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The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking

Seeing Through Alternative Fact & Fake News

by D. Michael Rivage-Seul (Author)
Textbook XVI, 264 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 15

Summary

D. Michael Rivage-Seul’s eye-opening new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: Seeing Through Alternative Fact & Fake News, invites readers to try out what Baba Dick Gregory calls the "magic glasses" of critical thinking. Gregory’s eyewear suggests ten rules for seeing through the haze created by any culture’s ruling group mind. The criteria urge students to: (1) reflect systemically, (2) select market (as an organizing principle), (3) reject neutrality, (4) suspect ideology, (5) respect history, (6) inspect scientifically, (7) quadra-sect violence, (8) connect with your deepest self, (9) collect conclusions, and (10) detect silences. The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking then applies those criteria to a broader contemporary context where fascist tendencies reminiscent of the 1930s are unmistakable. Surprising interpretations of familiar Hollywood and documentary films illustrate every point, making this book a fascinating text and discussion starter for critical thinking and composition courses at the secondary and post-secondary levels.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Advance Praise for The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction: Critical Thinking, Magic Glasses, and Film
  • Book’s Organization
  • Magic Glasses
  • Critical Thinking and Film
  • Notes
  • Part One: Critical Thinking in Our Post-Fact World of Fake News
  • Chapter One: Alternative Fact and Fake News Inside Plato’s Cave
  • Fake News
  • Critical Thinking and Truth
  • Truth and Personal Development
  • Poverty and Critical Consciousness
  • Conclusion: Fake News and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: My Own Escape From Our Culture’s Cave: From Ego-Centrism to Global Awareness
  • Egocentrism
  • Ethnocentrism
  • World Centrism Emerges
  • Rome
  • Appalachia
  • Brazil
  • Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Inching Towards Cosmic Consciousness
  • Zimbabwe
  • Israel-Palestine … and Mexico!
  • Cosmic-Centrism South Africa & India
  • South Africa
  • India
  • How to Meditate
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Part Two: The First Eight Rules of Critical Thinking
  • Chapter Four: Rule One: Reflect Systemically
  • Capitalism
  • Marxism
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Mixed Economy
  • Fascism
  • Human Rights
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Five: Rule Two: Select Market as the Economic Root of Political Differences
  • A Film Illustration
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Rule Three: Reject Neutrality
  • Functionalism
  • Film Illustration
  • Radical Conflict Theory
  • Conservative Conflict Theory
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Seven: A Compromise World Vision
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eight: Rule Four: Suspect Ideology
  • Reluctant Testimony
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Nine: Rule Five: Respect History
  • U.S. National History
  • The Official Story
  • A Competing Narrative
  • A Film Illustration
  • U.S. International History Since World War II
  • The Official Story
  • A Competing Story
  • Contemporary U.S. History
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Ten: Rule Six: Inspect Scientifically
  • Internal Coherence and Falsifiability
  • External Coherence
  • Explanatory Value
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eleven: Rule Seven: Quadra-Sect Violence
  • Violence Quadra-Sected
  • Institutionalized Violence
  • Structures and Violence
  • Self-Defensive Violence
  • Reactionary Violence
  • Terroristic Violence
  • Application
  • The Jewish/Israeli Story
  • The Palestinian Story
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twelve: Rule Eight: Connect With Your Deepest Self
  • The Mountain of Spiritual Awareness
  • Mind-Based Christianity
  • Practice-Based Christianity
  • Consciousness-Based Christianity
  • Religion of Conscious Praxis
  • The Principle of Universality
  • Grapes of Wrath
  • Conclusion: Avatar and Spiritual Combat
  • For Discussion
  • Activities
  • Notes
  • Part Three: Reviewing History Through the Magic Glasses
  • Chapter Thirteen: How the Wealthy Privatized the Commons
  • Privatization’s Ideology
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activities
  • Notes
  • Chapter Fourteen: Colonialism and Its Structures
  • Neo-Colonialism
  • Contemporary Privatization
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Fifteen: Commoners Resist Privatization
  • Peasant Resistance to Feudalism
  • Women’s Holocaust and Colonial Slaughter
  • The Cold War
  • After the Fall
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Sixteen: Hitler and Fascism’s Defense of Privatization
  • Hitler as Capitalism’s Champion
  • Fascism
  • Fascism and Communism
  • National Socialism
  • Fascism as Mixed Economy
  • Hitler and Capitalism
  • Capitalist Support for Hitler
  • The Triumph of Hitler’s System in World War II and Its Aftermath
  • Inter-Capitalist Competition
  • Germany’s Recovery From the Great Depression
  • Nazi Elements Prevail
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Part Four: Fascism Today, Drawing Conclusions, and Breaking Silence
  • Chapter Seventeen: Continuation of Hitler’s System in Globalization and the War on Terrorism
  • Third World Yankee Fascism
  • White Supremacy and Racism
  • Social Darwinism and Propaganda
  • Globalized Totalitarianism
  • State Terror Against Scapegoats
  • Religious Persecution, Anti-Semitism, and Liberation Theology
  • September 11, 2001
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eighteen: Capitalism’s Contemporary Crisis and the Rise of Neo-Fascism
  • The Nature and Origins of the Current Crisis
  • The Contemporary Crisis
  • Alternatives to the Failing System
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Nineteen: Rule Nine: Collect Conclusions and Live Critically
  • My General Conclusions
  • My Particular Conclusions
  • Practical Conclusions
  • Knowledge Responses
  • Lifestyle Responses
  • Political Responses
  • Questions for Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twenty: Rule Ten: Detect Silences (and Fake News)
  • Chomsky’s Propaganda Model: A Tool for Critical Thinking
  • Testing the Model
  • Contemporary Paired Examples
  • Testing Paired Examples
  • Conclusion
  • For Discussion
  • Activity
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figures

Figure 1.1: Plato’s Cave

Figure 5.1: Political Spectrum Based on Market

Figure 7.1: Champagne Glass Model of World Income Distribution

Figure 12.1: The Mountain of Spiritual Awareness

Figure 14.1: Colonialism

Figure 14.2: Neo-Colonialism

Figure 14.3: Economic Organization in the Two-Thirds World

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Introduction

Critical Thinking, Magic Glasses, and Film

Critical thinking is my passion.

In various forms, I have guided courses on the topic for each of my 40 years teaching at Berea College in Kentucky. Most of those courses were required of first year students. The offerings typically employed prescribed texts shared across sections taught by an interdisciplinary faculty. For instance, we used a very fine book by Sylvan Barnet, Hugo Bedau, and John O’Hara, From Critical Thinking to Argument: A Portable Guide.1 It helpfully emphasized clear expression and coherent organization of ideas, along with logical consistency and avoidance of common errors in reasoning. In other words, the text (as well as others we’ve used) stressed reason as the arbiter of truth.

In my early years, I accepted that. For me, our manuals defined and elucidated the very task of critical thinking.

Later, however, reflection on my own experience gradually showed me that reason alone cannot successfully arbitrate between truth and falsehood. Critical thinking is much more relative than that. In fact, it represents a process of personal development. What a person takes as “truth” largely depends on her or his evolutionary stage of development and on one’s physical, historical, and social location in the world. In a sense, the world is filled with “alternative facts” whose perceived truth depends on one’s physical situation and personal maturity. ← xi | xii →

Moreover, critical thinking as normally practiced in the academy typically fails to note the very parameters of thought that are culturally defined and that necessarily limit the effectiveness and value of critical thinking aspiring to cultural neutrality. A student (or professor!) can be completely clear in expression, avoid all logical and factual errors in argument, and still remain completely unaware that any other way of thinking even enjoys validity. The thinkers in question are literally wearing “cultural blinders” that prevent critical thought at any deep level.

With all of that in mind, I take the phrase “critical thinking” as a reference to thought processes that remove cultural blinders. To do so, the processes must be (1) world-centric or integral, (2) evidence based, (3) comprehensive, and (4) committed to changing the world. Such thinking is needed more than ever in the post-fact, fake news context characterizing today’s American culture.

Book’s Organization

Accordingly, this book will be divided into four main parts. Part One will address the questions of alternative facts and fake news as well as presenting a description of the author’s personal journey towards critical consciousness. In the light of those stages, the book’s second part will introduce the first eight of ten rules for thinking critically about alternative realities and fake information. These chapters are intentionally brief to make them suitable for actually reading in class. Part Three will return to the historical world and attempt to apply those discernment criteria to our contemporary context of alternative facts and fake news where fascist tendencies reminiscent of the 1930s are unmistakable. Chapters in Part Three are more fully developed and not intended for in-class reading. They fill in the historical background required to understand the rules for critical thinking that earlier chapters present so briefly. The book will conclude with Part Four. It will address my final two rules of critical thinking that deal with the practical questions of listening carefully and living critically.

More specifically, the heart of what follows will submit for consideration ten “criteria of discernment” that may prove helpful for those at any stage of development to judge which “facts” deserve credence and which do not. The truth criteria suggested here are: (1) Reflect Systemically, (2) Select Market (as the root of political differences), (3) Reject Neutrality, (4) Suspect Ideology, (5) Respect History, (6) Inspect Scientifically, (7) Quadra-Sect Violence, (8) Connect with Your Deepest Self, (9) Collect Conclusions, and (10) Detect Silences. ← xii | xiii →

Magic Glasses

The hope is that consideration of these rules may tempt readers to try on for size what the late comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory called his magic glasses. In practice, Gregory used the term to refer to the perspective conferred by viewing the world from the standpoint of the world’s poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised. Attaining such vision, Gregory said, is like donning special eyewear that enables one to perceive what is invisible or absurd to those without them.2

Magic glasses, Gregory warned, are both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that eyesight through their lenses is fuller, and more evolved—more worthy of human beings. The curse is that those without the glasses will consider their wearers insane or worse. And the hell of it is that glassless folk cannot be persuaded unless their independent growth cycle enables them to do so.

So, Gregory pointed out, the magic glasses come with three inviolable rules: (1) once you put them on, you may never take them off, (2) afterwards, you can never see things as your tribe says they’re supposed to be, but only as they truly are, and (3) you can never force anyone else to wear them.

Critical Thinking and Film

The question is, how to help readers see the world from perspectives that can help them develop the critical vision or in-sight Gregory described?

An obvious answer would be travel. As you will see in chapters two and three, that’s what expanded my own vision from an originally narrow, deeply religious and ethnocentric conservativism to something much broader. In Chapter Three, I describe that process in detail. It took me across Europe and then to Latin America, Africa, and finally to the Middle East and to Asia—never simply as a tourist, but as one seeking deeper understanding of the world specifically from the viewpoint of the world’s poor and disenfranchised.

The quest was inspired by the realization (to be explained in Chapter One) that Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth have a much deeper understanding of the way the world works than those of us living in what’s commonly referred to as “the developed world.”

But what about people unable to travel as I did and study with scholars, saints, revolutionaries, and advocates of the planet’s impoverished classes? How help them don Gregory’s eyewear? I searched for ways to answer that question. I found them, I think, in film. A friend of mine once observed that if a picture is worth a ← xiii | xiv → thousand words, a good film is worth a million. And it’s true: we all love films, and discuss them enthusiastically.

So, in my classes, I employed several classics to illustrate my Ten Rules for Critical Thinking. Movies such as Romero, Wall Street, Traffic, and even comedies like Bulworth, and The Distinguished Gentleman found their ways, at various times, into my syllabi. So did several documentaries. However, showing the films absorbed so much class time, that I began to question the wisdom of their inclusion. Often two hours or more were taken up to foster a discussion that focused merely on one or two moments in the film.

