Automated Intellect: The lack of Critical Thinking

Walter Cronkite on mag coverOpinion by Mark Kneubuhl-

Fifty years ago, there was less than three hours of news each day on the television (with three networks), one newspaper and AM radio played only music. News anchors like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley spent all day trying to get it right and most of time, they did.  And let’s not forget Walter Chronkite, who broke down in tears during a live “Special report” announcing the death of President John F. Kennedy.  Out of the same mold came Tom Brokaw, just a bit later.

Those guys were real cowboys and I say this in best sense of the term: They had a moral compass, which they used.  Ethics were forefront in journalism.  Critical thinking was a prerequisite in deciphering the day’s events. They viewed their jobs as an obligation to relay the news as accurately as humanly possible, while fully aware of the trust held by unsuspecting readers, watchers and listeners.

Ethical-journalism… hum: A contradiction of terms back them, like calling someone a “smart genius.”  It’s an oxymoron. Today, we love to tag old concepts and ideas with new catch words or phrases. It makes us feel innovative.

It’s a different world today. The older networks, namely CBS, NBC and ABC have pretty much stuck to their ethical guns, only expanding their 1-hour, evening timeslot to mornings, midday and lots of specials. This has been necessary to compete with the inundation of cable new comers who vary in content and delivery from the more traditional CNN to the Zany Glen Beck, who under the pretence of a news program made the case of a ‘coming insurrection of Marxists and Islamic radicals that will implode the whole world and create a new caliphate.’ This, he claims will happen if President Obama is re-elected.

I just read a short article entitled, “Why I Would Never Marry a Samoan Woman.”  The first couple of paragraphs were filled with one liners about how great the Samoan people are, and then, as if these kind words entitled the author to speak frankly as a “friend,” he goes into a lengthy trashing of the Samoan culture and physique (namely the women being overweight).

Since then, I’ve been paying more attention to the more “zany news” programs and noticed that they often use the same trick: ‘I’m sure President Obama is a wonderful person…. which proves that not all Muslins are bad people.’  Yes, some are still bringing up that Obama-birth thing!

Obama released his official birth certificate from Hawaii in 2008, which quelled the mainstream media but didn’t stop the likes Glenn Beck, et al.

Whatever the “news program”, mainstream or madcap, accuracy is what defines NEWS.  At least that’s how it worked in the day.  Where news was once simply a factual reporting of tangible events, we now report these same things founded on some new and varying “truths.”  These are based on viewpoint, belief, religion, cast and political membership. If you believe in something strongly, then to you, it is fact… and it is accurate and ethical to represent that position in the news.

I’ve coined a new catch-phrase: Philosophical News. I’m an innovator!

And although I see a problem with the deliveryman, the real predicament lies within us and our society. There are too many viewpoints and too much contradiction for most people in today’s busy society to absorb passively, like we did in the day.

Critical thinking was a natural process back in the 60s, a time when news and information was actively absorbed, not just passively viewed.  We watched Cronkite before dinner, discussed the broadcast that evening and sometimes again the next day at work.  We then repeated the cycle with the previous day’s “old news,” very neatly scrutinized, measured, sorted and filed.

I’m old enough to remember the 1960s but young enough to be still working today. We had the luxury of time in the 1960s. Then, people worked Monday thru Friday and during lunch hour, they ate lunch.  Most people didn’t work on Saturdays and Sundays were reserved for a stroll in the park.

There’s no such thing as a “stroll” anymore, only a stroller. (There’s also a model for the jogging parent.)

The rest of this is theory, based on pure conjecture. (A wordy spin for “Opinion”)

In today’s busy society, it’s all about time management.  The average American doesn’t have enough for reflection, debate, deliberation or deep discussion about anything other than their livelihood… their job.

So at some point, as human beings always do, we had to adapt. Management of time became critical; no more fireside chats with friends and family. Most all of us (unless you’re 45 years old and your name is “Flower”), where raised with a somewhat ‘channeled’ sense political and religious beliefs, and a position on social standing and welfare.  These were your parent’s beliefs (with all the best intentions), who may have also instilled some sense of tolerance for others.  Some left the ‘tolerance’ part out.

So, to transition after a busy day we stretch out on our Lazyboy recliner, in a house we don’t own and watch programs that we don’t have to question. We choose programs that conveniently coexist with our beliefs.  Whether it’s Bill O’Rielly or Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity or Nancy Grace, we barely have the energy to watch, much less to question.

As a matter of survival, our brains have become something akin to a badly designed piece of ancient computer software.  The files, of which, were uploaded years ago by our parents.

This is no fault of our own in this busy world. The modern watch is always running fast and our alarm clocks always rings too early. We don’t have the time to fully process all the information we receive each day, but rather we cut and paste favorable snippets to be filed in folders that conveniently fit our social, political and religious belief system.  It’s easy and quick and fits our schedule.

I call it, “automated intellect.”  It could also be called, “intellectual default.”  And it may in itself, be too much to think about.

Gotta run…


Posted by at March 29, 2012
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