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Giving Critical Thinking Some Critical Thought

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

This is a useful, quick read…

Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things?: Intelligence is not the same as critical thinking and the difference matters

….The advantages of being intelligent are undeniable. Intelligent people are more likely to get better grades and go farther in school. They are more likely to be successful at work. And they are less likely to get into trouble (e.g., commit crimes) as adolescents. Given all the advantages of intelligence, though, you may be surprised to learn that it does not predict other life outcomes, such as well-being. You might imagine that doing well in school or at work might lead to greater life satisfaction, but several large-scale studies have failed to find evidence that IQ impacts life satisfaction or longevity. University of Waterloo psychologist Igor Grossmann and his colleagues argue that most intelligence tests fail to capture real-world decision-making and our ability to interact well with others. This is, in other words, perhaps why “smart” people, do “dumb” things.

The ability to think critically, on the other hand, has been associated with wellness and longevity. Though often confused with intelligence, critical thinking is not intelligence. Critical thinking is a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to think rationally in a goal-orientated fashion, and a disposition to use those skills when appropriate. Critical thinkers are amiable skeptics. They are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to persuade them. Critical thinking means overcoming all sorts of cognitive biases (e.g., hindsight bias, confirmation bias).

Read the rest here.

Most people will say (without critical thought) that critical thinking is a good thing but fail to define what they mean by that term. Usually right before they complain that schools and higher ed aren’t imparting the desired but undefined critical thinking skills to their students. While this stereotypical complaint is accurate as far as a generalization, it underestimates how much imparting such skills in students is generally opposed in practice by Left and Right. Argumentative peons who can think for themselves? Really, when in history has this ever been popular? Seldom with rulers and not often with the ruled; sheep do not enjoy the bark of the sheepdog even when the dog is defending the flock from the wolf.

There are idiotic factions on the Right, often socially conservative home schooler types who openly complain about “critical thinking” in the public schools as s kind of liberal conspiracy to replace content knowledge. It isn’t. Though the reverse idea, to minimize the idea of a canon of core content knowledge,  has appeared in ed fads, including aspects of the (deservedly) controversial Common Core Standards which was pushed by a cabal of billionaires, establishment GOP hacks, the Pearson corporation and the Obama administration in order to nationalize the school curriculum and vastly increase standardized testing. It is this recurring pattern of of political-academic-big business charlatanism in American education that gives this perennial right wing complaint traction. The public ed community in the past 40 years has pushed a lot of dubious programs and theories on students and the taxpayers. And still are; often in service of bureaucratic or political agendas like corporate ed reform.

The political  Left is no better and in some ways, worse. If ever there was a cultish, anti-critical thinking, movement for brain dead indoctrination, it’s the social justice/identity politics movement. Rarely have more intelligent people been made to say stupidly nonsensical things on a college campus than in the past two years. It’s play-acting Red Guardism  and vicious moral one-upmanship but as an ideology, SJW identity politics works socially as a self-referential, closed system to inoculate the believer from any need to consider contrary ideas and justify, if need be, violently suppressing them in others.

Critical thinking involves a capacity to use logical reasoning, the skills at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, probabilistic reasoning and several other important intellectual skills in pursuit of rational, skeptical inquiry. It’s powerful.  So powerful that it has been an engine of mankind’s progress whenever it has been given enough freedom to flourish. The flip side is that critical thinking in essence and outcome is also ultimately subversive of all ideologies and regimes. Without exception – and there is the rub. There’s a reason in other words, that Athens put Socrates to death. And we are no better. We do it daily on Twitter, albeit metaphorically because millions of Americans today can neither think critically nor stand to see others do it if it calls their cherished sacred cows to account.

We can teach critical thinking skills along with content. It’s not hard, assuming you can think critically yourself. We don’t systemically do this because we create ed systems designed to prevent it (public ed) or hire an army of people opposed to critical thinking on principle (university diversity bureaucracy). I’ll end my rant on this thought: immediately improving American education across the board at all levels could be done without costing one additional cent, but it means getting a lot of self-serving, politicized, rubbish out of the way.

Human Sacrifice South of the Border?