Then it occurred to me that the computer and YouTube make it possible to excerpt those one or two moments (each usually lasting no more than ten minutes), and to connect the clips directly with the points I wanted them to illustrate. Additionally, if students missed the point, and wanted to see the clip again, I could simply show it again, with nothing lost. In most cases, all that was necessary to get a good discussion going was to ask, “What did you see?”

Student responses and conversations that followed showed that the film clips often reflect back to students what they themselves are thinking, and how they perceive the world.

As a result, films, I concluded, are especially apt for raising consciousness. After all, cinematic writers, producers and directors have done a lot of the preliminary research work necessary for teachers of critical consciousness. Those involved in the film industry are obviously interested in marketing their products. So they must know how their audiences see the world, how they think, and what their problems are. Film producers are usually interested in realism too—accurately reflecting the way people look, speak, and interact with each other. Movies, then, or at least parts of them, raise critical questions that can deepen and sharpen critical understandings of the world.

So film will be centralized in my explanations of critical thinking. I’ve worked into the text dialogs from most of the classics I’ve just mentioned. But I’ve also included more recent releases (like Sausage Party, War Dogs, and Avatar) throughout the book’s chapters and analyzed them as they might appear to one wearing the magic glasses.

Notes

1. Sylvan Barnet, Hugo Adam Bedau, and John O’Hara. From Critical Thinking to Argument: a portable guide. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2017.

2. “Dick Gregory: Magic Glasses.” YouTube. YouTube, 05 Aug. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

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Critical Thinking in Our Post-Fact World of Fake News

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Alternative Fact and Fake News Inside Plato’s Cave

By many accounts, we’re living in a post-fact age, where it’s increasingly difficult to tell truth from falsehood. As we’ll see below, it’s as if we were living in Plato’s allegorical Cave, where shadows masquerade as reality. That’s why in our culture, contemporary debate rages over terms such as “post-truth,” “truthiness,” “alternative facts,” “fake news,” outright “bullshit,” and “propaganda.”

In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the 2016 Word of the Year (WOTY) was “post-truth.” That same year, the Australian Macquarie Dictionary identified “fake news” as its own WOTY. The trend is unmistakable—signaled as far back as 2006, when “truthiness,” a term coined by Stephen Colbert, took the Oxford Dictionary honor. The Colbert term synthesized the trend’s direction. “Truthiness” was defined as “The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.”

That’s what the post-truth era centralized: feelings over analysis. “Trust you gut and not your brain” is the way Beppe Grillo put it while urging Italians to vote with his conservative Five Star Party against constitutional reforms.

Shortly after being elected, Donald Trump’s team took the trend a step further. Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway, introduced the phrase “alternative facts.” She was debating “Meet the Press” host, Chuck Todd, about the size of Trump’s 2017 inauguration audience. ← 3 | 4 →

Conway defended the position expressed by Sean Spicer, President Trump’s Press Secretary. He had described the crowd as the largest in inauguration history. Todd disagreed citing D.C. police estimates that it was four times smaller than the number attending Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Conway responded, “… Our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that …” Todd answered, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt would put Todd’s point in even starker terms. Drawing on the title of his best-selling book, Frankfurt would say that alternative facts are simply “B.S.”1 In On Bullshit the professor contrasts liars and bullshitters. The Liar, Frankfurt writes, cares about truth and attempts to hide it; bullshitters don’t care if what they say is true or false. Their only concern is whether or not their listeners are persuaded.

Details

Pages
XVI, 264
ISBN (PDF)
9781433149542
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433149559
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433149566
ISBN (Softcover)
9781433149528
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433149511
Language
English
Publication date
2018 (April)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 264 pp., 7 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

D. Michael Rivage-Seul (Author)

D. Michael Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. He taught for 40 years at Berea College in Kentucky, where he directed the Peace and Social Justice Studies program. There he soon received Berea’s Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching, the institution’s highest faculty honor. His publications include The Emperor’s God: Imperial Misunderstandings of Christianity and A Kinder and Gentler Tyranny: Illusions of a New World Order, co-authored with his life partner, Dr. Marguerite K. Rivage-Seul.

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