Cognitive Negligence: the death of critical thinking

There is an awful tendency in modern society to rely on reactive responses rather than critical thinking. Society has, on the whole, decided to stop thinking; we're awash in "Thinking is hard, so I just react."

Cognitive Negligence: the death of critical thinking

The phrase "I think, therefore I am" is a classic philosophical statement that reflects the idea that our ability to think and reason is what makes us human and gives us a sense of existence. There is an awful tendency in modern society to rely on reactive responses rather than critical thinking. Society has, on the whole, decided to stop thinking; we're awash in "Thinking is hard, so I just react."

This tendency can be seen in various aspects of modern life, from political discourse to social media interactions to everyday conversations. People often react to information without taking the time to think critically or consider alternative perspectives. This can lead to a lack of empathy, a failure to understand complex issues, and an oversimplification of important topics.

The phrase "cognitive negligence" seems to describe this tendency. It suggests that individuals are neglecting their cognitive abilities and failing to engage in critical thinking. This can be due to a variety of factors, including the fast-paced nature of modern life, the prevalence of social media, and the echo-chamber effect that can result from surrounding oneself with like-minded individuals. We see this cognitive negligence across an enormous swath of society, not just in a narrow area or two:

In politics, people tend to vote against what they hate or fear, rather than finding a political party with which they actually agree. This phenomenon is often referred to as "negative partisanship" or "partisan polarization." Negative partisanship occurs when individuals are more motivated to vote against a particular political party or candidate that they dislike or fear, rather than for a political party or candidate that they actually agree with. This can lead individuals to vote for a political party that is perceived as the opposite of what they hate or fear, rather than taking the time to research and understand the policies and platforms of different political parties to find one that aligns with their beliefs and values.

Partisan polarization is often fueled by factors such as political ideology, media bias, and social identity. Individuals may identify strongly with a particular political ideology or social group, and may be more likely to vote for a political party that aligns with their group identity, regardless of the policies or platform of that party. Additionally, media bias can contribute to negative partisanship by promoting negative stereotypes or misinformation about political parties or candidates, which can lead individuals to vote against them based on those perceptions rather than the actual policies or qualifications of the candidates.
This has negative consequences for democracy by encouraging people to vote based on fear and dislike rather than informed and reasoned decision-making. It can also contribute to political gridlock and an inability to find common ground on important policy issues.

In religion, people may choose a particular religious denomination or congregation based on a perceived opposition to what they dislike or fear, rather than based on the theological beliefs and practices of that group. For example, someone who dislikes the perceived conservatism of one denomination may choose to attend a more liberal denomination as a way of distancing themselves from what they dislike, rather than engaging with the theological perspectives and practices of either denomination.

Second, people may be motivated by a desire to distance themselves from particular theological perspectives or figures that they dislike or find problematic, rather than engaging with those perspectives in a meaningful way. For example, someone may dismiss the teachings of a particular religious figure or tradition based on their dislike of that figure or tradition, without fully engaging with the content of their teachings.

Overall, this tendency can lead to a lack of genuine engagement with theological questions and discussions, and an overemphasis on differences and disagreements rather than finding common ground. It can also contribute to a lack of theological diversity and understanding, and can hinder efforts to find common ground and engage in meaningful theological dialogue.

We even find this in niche areas, like environmental activism: In the past, the left tended to oppose nuclear power due to concerns about the potential risks and dangers associated with nuclear energy. However, as the threat of climate change has become increasingly apparent, many on the left have shifted their focus towards reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels, recognizing that this is a more pressing threat to the environment.

This shift in priorities reflects a tendency to prioritize opposition to one threat over another, rather than a nuanced and informed understanding of the various environmental risks and challenges we face. This can lead to an oversimplification of complex issues and a failure to engage with the full range of potential solutions.

The list can go on-and-on:

  • Confirmation bias in investing: Investors may be inclined to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs about the market or a particular stock, rather than considering alternative perspectives. This can lead to overconfidence and poor investment decisions.
  • Inertia in consumer behavior: Consumers may stick with certain brands or products out of habit, rather than making an active decision based on critical evaluation of their options. This can lead to missed opportunities for savings or better quality products.
  • Overreliance on economic models: Economists may become too attached to particular economic models or theories, and fail to consider alternative approaches or evidence that challenges their assumptions. This can lead to a lack of flexibility and adaptability in response to changing economic conditions.
  • Political polarization in economic policy: Politicians and policymakers may become entrenched in their ideological positions on economic issues, and fail to consider evidence or perspectives that challenge their existing views. This can lead to a lack of progress in finding effective solutions to economic challenges.

To borrow the phase, from psychology; admitting we have a problem is the first step towards recovery. It’s time to admit that society doesn't want to think. We should begin to acknowledge the problem, and encourage people to take a more thoughtful approach to their interactions and decision-making. We can promote the value of critical thinking and encourage individuals to seek out diverse perspectives and engage in civil, constructive dialogue.

This concept of cognitive negligence highlights the importance of taking responsibility for our own cognitive processes and actively engaging in critical thinking to promote a more thoughtful society.