Friday, September 2, 2011

Critical Thinking vs. Wishful Thinking

I took some road trips over the past few months driving through Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.  As I watched the scenery on Interstates, State and County roads and local streets, it reminded me of an annual event in Michigan when the supporters of the can and bottle deposit law turn out on its anniversary to say how proud they are.  During my travels, though, I saw no evidence that any of the states I drove through was cleaner or more littered than Michigan.  Is there really a benefit to this law to offset the costs of implementation?  Do these proud supporters understand the government-imposed costs on business and indirectly on us for the machines, maintenance, utilities, manpower, and computer programing to administer this program, not to mention the inconvenience to consumers having to save up (uncrushed) the cans and bottles for return?

Admittedly, this is not a huge cost, but it is another symptom of weak critical thinking.  If this were such a great idea and accomplished more than adding costs and pushing dimes around in a circle, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?  They back the bill, not because it makes sense, but because it makes them feel good for doing something "green."  They are thinking with their hearts, not their heads, which would be OK, if they weren’t imposing their conclusions on the rest of us.  (It also implies that they regard their fellow citizens as slobs who will not recycle or even pick up after themselves without this added incentive.)

Many of our societal problems today likewise are created and persist due to this kind of squishy logic.  They can be solved, if citizens begin to demand some kind of evidence of a benefit rather than feel-good speeches.  Other disputes that fall into this category, requiring analysis rather than advocacy might include:  gun control (slogans rather than evidence on both side), the deterrent effect of capital punishment, the economic result of minimum wage laws, the effectiveness of a D.A.R.E. program in schools, the use of psychics to assist in solving crimes, the assumed benefits of ethic diversity in all situations, the efficacy of healing by therapeutic touch and many others.  How can Critical Thinking and application of social science research methods get us closer to making the right practical and economic decisions to avoid wasted time and resources instead of the constant bickering, name calling and sloganeering that currently dominate these issues?

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