Tag Archives: critical thinking

The Many Faces of Discrimination

Sorting Yourself Out, a fascinating conversation between Stefan Molyneux and Jordan Peterson, is a  demonstration of critical rational thinking at its best. In response, I’m sharing these earlier thoughts on reason and discrimination.

Up front, I’ll tell you, I’m not persuaded that critical thinking, even at its finest, is enough. I explained why in The Handbook:

Reason is necessary but not sufficient. When used to link the material surface with the middle and inner levels of the Life Wheel, it is a powerful tool. When turned against the life force, elevating itself as if it were the exclusive way of knowing, it presumes to judge what is beyond it. This is hubris, the catalyst of tragedy. [As bureaucratic regulations example] Rationality in the extreme changes into its opposite, producing desperately irrational results.

In Conscience, I elaborated on the uses and political abuses of reason:

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy which defines the rules of knowledge at any given time/place, setting limits by its answers to these questions: What can be known, how, and by whom?

Answers have political overtones, often assigning roles according to class, race, age or gender. Rules governing who may know what drive cultural decisions regarding the distribution of wealth, power, social status and access to legal protections.

Empirical science respects only information known through reason. Universities train students to dissect and analyze with quantitative and verbal skills. At its best, reason is a tool of constructive discernment, capable of articulating both tangible and intangible information.

With proper training, it can be used to harness the sub-rational, serve the super-rational and link the two, balancing their extremes. As such, reason is a harmonizing function.

However, using reason to rule out, avoid or even demean awareness of sub- and super-rational experience is an abuse of the critical faculty.

Though this might sound dry in the abstract, the story excerpted in Rethinking Discrimination of my working as an Affirmative Action Consultant for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards gives it a human face.

Further, in The Tower of Babel Dilemma I wrote:

It seems to me that language has devolved into quite the opposite of the English I’d learned to love and respect in high school. There, we were taught to regard language as the premier tool of logic. When used with Sherlock-like diligence, applied the powers of keen observation and heightened awareness, it could solve mysteries — not only to detect the crimes of evil-doers and the nefarious plots of national enemies, but to unravel the mysteries of life and the universe.

Turned inwards, used with self-honesty, language is essential to cultivating self-awareness. For the truth-seeker, language is a necessary vehicle of information both on the inward quest and on the return journey outwards to share results.

But even people with the best of intentions use the same words to mean very different things. They miss each other coming and going, only vaguely aware of the disconnect.

. . . Instead of being used as a means for unifying human beings, language is often degraded into chaotic paralyzing noise – a weapon for stirring up animosities, division and confusion.

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As one example, the following Essay on Discrimination plugs the many definitions of the over-used and abused word “Discrimination” into the levels of the Life Wheel.

ESSAY 19. DISCRIMINATION

We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. . . this delusions is a kind of prison for us . . . Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion. . We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive. — Albert Einstein

Dealing exclusively on a rational level with an issue like discrimination which is deeply emotion-laden (sub-rational) on the one hand, and highly value-laden (super-rational) on the other, fails to acknowledge and draw on the levels where problems begin and where solutions can be found. — Patricia West, Positive Action: The Next Generation

Seeing and hearing are like food and drink; you need them every day, but you also need to digest and eliminate them every day. If they are not digested and eliminated thoroughly, they remain in the gut, eventually producing illness.Taoist Meditation, trans. Thomas Cleary

THE FRONT

Three levels of definition attribute opposite, contradictory meanings to the single word discrimination. In the context of Affirmative Action legislation, failure to recognize and sort out this confusion has resulted in muddled perceptions its purpose, inconsistent implementation and half-hearted compliance.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s rational definition of discrimination posits a neutral function of mind. To discriminate is to distinguish with the mind or intellect; to perceive, observe, or note the difference in or between.

As an analytical tool, discrimination is the neutral function of mind used to dissect a situation’s parts and deduce cause/effect relationships amongst them. As a tool, effects of its use, whether creative or destructive, depend on motives and competence.

The final definition adds a preposition: against. To discriminate against is to make an adverse distinction in regard to, to distinguish unfavorably from others. This negative definition is the sub-rational use.

It describes abuse of the critical faculty of mind to separate, distance and subordinate others, and to rationalize exploitation. Discrimination as a function of biased, negative emotions such as fear, hate, envy, arrogance or greed is the polar opposite of objective analysis.

Still further from the rational meaning of discrimination is its super-rational definition. It is not included in The Oxford English Dictionary. However, in Eastern scriptures, the highest function of mind is called “buddhi” (hence the name Buddha), translated into English as “the power of discrimination.”

This usage alludes to the ability to see through deceptive illusions, to recognize the eternal in the midst of change, to be aware of all-pervading spirit operating within gross material forms.

While rational discrimination is neutral and sub-rational discrimination has separatist results, the super-rational function of discrimination is unifying in effect. Depending on the user’s mind-set, the I Ching can be used to serve rational, sub- or super-rational motives.

