In a recent blog post, I discussed the potential for fake news to be a form of entertainment - and I recently found a new show to support this argument.
In a recent episode of The Jim Jefferies Show, the Australian comic used a phrase I have never heard before to describe the misinformation climate in USA: "A reverse-renaissance." Catchy. It comes a close second in my favorite catchy phrases list of late, after "fact-resistant."
Though I cannot confirm who coined either phrase, The Jim Jefferies Show is being extended — so it's clear that it has been popular. The show takes jibes at climate change deniars and the likes, wrapped up in an entertaining parcel. And more than this, it encourages critical thinking.
The emerging priority of critical thinking
What do we mean by critical thinking? One approach is to simply think of it as making good decisions, and this was the approach taken in recent research which convincingly demonstrates that critical thinking is a better predictor of effective decision-making than IQ; the findings are summarized by The British Psychological Society.
The authors explain that critical thinking skills can be taught, as supported by a recent meta-analysis, reviewing the collective knowledge to date. Accordingly, critical thinking skills should be taught. The authors explain that: "The irrational (uncritical) voter is a threat to all of us, as are irrational politicians, business executives, and scientists. We believe that we can create a better future by enhancing critical thinking skills of citizens around the world" (Butler, Pentoney & Bong, 2017, p. 45).
Beyond exposing the limitations of focusing on IQ, the research signposts how critical thinking is worth investing in — right now. Recognizing fake news for what it is will become increasingly more difficult as we will have to challenge not only what we read, but see and hear.
I for one propose that critical thinking ought to become something people pride themselves on. The retention of trivia is no longer relevant or useful. What is relevant and useful is being able to process new information critically, to make better decisions. And surely that it something everyone wants? The pursuit of happiness is of central importance in all of our lives, and making terrible decisions is like carrying around a broken compass.
Critical thinking then can be likened to mindfulness, with its focus on paying attention in a non-judgmental way to experience the here and now; mindfulness is also thought to more broadly encompass a compassion for and curiosity about the world.
I'm not stretching that far to suggest that there is some overlap between mindfulness and critical thinking, and I have no doubt there has been research into this; the volume of research dedicated to mindfulness is staggering, and it has been applied to seemingly everything.
But what I am really getting at is that the revolution concerning mindfulness has facilitated a culture wherein people are comfortable about looking after themselves, and their mental health. It highlights a responsibility and discipline over the choices they make, with observational skills developing as a result.
I would love to live in a world where people were motivated to sift through misinformation and relish in the delight of calling someone out for being a malicious deceiver. Many people of course do so, but by all appearances most do not.
The idiots are (not) winning
It won't take long before those making bad decisions by falling for the sort of false promises peddled online recognize that that they have been duped. This might be wasting money on homeopathic treatments which do nothing, or perhaps something more sinister - which impacts on us all.
When Jefferies asked Brad Pitt's weatherman character about the weather forecast, his dry response, "There is no future," highlights the potential consequences for us all if we choose not to sharpen our critical thinking skills.