Saturday, 15 September 2012

Is Critical Thinking On The Decline?

I've managed to pick up a few books of late which complain about the inability of modern Western society to think critically.

While reality TV like Survivor and tabloids focusing on whether or not one of the Kardashians is eating make this accusation rather easy, I've been wondering if it's actually true.

One of the common bemoaning features is time spent with TV, computer and other electronic devices.  The complaint is: look at the time we're wasting!  And with manipulative media which suck us into spending more time than we wanted in doing nothing.

Okay, true.  Being able to plonk down at home and have the world at your fingertips is a new one for the human species (socially speaking).  But people have always looked to entertainment more than the more difficult self-improvement.  When newspapers were first coming out, conservatives were complaining that they were full of nonsense, trivia and advertising.  Newspapers distracted and prevented people from studying the Bible and the classics, which were acknowledged as the culture enrichment option.

Modern complainants forget that Shakespeare was pretty much the Steven Spielberg of his day.  He wrote plays to entertain, often in a very short amount of time and borrowing (cough, plagiarizing) from common stories and other playwrights.  His goal was not the improvement of the human race but having enough money to pay the bills and afford some luxuries.  That the stories he wrote still speak to us is wonderful and can't be underestimated, but he wasn't creating Art, he was producing pop culture.

The medium of education is changing and while we have the right to be concerned about some of the lessons modern video games, music and television are offering, a grumpy "things were better back then" is not a productive solution.  The reason people are turning more and more to these options is because they're easy.  But that's how we've always done it.  Laughs, love and a bit with a dog will triumph over dense imagery and clouded symbolism every time.  But sometimes, the bit with the dog can teach us.

Rather than dismissing the whole thing out of hand, I think we should be encouraging the truly excellent writers out there to become even more prolific.

That would be something.

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