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

John P. Sullivan and Dr. Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal analyze a narco prison riot in Mexico that had to be put down by Mexican troops that reportedly involved prisoners sacrificed in a Santa Muerte ritual.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 23: Prison Riot and Massacre in Acapulco, Guerrero; Attack Allegedly During Santa Muerte Ritual

Analysis:
This prison riot and resulting massacre is one of the most serious disturbances in a Mexican prison since the February 2016 riot at Monterrey’s Topo Chico prison.  That incident, which involved a battle between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, left at least 52 dead and 12 injured.[4] Mexico’s prisons are volatile, plagued by corruption, and under minimal control by state authorities.[5] This lack of control leads to inmate self-governance (autogobierno).  According to one account, 60% of Mexican correctional facilities function under self-governance.[6] 

In this incident taking place at the Acapulco jail or Cereso (Centro de Readaptación Social),[7] rival gangs battling for control led to a massacre with several persons (up to five, depending upon reports) beheaded.[8] The guards reportedly did not intervene and may have participated in or facilitated the violence.[9] The massacre reportedly occurred during inmate rituals in veneration of Santa Muerte.[10] Prison officials have not confirmed those reports.[11] 

Guerrero’s governor supports the ritual aspect, noting that the majority of the dead were found in front of Santa Muerte coins which is indicative of ritual participation:

“Es difícil encontrar en los medios mexicanos más referencias concretas al aspecto ritual de la masacre. En Bajo Palabra leemos que el gobernador del estado de Guerrero, Héctor Astudillo Flores, ha descartado la riña como motivo, aunque fuera la primera línea de investigación, y ha afirmado que la mayoría de muertos fueron encontrados frente a una imagen de la Santa Muerte con monedas encima, por lo que consideran que se trataría de un ritual.”[12] 

….The actual role the veneration or worship of Santa Muerte played in this riot is unknown. The limited news imagery of the decapitated and slaughtered prisoners does not provide enough forensic evidence to suggest that any form of elaborate ritual took place.  If such a hasty sacrificial ritual had been conducted, it may have been undertaken simply for narcoterrorist purposes in order to terrify the opposing drug gang with the future threat of ‘human sacrifice’ being directed at their membership.  This explanation would be devoid of any form of an underlying spiritual basis and can simply be viewed as an extreme component of narco psychological operations (PSYOPS) being waged by one drug gang against another.  On the other hand, this incident may be eventually confirmed as an act of mass human sacrifice derived from the new information now emerging:

Read the rest here.

The juxtaposition of extreme violence and religious context is a potent combination in terms of imaginative symbolism because it harkens back to the human sacrifices of Bronze Age paganism. This action may have been secular violence meant to terrify cartel rivals but the repeated association with religious cult ritual – in this case, the Mexican folk worship of “Saint Death” – blurs the lines between criminal irregular violence and religion. This tactic is also a calling card of ISIS as well as the narc0-cartels.

For more on irregular violence and cult practices, see this post as well as for a longer treatment,  Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert Bunker (and featuring chapters by Charles Cameron and myself).

A counterpoint in buildings, statues, ideas

Monday, June 26th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Dylann Roof’s trial, the New Yorker, and the scorable music of opposing voices ]
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On the way to taking us Inside the Trial of Dylann Roof, Jelani Cobb makes an observation that interests me, describing the architectural features surrounding the trial asa point-counter-point in ideas:

Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, traces its roots to 1816. It was a center of clandestine anti-slavery activity and, in 1822, when city officials discovered that congregants were planning a slave revolt, they burned the church to the ground. The current building was erected in 1891, on Calhoun Street, named for Vice-President John C. Calhoun, the intellectual progenitor of secession. The Calhoun monument, a column eighty feet high, topped by a statue of the statesman, is half a block away. The monument and the church, which came to play a central role in the Southern civil-rights movement, stand like a statement and its rebuttal.

Counterpooint — the musical technique whereby two or more melodies are juxtaposed, now clashing, now harmonizing, but with their melodic integrity uncompromised — is a technique which I believe has application beyond music, in verbal thought.

**

Different voices, offering different opinions and perspectives — now clashing, now harmonizing, but with their conceptual integrity uncompromised — are precisely what we find at the heart of all debate, from town hall meetings and parliamentary procedues to maritalspats and the conversations of genius — the letters of Max Born and Albert Einstein come to mind, as does the film My Dinner with Andre.

My gambit, borrowing from the brilliant game that lies at the heart of Hermann Hesse‘s novel The Glass Bead Game, is to suggest that we take Johann Sebastian Bach‘s use of melodic counterpoint and adapt it to its conceptual equivalent — thus opening the way to (a) thinking many contrasting thoughts as a single conceptual music, and (b) developing fresh means to score such a polyphony — or multitude of voices.

