Rejection of Critical Thinking and Objective Reasoning when All the World’s a Stage of Misinformation
As the third decade of the third millenium dawns, the skill and resolve for winnowing truth from falsehood have become more wanting in humans than ever before. Falsity trumps honesty, and fallacy swamps clarity. In short supply and chronic retreat are the cognitive tools and intellectual acumen necessary to recognize the errors or defects propagated in quotations, statements and claims from numerous sources, including the media, academia, luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities, ideologues, politicians, pundits, stakeholders, advertisers, influencers, Internet users and bloggers, particularly in the era of misquotations and disinformation, numerous instances of which seem to be intractably stoking people’s partial or utter ignorance as well as growingly courting their emotional drives, biased attitudes, cardinal urges, primal impulses and tribal instincts. Riding on these naked vulnerabilities, the unprincipled, ambitious, acquisitive, illiberal, ruthless or predatory opportunists, ranging from (those who are) wrongdoers, miscreants, malefactors and reprobates to profiteers, disinformers, obscurantists, hatemongers, extremists, plutocrats and despots, are able to thrive with greater gusto, impunity or even savagery because there simultaneously exist four of the most insidious and corrosive conditions fuelled and intensified by media manipulation and Internet manipulation, whilst frequently exploited and exacerbated by a sizeable number of ideologues, demagogues, provocateurs, influencers, conspiracy theorists and political elites:
- The prevailing anti-intellectualism discounting the humanist value to society of intellect, intellectualism and higher education; opposing liberal principles, enlightened perspectives, consilient approach, ethical mindset and holistic thinking; and dismissing art, literature, philosophy and science as impractical, politically motivated, and even contemptible or reprehensible human pursuits.
- The cult of anti-expertise sentiment (fuelled by information democratization, intellectual egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism) manifesting as misguided distrust, dismissal and denigration of experts and established knowledge by those in the public and in office, where facts are distorted, dismissed or fabricated, and opinions or even untruths are upheld or promulgated as facts by ill-informed, misguided, biased or corrupt citizens and officials alike.
- The politicization of science for manipulating public policy and pushing ideological agendas, especially when government, business or advocacy groups use legal, political or economic pressure to influence or interfere with the survival, viability, findings, reporting, interpretation and dissemination of scientific research, or to impinge on scientific and academic freedom, independence, transparency and accountability; or when empirical findings and expert recommendations from the academic, scientific or medical community are subordinated to or distorted by political expediency or ideology.
- The use of populism pitching “the people” against “the elite” and brazenly disregarding critical matters ranging from empirical accuracy and ethical integrity to social justice and national security.
These four conditions have coalesced to signify a widespread and deepening rejection of critical thinking and objective reasoning, and a significant rise of illiberal values resulting in the erosion of civil liberties, democratic principles, civil societies and social norms, whilst highlighting consequential aspects of social inequality and social polarization. As well as being intellectually and culturally deprived or polarized, many segments and cohorts of the population can be easily convinced or manipulated to defend, support or purvey the interests, beliefs, agendas and actions of those who propagate problematic quotations, statements or information intended to be factually inaccurate, misleading, erroneous, spurious or conspiratorial.