Today in Thinking About Thinking, we are going to be taking a break from our discussions of logical fallacies and zoom out a bit. I want to talk what this space is actually setting out to accomplish.
In many ways, the mission is spelled out in the name. I am not interested in using this space to tell you what to think. I am instead interested in examining how thinking itself works. Logical fallacies are a good starting point because they illuminate some of the analytical flaws we all fall prey to from time to time, but the grand mission of this journal is…grander. “Thinking About Thinking” is a spot-on name, but there’s actually a word for this process:
[met-uh-kog-nish-uh n] noun Psychology.
higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.
Citation credit: Dictionary.com
Why is metacognition important? Because without its use, one can fall into just about anything. Institutions – from media outlets to corporations to governments to ad agencies and, depressingly often, even schools are always busy trying to tell their audiences what to think. A glaring example of this is in every clickbait headline – “So-and-so did this thing, here’s why you should be OUTRAGED.”
But this molding takes place even in more subtle framings, from “What this news means for you” to even the neutral-sounding “[Complex and multifaceted social phenomenon], explained.”
This isn’t limited to news headlines. The purpose of every advertisement is to make you think you need a product or service that, up until this point, you’ve managed to survive without. Corporate entities have entire “public relations” departments which exist to present their activities in a way that they believe will make them most favorable to you. Every politician wants you to think that they are uniquely able to represent your interests to the government and, moreover, that their opponents are dangerous ne’er-do-wells. Governments themselves release to the public only the information that they believe will keep them happy – or at least, merely upset as opposed to engaged in open revolt. And due to the pressures of standardized testing, many schools are even incentivized to focus on teaching their students a certain set of pre-ordained information as opposed to equipping them with the tools to make sense of the world of their own accord.
Nothing is neutral. If there is one lesson, reader, that you take from this space, take that one.
Even facts themselves can be ideological, depending on how they are presented. Take history, the field I studied in college. “History is written by the victors” is so common a saying as to be cliché, and yet few people think about what that implies. I could construct a narrative using only facts of any of history’s greatest monsters that paints them as heroes – it all depends on what details I leave out.
Similarly, I could take any widely beloved figure from history and, using only facts, paint them as monsters – it all depends on what details I emphasize. (Stay tuned – in the future I hope to come back to this using actual moments from history as examples.) In each case, I am only giving you factual information, but the way that information is presented, when examined, reveals an underlying ideological perspective.
All of this means that, if you never stop to examine HOW you think, WHY you believe what you believe, and whether that actually makes any sense – if you never attempt to take apart and examine all of this – you end up with somebody else’s point of view. And the reality that’s shaped for you by a variety of other people is not one shaped out of benevolence, but out of what it benefits each of those people to see everyone accept.
So, why should you care about how to think?
Well, reader, I’ll answer your question with one of my own: Do you like being manipulated? If so, I suppose there’s no reason to work on your metacognition. But I suspect most people do not, and in that case, metacognition is the single greatest defense. It is only through a deep examination of our own patterns of thought that we can discover who we truly are.
Now if that’s not worth caring about, I don’t know what is.
Until next time…keep thinking!