Essentially, the ability to think in counterpoint is the ability to hold in mind another voice beside one’s own — the capacity, if you will, to listen as well as to think. Seen thus, it is the basic skill necessary for us to make progress away from the terrible divisiveness of our times, and into a more convivial and ecumenical future.

**

I watched my son come into this world and I watched my son leave this world.

This sentence, uttered by the other of one of Roof’s victims, gains power from its closely observed parallelism between birth and death, womb and tomb.

**

Forgiveness as a consequence iof counterpoint:

The Civil War began in Charleston. The Ordinance of Secession was signed in Institute Hall, on Meeting Street, in December, 1860; the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, in the harbor, a few months later. The reaction of many Charlestonians to the extraordinary moment, at a bond hearing the day after Roof’s arrest, when, one by one, family members stood and forgave him, was an outgrowth of the city’s relationship to that past. Forgiveness was not just an example of how to metabolize hatred directed at you, or just a demonstration of Christian faith, though it was both of those things. It stood for a broader redemption, an exoneration from history itself.

**

A counterpoint in statuary:

Herb Frazier, a black journalist who grew up in the city and has attended Emanuel since childhood, told me that black Charlestonians have always hated the Calhoun monument. “He looks down with this scowl on his face,” he said. Then, in 1999, Charleston’s Holocaust Memorial was erected just fifty feet from the base of Calhoun’s column. That proximity suggests either a wishful denial of Calhoun’s legacy or a level of irony not typically found among municipal planners.

**

A counterpoint of races and ethical stances:

Those moral calculations, as with everything else associated with the case, were refracted through the lens of race. In a statewide poll, two-thirds of African-Americans favored sentencing Roof to life in prison, while sixty-four per cent of whites believed that the death penalty was warranted. That result mirrored the general division between blacks and whites on the issue of capital punishment, which is driven, at least in part, by the fact that it has disproportionately been used against black defendants.

^^

A counterpoint in colors and sentences:

For David Bruck, Roof’s case represented another chance to address the unjust imposition of the death penalty. At certain moments in the trial, though, his belief that he could diminish a racist practice by saving the life of a white supremacist appeared idealistic to a fault. During his cross-examination of Joseph Hamski, the F.B.I.’s lead investigator in the case, Bruck asked, “What became of Denmark Vesey?” Vesey, a slave who had bought his freedom and become a carpenter, was the lead plotter of the 1822 revolt at the church. “He was hung,” Hamski replied. Bruck was suggesting that the death penalty is irrevocably tainted by racism, but he had seemed to equate Vesey, a man who was prepared to kill for the cause of black freedom, with Roof, a man who had killed because he thought that blacks were too free. The families murmured uneasily at the comparison.

**

Black and white, crime and punishment, death penalty and life sentence, good and evil, forgiveness and justice, even Union and Confederacy — these binaries rise in counterpoint in the trial and sentencing of Dylann Roof.. offering us a mappable display of cognitions past and present, normative and extreme.

Oh, the Trumpian DoubleQuotes I’ve missed!

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — praise of Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile (ie Osama bin Laden) — interrupted by Trumpist verbal pyrotechnics ]
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Saif al-Adel, key AQ operative

**

War on the Rocks has a tremendous review by Bruce Hoffman of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, a must-read.

Never mind that, I’ve been missing tremendous DoubleQuote opportunities, as I discover now I’ve seen Kathryn and Ross PetrasTrump’s Elements of Style in McSweeney’s. Consider some of my options:

I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.
— interview, Sean Hannity, 4/13/16

I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes.
— interview, AP 5/13/16

I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me.
— speech, 11/12/15

There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.
— speech, 6/15/16

And then:

I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.
— TALK1300 radio interview, 4/14/11

I have a great relationship the Mexican people. I love them, they love me!
— MSBNC interview, 7/8/15

I have a great relationship with the people of Scotland and an unbelievably good relationship with the people of Aberdeen.
— press conference 6/8/15

And, for good measure, assuming you can stretch this far:

What I like is build a safe zone in Syria. Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live…
— campaign rally, 2/13/17

We’re going to have beautiful clean coal.
— CPAC address, 2/24/16

And then again:

I have had tremendous success.
— interview, ABC News, 7/30/16

I am worth a tremendous amount of money
— interview, CNN 6/26/15

I have a tremendous income.
— presidential debate, 9/26/16

I pay tremendous numbers of taxes
— presidential debate, 10/9/16

I have to admit, those last four — besides being a tremendous source of potential DoubleQuotes — is and are beautifully consistent. But do yourself a favor, unless I’ve displeased you, and go read the whole of the McSweeney piece.

