The Importance of Critical Thinking


You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The saying resembles a logical syllogism in structure, but it isn’t. Taking it apart in thirds, it’s doesn’t follow that “you can fool all the people some of the time” because it’s too much to assume you can know “all” (an absolute) the people.

It also doesn’t follow that you can fool “some of the people all the time” because it’s too much to assume you can know “all” the time (that absolute again).

However, the third part rests on secure grounds because of the negative phrasing, substituting “cannot” for “can”. Here you’re not positing anything about “all” the people or “all” the time, so the absolute is turned on its head into an admission of its unknowability.

Therefore, the third part is true. You can’t fool all the people all the time, but that’s not saying much and cold comfort it is because the people that fool people merely rely upon fooling a sufficient number of people a sufficient amount of time. That’s the operating principle. Whether it’s called public relations, advertising, spin, fake news, or propaganda, it’s all lying. We’re lied to every hour of the day, every day of the year.

There’s a tendency to think disinformation is growing worse in kind in an internet age. It’s not. It’s the same rain over a larger area. The problem of disinformation can be traced to self-interested hierarchy. It should not surprise that those with power and authority have need to shape public perception. How else to maintain a position of disparity and gain a proper level of obedience, when the clumsy methods of brute force and bribery are bypassed?

At a basic level of self-defense, the task of the free person is to maintain a critical attitude. Not to do this is surrender. As protection against unjust hierarchy, the task of a free society is to insist that systems of authority must justify their continued existence. This is in the spirit of anarchism. Not the blowing up of buildings but the blowing up of mirages.

The United States government took a very important lesson from Vietnam. It reasoned that in order to retain control of its imperialistic agenda it had to eliminate forced conscription. By putting its pocketbook to work, and paying volunteer soldiers well and paying mercenary contractors extremely well, it took care of campus and associated problems while it could assure Americans that nobody had been forced to fight. You see, they’re all patriotic.

Maybe not forced directly, but by lying to Americans about the need to fight (and remember that polls showed most Americans in favor of attacking Iraq), the forcing took the form of manipulated public opinion through a mass media amplifying the deceit, overwhelming conscientious and informed dissent. Millions of dissenters here and many millions more around the world. For nothing. The USG had reasoned correctly that its predominant propaganda apparatus could control the population to align itself (unknowingly) with US imperialism.

The opposition party was not opposite, with notable exceptions. It went along in part not to appear unpatriotic but also because its corporate basing is aligned with US imperialism, so it had nothing to lose. At the time, the most liberal tv network, MSNBC, positioned as an alternative to FoxNews, fired Phil Donahue for becoming an outspoken critic of the imminent Iraq invasion.

A seeming contradiction in human behavior is the deep admiration felt for those that opposed authority in the past while simultaneously submitting to authority in the present. We have no trouble taking Galileo’s side today, but knowing what we know about human behavior, we should have no doubt that transported back to that time, the collective us would have been dead against him. Seems like we have to wait for popular opinion to shift.

Likewise any other past anti-authoritarians (examples could fill a book), and now extending this to Jesus. Religion aside, the historical Jesus was a whistleblowing activist taking a political position against the Roman Empire and its quisling Jewish priestly caste. We should have no doubt that the collective us would have seen things differently than we see them today.

It takes awhile. Even Daniel Ellsberg is not completely rehabilitated in the public’s mind, as he deserves to be. And why? Because the USG is still sensitive to Vietnam. That, and because he’s still alive. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an enemy of the state while alive. Now the state takes credit for him.

Which brings us to our present-day whistleblowing activists. Limiting it to only the three most prominent, that would be Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. Assange is alive, no thanks to US/UK brutal, punitive treatment. He is a political prisoner, something the US will not admit but openly referred to as such by the Queen of England when she was asked to intervene on Assange’s behalf.

Manning has been made to suffer for years. Their treatment at the hands of the state is comparable to what Alfred Dreyfus endured at the hands of the French state. How many take the side of the state today against Dreyfus? And yet, how hard was it at the time.

We have our own Emile Zola’s speaking out for these two, but public opinion is firmly on the side of a state intent on making an example of them. Dreyfus ultimately had a fair trial, something Assange is inherently denied by the Espionage Act charge for which there is no defense.

Should it be a crime to reveal US crimes, including war crimes? Let’s pause for a moment and admit that many will answer, yes. Public opinion is essentially saying, yes. But what reaches us as “public opinion” is not raw clay but what it has been formed into by a government that gives that job to itself.

Edward Snowden exposed some things the government would rather we didn’t know about. They were “classified” by the intelligence community. That’s how they’re referred to. A community. Nice word. What has this community done to earn such trust that we believe them when they say they are acting for our own good? Spying on us for our own good.

Across the political spectrum the opinion is that Edward Snowden should come back to the US and “face the music”. That most Americans would agree speaks well for state efficiency but not for the state of mind of a people “yearning to breathe free”.

We breathe less free each time the state claims the need to defend us. The Constitution points to but does not guarantee the right to free speech. The 1st amendment is negatively expressed: Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, a much lower standard. We do, however, each possess a supra-Constitutional right. The right to free thought. This cannot be taken away. While we’re alive.

James Rothenberg writes on U.S. social and foreign policy.




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