After Covid, we must embrace critical thinking again
Blind submission to authority has to stop, now that we are coming to the end of the pandemic
I’ll never forget the most valuable lesson I learned during my first year at university, taught to me by a literature professor who had fled the USSR: All totalitarian regimes throughout history have shared one key trait – they control all knowledge. This is essential to their success, because if you can’t control what information the public can access, then you can’t effectively control a population.
“If you ever give up your right to freedom of information,” he would frequently remind me, “all of your freedom will be gone. You’ve lost everything.” This stuck with me and, over the next four years, I was fortunate to have a few great professors who expanded on it by teaching me how to keep that freedom. To be free, you must first learn how to think.
Freedom must be fought-for and preserved in a variety of ways but, if you don’t first know how to think, you won’t even recognize when your freedom is being taken away in the first place. As my professor explained, “For a people to be free and remain free, each person must recognize that he or she is an individual capable of independent thought, and learn to think critically about all subjects.” Anything less than that leads to regurgitating memorized information that may or may not be true.
In free countries, people can access public information, share knowledge, exchange ideas, and openly debate. This is all crucial, since being able to pose contrary ideas that go against the mainstream narrative is the foundation for creativity, invention, and progress in every field, from philosophy to physics. Anywhere people are free to question the status quo and present new ideas without fear of persecution, societies tend to thrive. Without this freedom, there would be no personal computers, or start-up companies. We wouldn’t have advances in medicine or engineering. We would be nothing more than submissive human capital to a tyrannical state – much like North Korea, for example, where independent media is banned and citizens are subject to a one-party, one-man rule. It is a country in perpetual stagnation and darkness, quite literally.
In America, we have taken our freedom of information and freedom of speech for granted for a long time, but it has gradually been slipping away. And for this we have no one to blame but ourselves. For years we’ve been sleepwalking at an ever-quickening pace into what I can only describe as a dumbing down.
It started with relying on Google to answer our questions, and then we let Netflix ‘binge watching’ become our public pastime. Instead of the once favorite activity of people watching, our heads are bent to stare at a screen, as we mindlessly click between apps. We have become a nation of passive consumers – the perfect kind of public to manipulate with propaganda and mind control. So I guess it should have come as no surprise when those who seek power seized upon the opportunity to control the people when it presented itself.
The blind submission to authority during Covid was a major wake-up call for me – and I hope for many – that losing our right to question the mainstream narrative is a dangerous and slippery slope to the loss of all freedom. I watched in horror over the last two years as people who were once considered progressive who championed free speech and an open internet called for silencing, deplatforming and tighter top-down information control. They began chanting mantras and propaganda slogans that instructed us to “follow the science!” As if science was a Bible, rather than what science actually is, which is a continual search for knowledge.
There is no such thing as ‘the science’ and science is not meant to be followed, but studied. There are scientific conclusions we have reached, of course, like the existence of gravity, but no real scientist would ever advocate dismissing skepticism, even of the most widely accepted theories. In fact, if you can’t question something, poke at it, and look for alternatives, then it isn’t science. If you can’t question it without fear of being “cancelled” or blacklisted by your own government, then it quite obviously isn’t science; it is a branch of authoritarianism. This doesn’t necessarily mean that what becomes the consensus is wrong, but how we arrive there matters.
To put the Covid-19 mandates into perspective, there was a time when our very same government sprayed a poison on children called DDT and, at the time, you were the equivalent of a right-wing conspiracy theorist if you thought this was dangerous. It took questioning “the science” to end it. Similarly, we now know that lockdowns during the pandemic had little or no effect on mortality (according to a study from Johns Hopkins University), but caused a great deal of social, societal, and economic harm, especially for our youth. To end the lockdowns and finally to speak out against them, it took the efforts of those willing to go against the narrative. But they had to first know how to think about what was happening, not to sit back and passively accept what they were told.
I’ll never forget a Forbes article from 2020 that warned we must never “do our own research.” That should be left to the experts. You know, the people who know better than you. Now, please understand that I don’t mean to suggest that medical degrees and years of scientific research don’t matter, or that anyone can be a self-appointed doctor. But anyone absolutely has the right to conduct research, ask questions, and make decisions for themselves – especially about their own bodies. Your body is your private property, and the best way to keep it that way is by freeing your mind to question more.
In much of the Western world, we are still mostly free (although we need to fight harder to preserve it). We should use our freedom to continue to evolve as humans by thinking critically, asking questions of others and of ourselves, and engaging in civil debate. We should strive toward intellectual curiosity, not adherence to dogmas spouted out by self-appointed ‘experts.’ If we allow a few tech companies, CEOs of pharmaceutical companies and politicians (of any party) to think for us, or to decide who is or isn’t allowed to have a public opinion, or what type of information we are permitted to read, then my college professor was spot on: we’ve lost everything.