Ideally, it’s used to facilitate the process of mental metabolism. When the senses are overloaded with impressions, the Book of Change can be approached as a discipline for settling the mind and organizing one’s thoughts sufficiently to define the immediate situation and ask questions about it.

As negative emotions surface, they’re named and released, not unlike the process of separating toxins from useful nutrients, eliminating them as waste. Rational thoughts are then simplified, prioritizing essentials and aligning them to basic purpose. Then, when emotions and rational mind are harmonized and stilled, the higher mind is invoked. It is in this state of tranquil revere that one pierces the veil of ordinary thought, allowing the transcendent awareness attributed to genius to come forward.

Einstein, for example, acknowledged that his famous e = mc2 formula came in a flash of inspired contemplation. He faulted his peers for what he called the “fateful fear of metaphysics,” a pernicious prejudice that’s easily as dangerous as racism or sexism.

Here are levels of discrimination placed in their Life Wheel context:

Discrim2.jpg

THE BACK

Mercy and compassion ameliorate the effects of negative discrimination. Introspective activities like self-analysis and use of the I Ching promote the positive capacity to discriminate, make correct decisions, and act wisely. In human law, the opposite of discrimination is justice and equity. In an equitable society, wisdom is promoted as the foundation of harmony and order.

In an unjust world, the discipline of positive discrimination is neglected. Ruthless extortionists in positions of political power will kill to prevent discriminating thinkers from recognizing and opposing their abuses. Tyrants promote negative discrimination. They exploit hatred, weakening their people by turning them against each other, conquering by dividing them.

The ELEVENTH HOUR

11th hour sized

In drafting “Do You Have the Time?” I brainstormed all the possible ways this seemingly simple question can be taken (and mistaken). Different interpretations yield significantly different answers.

I also browsed for clip art clock faces to illustrate my point. Coincidentally, the one I chose adds yet another perspective, giving the question a deeper, philosophical meaning: “Do you know what time it is in your life?”

What stage of personal evolution / growth are you going through now? From a larger, historical perspective, what point in its life cycle is your business, nation or even the world experiencing today?

The pictured clock face shows the stage many say the world is now in: its eleventh hour.

Even then, there are different views as to the best way to respond to being at the eleventh hour in human history. The cliché is currently used to mean “running out of time, at the very last minute, or almost too late.”

But biblical origins of the cliché offer an alternative viewpoint. In Matthew 20: 2-16, laborers hired at the last, eleventh hour worked for only an hour. But at the end of the day, they received the same reward as those hired early in the morning, who had worked all day.

Christ’s parable of the eleventh hour epitomizes the hope humans have in God’s compassionate mercy. It’s never to late to change. It’s not over til it’s over.

(Of course, there is no such thing as coincidence.)

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Do You Have the Time?

Early this morning, I was startled awake by a cell phone alert. The power was out – for a second time. The first outage occurred over night. I was still asleep, so didn’t know the difference.

Roommates who commute long-distance to work got started just before the electric garage door came to a standstill. (They don’t know how to open it manually.)

Emergency protocols immediately kicked into place. I reached out in the dark for my wind-up flashlight. It was where it should be, on top of the disabled alarm clock. It supplied enough light to find a second, larger LED flashlight. It too was where I expected, on my work desk next to the powerless computer. I made my way carefully down the pitch black stairwell.

Next: get the battery-run lanterns out of storage. In one, the D-cells had gone dead. Look for back-ups.

Fortunately, there’s a battery-run wall clock by the main office door that keeps accurate time. Which is the subject of this post. “Do you have the time?”

Have you ever thought about how many different ways there are to answer this seemingly simple question, “Do you have the time?” My smart-mouthed high school friends, for example, would have answered, “If you have the nerve.”

The most straight-forward response is to look at a time-piece and give a literal answer. It’s 6:30 in the morning.

Alternative answers go along the lines of, I don’t have enough time . . . . to get the many tasks that need doing done well . . . to take care of my health . . . to check in on elderly relatives. Etc. etc.

Philosophical answers might include regret for the shortness and uncertainty of life. “Here today. Gone tomorrow.” Or, as the carved and painted wood plaque over my Grandfather’s fireplace mantle put it, “We get too soon old, and too late smart.”

Which brings me back to the point where I left off in the last post, “Rethinking Our Common Humanity:”

While we all have the option to remember who we truly are, most of us are like Lambert, the sheepish lion. It takes a smack with a two-by-four upside the head before we’re finally ready to WAKE UP.

Often it takes the form of life-threatening danger to those we care for. A personal health crisis will also do the trick. So will job loss or a run-in with natural disaster. But, like Dorothy stranded in the Land of Oz, when you want dearly enough to return “home,” you can click your heels whenever you chose — and come to find out, you’re already there.

Most of us live as if today will last forever. We prefer to live in the moment. In part, this is a good thing. The mindful focus of a “Be here and now” attitude allows us to savor our immediate blessings.

