Being critical 101: academics, aliens and media.

What does being critical mean and what does it entail?

The not-so-secret secret I learned from a few of my university professors is that the academic institution makes one weighty promise to the Canadian government. That promise is to teach students critical thinking. Just like that, like it is so easy to learn in the four years of their undergraduate studies.

Unfortunately, academic essays and assessment rubrics do not scratch the surfaces of critical thinking. Critical thinking is a belief system: a matter of understanding what you are NOT thinking about, what you are disclosing, what you are NOT defining in concrete evidence, and what you personally have vested in the issue, among other generic definers. Critical thinking has a sort of worldly idea behind it; it is a matter of considering perspectives beyond their points of reference. It is a matter of navigating in a world of enclosed spaces and a matter of opening sealed envelopes.

So you have a way of thinking, a newfound belief system or a pre-existing one. Some people believe in God, some in fate and higher-not-quite-God power, and some in science. They find an explanation for reality and for their purpose in life through these various belief systems. What is the reason for this? It is a natural human instinct to want to know where we come from and what we are doing here.

Being critical means not believing in sugar-coated stuff. Being critical means doubting our natural ways of thinking. Going against the fibres of nature and leaving unpredictability in the hands of feasible systems that can provide concrete equations. Being critical should not be a war between science and God and should not be about rejecting the idea of God. Being critical should be about rejecting one-sided ideas, narrowness of the belief, passivity, and the inability to question what is in place. Critical thinking can be achieved beyond the walls of religion, culture and society. It is just a matter of leaving the comfort behind.

What we do not realize is that we are all natural critics and skeptics and are all guilty of criticizing (the negative connotation of this). Some of us just get criticism right, and others apply it in the wrong contexts. No wonder. The comforts of modern middle-class life, globalization and the growing entertainment industry leave us little time to get detached from the computer screen or the magazine spread. Media provides us with a rigid system of conditioning that replaces active thinking with pleasure.

We shut off, without questioning and donate ourselves to those who mold the popular opinion. After all, aliens are not at war with us but we are at war with ourselves and the imaginary force that has something against us. Recognizing the war with ourselves is sure as hell discomforting.