**

I believe I mentioned Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile for War on the Rocks? One among many items of interest in that book would appear to be the significant role played by Saif al-Adel (see illustration above). Hamid Gul and Qassem Suleimani likewise. A key para:

This tale of Iranian connivance provides additional evidence debunking the popular misconception that extremists do not cooperate across sectarian lines. Rather, it demonstrates how when interests overlap, they have repeatedly shown a remarkable ability to cast aside their otherwise rigid differences to work together. The ancient proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long characterized the shifting and sometimes inexplicable alliances formed across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia since the war on terrorism commenced 16 years ago. In this instance, the intensity of the shared enmity between Salafi-Jihadi Sunnis and Shia militants against the United States can never be prudently forgotten.

A tie strong enough to bind Sunni and Shia together — their joint hatred of America? For those of us who take a keen interest in religion and love America, that’s a notion that may take quite some time to digest.

Mindanao: Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — witnessing the darkness, and the light shining in darkness ]
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Curse and blessing, simultaneously, might be termed a mized blessing, ne?

Our understanding of Islam in relation to Christianity may be enhanced by a telling of the cursed, blest hehavior of Muslims in Mindanao, during the evacuation of the city of Marawi: curse and blessing are inextricably intertwined, the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not, the light shineth in darkness..

**

Philippine sectarian bloodshed unites Muslims and Christians
Despite Islamist militants’ attempts to cause division, their violence has prompted selfless interfaith compassion

[ .. ] Islamist militants in black masks were stationed on bridges – the only way out of the besieged city of Marawi – looking for Christian hostages. A priest had already been kidnapped. Risking his own life, a local Muslim leader had hidden dozens of Christians in a rice mill.

“He was giving them an orientation,” said the city’s bishop, Edwin de la Peña. “How to respond to questions, to recite prayers, to wear their veils, how to say assalamu alaikum (peace be upon you).”

The plan worked, but others were not so fortunate, de la Peña said. “When they were asked if they were Christians, they said yes readily. So they were pulled out. And we just heard that they were killed and thrown down into a ravine.”

Residents of Marawi, on the Mindanao island of the Philippines, were fleeing a surprise takeover by fighters claiming to be Islamic State supporters. They left a burning cathedral and corpses in their wake.

Stories such as these of brutal sectarian bloodshed, but also selfless interfaith compassion, have rippled across the Philippines.

Muslims protect Christians under attack from Isis-linked group as they flee Marawi
“We had a tip from the general commander that we should go out,” said Leny Paccon, who gave refuge to 54 people in her home, including 44 Christians

More than 160 civilians walked out of the besieged Philippines city of Marawi just after dawn on Saturday, deceiving Islamist fighters they encountered by hiding the identity of the many Christians among them. [ .. ]

“We saved ourselves,” said Norodin Alonto Lucman, a well-known former politician and traditional clan leader who sheltered 71 people, including more than 50 Christians, in his home during the battle that erupted on 23 May in the town of more than 200,000 on the southern island of Mindanao. “There’s this plan to bomb the whole city if Isis don’t agree to the demands of the government,” he said, referring to local and foreign fighters who have sworn allegiance to the ultra-radical Islamic State. [ .. ]

“We had a tip from the general commander that we should go out,” said Leny Paccon, who gave refuge to 54 people in her home, including 44 Christians. “When I got the text, immediately we go out … about 7 o’clock.”

By then, Lucman and his guests had begun their escape march from another area, holding white flags and moving briskly.

“As we walked, others joined us,” he told reporters. “We had to pass through a lot of snipers.”

Some of the civilians were stopped and asked if there were any Christians among them, said Jaime Daligdig, a Christian construction worker.

“We shouted ‘Allahu akbar’,” he told Reuters, adding that thanks to that Muslim rallying cry they were allowed to pass. [ .. ]

Christians have been killed and taken hostage by the militants, a mix of local fighters from the Maute Group and other Islamist outfits, as well as foreigners who joined the cause under the Islamic State banner. [ .. ]

Lucman said that many of those trapped were on the verge of starvation, which also gave them the courage to leave.

**

many of those trapped were on the verge of starvation, which also gave them the courage to leave.

There’s a close and provocative analogy there to the idea that darkness brings out the light, ne?


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