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Wednesday
Mar062013

The Power Of Negative Thinking

These days it seems the very worst thing you can be, the greatest cultural crime you can commit, is to be "negative".

The same people who feel this way are the first to issue that lazy platitude "we're all entitled to our opinion"

But it seems that's only partially true, we're only entitled to our opinion if that opinion is sufficiently sunny, positive and non-critical.

Ironically (or perhaps predictably) we encounter this most in the fields which prompt and indeed deserve the most criticism.

Religion. Self help. Alternative medicine. Conspiracy theories.

To be critical of these is to be a "negative person", and a negative person is the antithesis of what all right-thinking people should be which is of course -"open minded".

Open mindedness is a quality so fetishised it's beyond reproach, beyond rebuttal, it's the default correct position in any debate.

"Well I can't say I know much about homeopathy but there must be something to it'

"Well I was always sure we had landed on the moon but where there's smoke there's fire. I mean, who's to say?"

This is anti-wisdom. Not only does it shut down debate it actually makes a virtue out of ignorance.

Maybe open mindedness once meant looking at the available evidence and making an informed decision; creating mental filters for what you deem credible sources of information. But the term has been warped to mean unrestrained credulity. To have an open mind is to mindlessly believe everything, that every opinion carries equal weight. (Provided it's not negative of course)

Well bollocks I say.

To clarify, you are of course entitled to express your opinion. You are not however, automatically entitled to have it taken seriously. Particularly if it's unsupported by any credible evidence or reasoned argument.

You are entitled to believe in creationism or crystal healing or cosmic ordering or astrology. You're quite capable of being a nice person while doing so.

But don't expect the rest of us to value your ideas as much as the sum of all human learning, simply by virtue of them having popped into your head.

You're entitled to claim that positive thinking will solve my problems, make me rich and happy beyond my wildest dreams, and if you're part of the self help or motivational industries you're entitled to put a price tag on that information. But you should be open minded enough to know you are not above criticism, not every critic is a “negative thinker” or “hater” - now and then they’ll have a point.

You are entitled to believe that I'm being overly negative now, so let me end on a positive note.

 Critical thinking was the driving force behind the Age of Enlightenment, a movement spearheaded by such Negative Nigels as Isaac Newton and Voltaire. It led directly to modern medicine, the scientific revolution, the rise of the arts and democracy in Europe and equal rights for women. And one of its central tenets was that no one is above criticism.

If the architects of the enlightenment were around today, scathing as they were of superstition and the church, they'd be told to be more open-minded. 

 

In science when you have an idea you try and prove it wrong. And if you find you can't disprove it yourself you ask your peers to try, and they rip it apart. And if they can't rip it apart then maybe you have an idea that will make our lives easier or more fulfilling or even prevent someone from dying.

Critical thinking then, what some call negativity, is quite simply how we get better.

I'm sure of it. In fact I'm absolutely positive.

 

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