EDITORIAL: Critical thinking

If there is an emerging theme to the 2010s, it is that many basic assumptions – no matter how cherished or long-held – are no longer enough to support our decision-making.

No matter where we stand on the political spectrum, no matter how pro-environment or pro-industry we are, no matter how trusting of government we feel or devoted to the rights of the individual we want to be, we are challenged to sift and examine facts, to consider carefully the sources of our information, and reject propaganda and spin, no matter whether from ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’ forces.

We are faced by issues of such magnitude, whether globally (the effect of carbon emissions on the atmosphere, the spread of radioactive contamination from Fukushima, for example) – or locally (the presumed and actual support of the Northern Gateway pipeline or the expansion of the Fraser-Surrey Docks coal port), that we can’t afford to trust the old simplistic, assumption-based arguments anymore.

Even the issue of whether to build upwards in White Rock and South Surrey is far more complex than impassioned ‘NIMBY’ or ‘business-will-benefit-the-community’ statements would like to make it.

The downside of the information explosion of the past few decades has been information overload – and this has not been ignored by those, whatever their political stripe, who have motives to coax us in one direction or another.

Pseudo-facts can be cobbled from elements of the truth and tailored to fit all our pre-existing assumptions, and the combined result can be promulgated endlessly across the Internet, not just in a matter of hours, but in seconds. Instead of some basic, underlying incontrovertible truth (possibly our most dangerous assumption), we are too often left only with an impression of truth, geared to our emotions and fueled by scads of lobbying dollars.

Our responsibility, no matter how we wish to shirk it, is to stay informed and examine, critically, evidence from all sides of the issues.

Faced with information overload, the human animal has two basic responses. One is to shut off critical thinking altogether and go with the opinions of whomever we’re told is to be trusted. The other is to dig in the heels and resist, kicking and screaming, any attempt to drag us into the future – no matter how much in our best interests it may be.

Neither of these reactions will serve us well in the long run.

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