FROM THE Magazine OF THE WASHINGTON POST October 26, 2017
Fix this democracy — now, 38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life
In his study of 19th-century American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville explained his mission this way: “I undertook to see, not differently, but further than the parties; and while they are occupied with the next day, I wanted to ponder the future.” Nearly two centuries later, all of us — Republican, Democrat, Trump supporter, Trump critic — should be able to agree that some future-pondering about the state of our democracy is in order.
In so many ways, the underlying conditions of U.S. democracy need repair. Among American citizens, ideological and philosophical divisions seem insurmountably sharp; among their representatives in Washington, compromise appears impossible. Whatever side you were on in last year’s election, it’s clear that the campaign brought these problems dramatically to the surface of our national life; it’s also clear that these challenges would have been with us, in equal measure, no matter who won.
And so, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the election, we asked dozens of writers and artists to look beyond the day-to-day upheavals of the news cycle and propose one idea that could help fix the long-term problems bedeviling American democracy. The result: 38 conservative, liberal, practical, creative, broad, specific, technocratic, provocative solutions for an unsettled country. — Richard Just
One of the 38 responses was this one,
BY KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR,
TEACH CRITICAL THINKING
[Although if critical thinking is at all like Plato’s virtue it can’t be taught.]
(Abdul-Jabbar’s most recent book is “Becoming Kareem,” an autobiographical account of his tumultuous, spiritual and athletic journey from childhood through college and his first year in the NBA.)
America’s No. 1 problem is zombies. And, yes, they really do want to eat your brains. They will not stop until everyone is a mindless, staggering, empty-headed shell of humanity just like them. Fortunately, there is a cure.
Okay, zombies are a metaphor. But the reality is just as cataclysmic. Nazis marching in Charlottesville with presidential approval (their words). Racist policies in the administration. Seventy billion dollars for a border wall that no experts believe will work. Climate-change-denying head of the Environmental Protection Agency. NPR tweets the Declaration of Independence on July Fourth and receives vitriolic backlash from Trump supporters, who not only don’t recognize the words but claim the network is inciting violence.
Oh, the humanity!
The federal government is in gridlocked turmoil because we the people have elected a Gordian knot of representatives without the intellectual capability, moral integrity or patriotic zeal to lead this country. How has this come about? Because the zombies that surround us are those Americans who have abandoned their responsibility as citizens to make choices based on facts and logic rather than selfish emotions and comfortable traditions. They have chosen to allow others to manipulate them based on their fears rather than control their own futures through reasoned choices.
The solution is to teach mandatory critical thinking in every year of public school from first through 12th grade. Students must become familiar with all the logical fallacies — slippery slope, false dilemma, begging the question, etc. — that are used by those seeking to confuse and manipulate them, whether they are politicians grubbing for votes, Russians disseminating fake news to influence our elections, or misleading advertisers. As of now, we teach critical thinking in spurts or only as it applies to specific subjects. That’s why we can have successful professionals who can apply logic to their jobs such as law, engineering, medicine or business, but are unable to do so when it comes to human relationships, politics or social policies.
White supremacism, Breitbart, Fox News and Donald Trump would melt under the scrutiny of logic like the witch splashed with water in “The Wizard of Oz.”
It will take several generations to scrub away the sloppy thinking habits we’ve been encouraged to use because we face so much resistance. Some parents don’t want their kids rejecting their beliefs based on facts and logic, and elected officials used to whipping up base emotions don’t want a voting population that demands evidence and specific plans rather than rhetoric. However, by implementing logic as a form of cultural and political self-defense, we can stop the spread of the brainless zombies trying to infect the rest of us. You want to end the divisiveness? Bring us together through a shared use of reason.