culture and politics, the true measure of flawed thinking with many embedded unexamined assumptions emerges, problems of consistent lines of objective thinking emerge and much subjectivity gets in the way.
From examination results and achievements celebrated ad infinitum, it may be surmised that more and more are good thinkers. If there has been more and more education, has the quality of thinking improved overall or have we been so successful in growing groupthinking?
Interview panels have noted that when our best are invited to comment on racial, religious, cultural and political matters, the high ideal of high-order cognitive competency gives way to low-order cognitive competency and low-order lines of thinking, flawed in so many ways.
Maybe we have been successful in getting learners to master subject-based thinking and not the command of mind to exercise thinking to some purpose. Subject-based thinking is about mastery of facts, concepts and examples from the school syllabi.
It also includes the research methods used regarding the knowledge of particular subjects. It would seem that thinking based on school or university subjects has to do with basic or advanced subject-based literacies and does not apply to overall literacies or general intelligences.
Specialised school subject thinking may not be adequate for life and nation-building challenges.
Again and again what is observed in thinking is the phenomenon of Argumentum ad ignoratiam -- an argument based upon ignorance (of one's adversary), with no capacity of Audi alteram partum -- hearing the other side.
If this is true then we are in the situation of clear and present intellectual danger. In such a situation, the best of our academic success stories could be easy prey for the mind-snatchers and the merchants of doubt.
There are indeed many gurus of thinking. The notion of thinking can indeed be confusing.
Besides the expected frequent pronouncements by political and community leaders to urge people to think in innovative and creative ways in the wider society, there is the standard academic focus on so-called critical thinking and problem-solving culture in academe.
In schools in the 1960s, students learned the art of thinking from books such as Straight and Crooked Thinking and Reading and Reasoning, Thinking to some Purpose and The Art of Thinking.
Those were the early years of independence when the debates were about building a united multiracial Malaysian nation respecting rights and differences. Then, we did not have a large number of the educated ignorant.
Today, students are not exposed to such quality texts and are not adequately guided by mentors who are challenged to examine their own thinking seriously.
As people are now conscious regarding their physical health and the wrong foods they eat, which lead to many kinds of bodily dysfunctions, people should begin to address their consciousness regarding their intellectual dysfunctions, faulty lines of thinking, wrong values and assumptions, and erroneous first principles.
The challenge of true thought leadership in society as well as academic leadership is about raising the levels of thinking through the stages of the beginning thinker to the developing, competent, accomplished level of thinking, striving for elegance par excellence.
Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid firstname.lastname@example.org is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University. New Straits Times Columnist 11 January 2013