However . . . on the other hand, heedless lack of foresight can have extremely dangerous consequences.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow add up, inevitably sneaking up from behind like a thief in the night when least expected. (And not just a temporary power outage like this morning. Think Pompeii.)

Impending disasters, even those right before our eyes like handwriting on the wall, can catch the unprepared off guard, robbing them of the precious time which could have been used to wake up from their deep soul sleep and re-member who they truly are.

I understand. Given today’s economy, many have little choice but to live hand-to-mouth. Check-to-pay-(or welfare)-check. Even the well-off who could afford to prepare are besieged with putting out day-to-day fires — or by other glittery distractions.

There’s no time or energy reserved for assessing possible risks. It’s not a priority to think through “If / Then” preparedness scenarios.

I find it most peculiar that even Millennials, who have grown up fluent in computer-driven technology, usually don’t apply if / then computer logic to their personal decision-making and daily behavior. This makes them even more ill-equipped than their elders to cope realistically with sudden change.

For example, in a personal email sent in response to “Give Millennials an App for Their Inner Compass,” Tom Richards detailed his frustration with Millennials:

I live in NJ where Hurricane Sandy hit dead center. Devastation like you would not believe. No power in most of the state for over 8 days. Here are actual examples which I came across immediately following the storm . . .

1. An hour after the storm ended, early in the morning, a car load of kids in their mid-twenties got stuck in a washed out piece of road in front of my house. No power, of course, and trees down everywhere. When the kiddies came to my door to ask to call for a tow truck, I had to laugh. When I asked them why the hell they were out on the roads, in their PJ’s none the less, immediately after the storm of the century, I got this. “We don’t have power and want coffee and breakfast. We are going to WaWa to get some.” Didn’t even dawn on them that if they have no power, and the state has no power, the WaWa doesn’t have power. Nor did it dawn on them that with the storm and devastation, that the people who work at WaWa would not be able to go there and open it for them.

2. Three days later the local farmers market opened, even though they only had power to keep the refrigerated items going. No power within 3 counties at this point. A young couple who lives two doors down needed food. Went to the market and came home empty handed. They had no cash, and the store was obviously only able to take cash. They pay for everything with their debit cards. Never dawned on them to have some cash around for emergencies and things like this. They were mad that the store wouldn’t sell them anything nor that they couldn’t take the debit card. It also is interesting that they never even thought to prepare even though warnings were given over and over.

3. My daughter and her friends were hungry. Her friends hadn’t had a hot meal in days. Plus, it had gotten cold and most had no heat. They came over to our house. Saw we were using my wood stove in the music studio to cook on and stay warm. It never dawned on them (or their parents, which frightened me) to use their BBQ propane grill or make a fire to cook with nor to build a fire in their yards to at least get a bit warm.

4. Just about every traffic light was out, and roads were blocked by either police or downed trees. I cannot tell you how many younger people stopped in front of my house when they saw me there to ask me how to get to a certain place, and also how many could not understand when I gave them road names where those roads were. . . .

What most amazes me is that repeatedly, after each disaster, whether natural or man-made, in media interviews, the “victims” chant the same mantra. “It was a WAKE UP CALL.” But life goes on. After the initial shock wears off, people get mired once again in the routines of daily living. And they forget. They go back to sleep.

We aren’t changing! And time is running out. As the late computer leader-innovator Steve Jobs poignantly observed:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Time is a blessing and a luxury. None of us knows how much time we have left to WAKE UP, think, prepare, and perhaps survive whatever is to come.

Commenting on “Change the Rules of the Knowledge Game,” Peter Fellingham gave his opinion:

Another reason why people avoid critical thinking is because it usually results in significant introspection. Introspection tends to make clear the responsibility the individual has for the resolution of their own troubles.

I answered back:

Peter, you’ve pinpointed the blind spot in curriculum — the information deficit of which I speak. Clear & critical thinking isn’t often taught in schools, nor are problem-solving tools provided as essential basics. They should be.

Then there’s the question of motivation. Requires a carrot & stick approach. The stick is awareness that laziness comes with horrific consequences. The carrot is assurance of the benefits which accrue to living a self-responsible life.

In part, people often avoid issues they find too fearful to face. If there truly are no better options, and only dangerous consequences, keeping still is an understandable choice. However, if better options ARE available, then making them known and available is an important first step in positive change. That’s what I’m working to accomplish.. . .

So, if you and/or those you lead and care for have been avoiding introspection, if you’ve been ignoring the warning signs and denying fears for the future, waiting for dangers to miraculously disappear and problems to be solved without effort, it’s time to take the striking two-by-four hint from escalating wake-up calls worldwide.

It may be a matter of survival to rethink priorities while there’s still precious time left to do so. Ask, If not now, when?

And consider the likelihood that the life / family / organization you save may be not only yours, but those of generations to come.