In his book, Intellectuals and Society (opens in a new link), Thomas Sowell (opens in a new link) demonstrates how frequently we are fed misleading information on a daily basis. While he doesn’t ascribe any malicious motives to those who mislead us, he does offer insights into their motivations.
To me what’s most important is that we gain insights into how we are being mislead so that we can more critically question the information we’re getting. By being more questioning of what we’re hearing and reading we can avoid the emotional reactions and judgments associated with the information we’re receiving.
Facts, not opinion
In full disclosure I’ve become a fan of Thomas Sowell. I’ve read a number of his books and the thing that has always impressed me is that he references the sources of information that he presents to illustrate the points he makes. This means that the skeptics among his readers can easily verify the information he’s presenting as being factual…not just his opinion.
Don’t be daunted
I typically don’t pay attention to the length of a book when I decide to buy it. That was the case when I ordered Intellectuals and Society. I was taken aback when I found it to be a whopping 669 pages. Indeed, I didn’t touch it for a month after it arrived. When I finally decided to tackle this book I committed to myself to read it for only 15 minutes a day to make the task more manageable.
Once I began reading it I found I couldn’t put it down. Then I realized that there are 100 pages of notes which contain the references to the sources of information he uses in his examples. That still left 546 pages of content on everything from the economy, to the law, our courts, academia and the media including social media. It’s well written so I got through the 546 pages quickly.
One of the reasons I like Thomas Sowell’s writings is that they are counterintuitive. As those of you who regularly read this blog know, I write a lot about natural tendencies that we all possess by virtue of our humanity, how these tendencies get in the way of our success and how to overcome these natural tendencies. In other words, I promote counterintuitive thinking and behaviors.
Thomas Sowell uses a similar approach in highlighting how information is being fed to us on topics that affect our everyday lives. He does so to help you develop a more critical approach to analyzing the information we get.
For some time now I’ve roiled at the news media for showing five to ten second video clips of police engagements in shooting events. There’s no way that those five to ten seconds gives a complete telling of the story about these events. Yet, these clips, along with the commentary, triggers emotional reactions in the public at large. As a result, emotions and judgments are formed on less than complete information. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I hate being manipulated in this way.
While that’s a fairly obvious example, at least to me, of attempts at misleading me, there are more areas in which I have little knowledge and find it more difficult to challenge what I’m hearing or reading. Indeed, in some of these areas I have so little knowledge that I wouldn’t know what questions to ask. Mr. Sowell’s book has provided insights that will make it easier for me to question the information I’ll be fed in the future.
I encourage you to get Intellectuals and Society…and read it. It will help you become a better connoisseur of the information you receive. You’ll also find that as you become more critical of the information you’re being fed, you become less emotional and less judgmental. These are two things that misleading information are designed to trigger: emotion and judgment.
If enough of us challenge the information we’re getting often enough, we can, through our votes and active participation in our schools and comments to media reports, effect changes that will lead to less misleading information.
For our kids
Openly question things that don’t make sense to you, that seem designed to offer only one side of the issue. Do so in front of your kids. As they see you regularly question the information being presented, they’ll become more critical of information presented to them.
As they develop this capability, they become adept at protecting themselves from misleading information. They’ll also become less susceptible to emotional ploys and the judgments that typically accompany emotional reactions.
Finally, they’ll develop a counterintuitive approach to examining issues. As a result, others will regularly say to them “You don’t think like other people do. You look at the world differently than others do. You see things others don’t see. Yet what you say makes perfect sense.” These capabilities will afford them tremendous influence and open the door to a vast array of opportunities. In other words, they’ll attract opportunities instead of having to pursue them.
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Readers would love to see your thoughts and experiences in a comment below.
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