Thinking Dangerously in an Age of Political Betrayal

Photo by Tommaso Meli (CC BY 2.0)

Henry A. Giroux

Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility….Open thinking points beyond itself.
–Theodor Adorno

That is, there are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise. … nonthinking is even more dangerous.
–Hannah Arendt

Thinking has become dangerous in the United States.

The symptoms are everywhere, but one symptomatic display of anti-enlightenment, religious fundamentalism can be observed in the Texas GOP Party platform which states, among other things, that “We oppose teaching of Higher order Thinking Skills [because they] have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental control” to a Tennessee bill that “allows the teaching of creationism in state’s classrooms.” Couple this with the call on the part of the Texas Republican party to ban the income tax, eliminate corporate taxes, sack the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and the Department of energy, along with policies designed to force teachers to teach creationism and climate change denial in the schools.

What is often ignored in the reporting of such overt displays of ignorance is that religious and ideological fundamentalism are at the root of a right-wing political movement to miseducated young people, keep the American public ignorant, and hasten a return to the Gilded Age.

Just in case, students disagree with this retreat into ignorance, one freshman Tea Party representative in Arizona is pushing a Loyalty Oath bill in which “public high school students in Arizona will have to ‘recite an oath supporting the U.S. Constitution’ to receive a graduation diploma.” But, ignorance is not simply a matter of pedagogy, it also drives a great deal of state and federal policy. For example, the Koch brothers financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.” At the same time, policy makers at the state level define a return to the Dark Ages as progress. As John Atcheson observes,

For example, North Carolina law-makers recently passed legislation against sea level rise. A day later, the Virginia legislature required that references to global warming, climate change and sea level rise be excised from a proposed study on sea level rise. Last year, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a study on Galveston Bay, cut all references to sea level rise — the main point of the study. We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold.As Stephen Colbert so aptly put it: if your science gives you results you don’t like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved. Except it isn’t. Wishing reality away, doesn’t make it go away. Pretending that the unreal is real doesn’t make it real.

At a time when anti-intellectualism runs rampart throughout popular culture and the political landscape, it seems imperative to once again remind ourselves of how important critical thought as a crucible for thinking analytically can be both a resource and an indispensable tool. If critical thought, sometimes disparaged as theory, gets a bad name, it is not because it is inherently dogmatic, jargonistic, or rigidly specialized, but because it is often abused or because it becomes a tool of irrelevancy–a form of theoreticism in which theory becomes an end in itself. This abuse of critical thought appears to have a particularly strong hold in the humanities, especially among many graduate students in English departments who often succumb to surrendering their own voices to class projects and dissertations filled with obtuse jargon associated with the most fashionable theorists of the moment. Such work is largely rewarded less for its originality than the fact that it threatens no one.

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