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Critical Thinking Now Critical - China
Thinking through complex topics
What is critical thinking, and I am not talking about getting a definition from Google or the dictionary? And how do you use it? And why do you use it? All important questions and I would like to throw you my two cents and an example.
Critical thinking is important to every part of our lives, from personal relationships to world issues. Critical thinking allows us to take in information and process it effectively, knowing that there are facts that may be incorrect and statements that are influenced by unknown conditions. By using critical thinking we recognize there are many ways to view complex topics, and that none are necessarily better or worse or more right or wrong. Unlike mathematics (mostly), many social and personal issues can have multiple answers that work equally well.
There are many topics I am exploring right now, one of them is the differing views on China becoming the next world leader. I am in the process of forming an opinion, so please understand that none of my thoughts below are meant to do anything more than offer you an example of how I use critical thinking. I truly do not know what the future holds.
And since there are so many topics that require critical thinking, this theme will show up in future writings.
“We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are. ”
We are being told China is a threat, but why? We hear things about global, financial, and technical dominance, but why is that a concern? The implied and sometimes stated fear is that we will lose control, and that our values and freedoms will be taken away. But would they?
Upon pondering this topic I realize that we normally leave foreign policy to the politicians. Maybe we tend to leave all large and complex issues to others, to our leaders, to the people that do that type of thing. But this is risky. In order to move humanity to the next level many more of us must participate in thoughtful discourse, and then form opinions. We should not relegate this to a minority of individuals because the human race is ready to go to the next level and we must all participate.
It is difficult to consider large and complex topics because we rarely have all the facts, and because there is almost always a narrative framework that is easier to accept. What I mean by this is that most complex topics get framed within a particular context, and that context is provided by the people that are either for or against the subject of that topic. Using China, and its possible shift to being the world leader, many people feel this will be a bad thing, but how much of that is from thought out opinion versus what they have heard or read? In order to contemplate this issue seriously I must create a mental simulation in which China assumes the role of the world leader. What does this mean? I need to explore some basic questions.
What makes a country the world leader and is there truly such a thing?
Throughout much of human history the role of world leader got determined by the greatest army or physical strength - meaning the country that could defeat other cultures and societies by force. In recent history this has shifted slightly, and today there are multiple countries that could wipe out the earth. Thankfully, they have all refrained from using those weapons. Maybe out of evolved thinking, but more likely self preservation. This shift in ‘world domination power’ from one country to multiple countries has changed the criteria for a world leader away from having the greatest army to other metrics, such as economic superiority and influence.
Why does the role of world leader matter?
The role of world leader is critical to how humans will evolve because the world leader influences the morality and politics for the rest of the world. In developed societies we sometimes take personal freedoms for granted, including freedom of speech and religion. We assume all other humans would choose these rights but they do not. There are people in this world that do not want these freedoms because they would eliminate their ability to control others. It is important to know this, and it is also important to see that so far our world leaders have been moving humans closer to personal freedoms, and that these freedoms are a good thing. This could change.
The easy way forward is to leave things as they are, the United States is doing a fine job of world leadership so let's not rock the boat. But things are changing, future world leaders could reduce personal freedoms and move toward a greater control over individuals. This is possible, and must be considered. Why is that important?
The thing about humans is that we do not necessarily plan for the future and tend mostly to our current circumstances. Survival is not easy. It is only when our present circumstances become untenable that we rise up to make change. This behavior of the masses gives tremendous power to the leaders that plan the future of humanity. The world is a complex ecosystem and despite democracy we may not always know the true motives of our leaders. Perhaps it will not be possible for the masses to make change in the future. We could find ourselves in a situation where the ability of the masses to overthrow its leadership is no longer available. Recognizing these possible outcomes makes me realize that paying attention to these matters is important.
I want our species to evolve, to become peaceful and accepting of all humans (all life for that matter), and to survive indefinitely (not kill ourselves off). That is an important and core belief that I choose to keep at this time, and I strongly believe the most important next step to our evolution is greater acceptance of all humans and the cultures, religions, and societies they belong to. We must recognize that just as each individuals preferences and viewpoints are unique and different, so too are societies and cultures preferences and viewpoints unique and different. If China's role as world leader is inevitable, and even if it is not, what do we really understand about Chinese culture or its political preferences? And is it true we would lose our freedoms if China becomes the world leader?
To go deeper I need to separate out pieces of this complex issue and explore our origins.
I believe that humanities roots formed from animals with a clear purpose, procreation, and that this was to serve the ultimate purpose of survival and evolution. To survive and procreate, and ultimately evolve, we got really good at eliminating threats. Because humans sit at the top of the food chain and our technological discoveries allow us to survive most threats, our biggest threat is…other humans. How and why humans kill each other is a bit of a mystery but likely due to many factors, including competition, emotional fear, greed and a myriad of other emotions and beliefs. I also feel there is a greater reason happening evolutionarily - evolutionary competition. I imagine nature must try multiple paths in order to find the best path for the survival of our species, and/or perhaps humans are a tiny part of a much bigger evolution that we are currently incapable of comprehending. The most important point is that humans are evolving and instead of all humans feeling safe as one species, factions of humans have formed into cultures, religions, societies, or countries, and each of these factions feels threatened by some or all of the other factions.
This is a bad situation and perhaps the root of our troubles.
The obvious solution would be bringing all these factions together. Let us assume this is possible and explore ways of getting there. We must first accept our differences. We cannot do this by telling all people they are precisely the same because that is simply not true. Cultures are different. Races are different. These differences should be openly acknowledged and embraced, and the fact that some people prefer one race or culture or religion over another should be honored. We must learn to embrace things we do not have a preference for equally to those things we do have a preference for. We must educate ourselves on why these differences are good for all of us and honor the way in which they create diversity and texture. These are the qualities that make life, and humans, more interesting and capable of surviving. But, I have my doubts we will come together without some impetus. For example, if another intelligent species were to come from another galaxy and attempt to take over our planet, every culture and political faction would find a way to come together. But can we do that without a common enemy? I want to remain optimistic that our species can evolve to the next level.
Bringing this all back to China, it seems to me the most important thing is greater dialogue and understanding. I hope that Chinese leaders want the same things we do, and I am still not sure whether or not China becoming the new world leader is a threat to my quality of life. Even if China does change my (or more likely my offspring’s) quality of life, I am not sure that will prevent our species from evolving to the next level. I will continue to think about that, but the most important take away is that I do feel it is important for us humans to learn how to accept one another, and fast.
“To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe