I have been wandering around for days, not working on certain things that have to get done this week (and considering the ones that need to get done in the next 5 or 6 months). I have been engaged in a system of “pick pick poke poke.” Rather than jump in and do something the way I know how, I am pausing to consider if perhaps there might be a better way of doing it.
It is Thursday and the thing that is due on Friday suddenly looks manageable.
They released yet another proposed budget for the State of RI. There is unhappiness all around. Much of it has to do with the manner in which they are cutting funding for services that without funds, will create a greater and more expensive problem.
But nothing is simple when it comes to resolving economic and social issues. Nothing gets me more irritated then to see people jump to presenting a slogan or over simplified and unrealistic (but short and sounds right if you don’t think about it) solution as a means for solving the problem. When critical thought is not woven with future thinking, we just either get saddled with a different version of the same problem or even worse, nobody does anything but spout slogans because even they recognize that there is no real action or movement to take to achieve the solution they are promoting.
Now, I keep using the term “critical thinking.” Here is a small excerpt from Wikipedia about how that is defined:
the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” More recently, critical thinking has been described as “the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which uses reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria.” Within the critical social theory philosophical frame, critical thinking is commonly understood to involve commitment to the social and political practice of participatory democracy, willingness to imagine or remain open to considering alternative perspectives, willingness to integrate new or revised perspectives into our ways of thinking and acting, and willingness to foster criticality in others.
It is something that used to be taught in the American educational system but is no longer. Why? Because critical thinking never leads to one answer or solution, but a multitude of equally viable options. And that is “viable options” as in, possible to do for real. Measuring the effectiveness of Educational programs using a quantitative means (tests) is possible when the system is teaching critical thought, but expensive and time consuming because you cannot scan an answer card, someone would have to sit and evaluate the viability of the answers.
Critical thinking does not generate fantastical and unrealistic possible solutions to problems. Critical thinking is not used in questioning data, statistics or experience but in learning to question core assumptions, beginning with your own and then webbing outward.
Back to the budget. There has been a shift in the kinds of people involved in the economic transition teams and it is showing. When you read of the discussions about raising the gas tax, for example, there is a set of thinking and presentation of ideas that shows there is something more akin to critical thinking going on – except in one missing area, and that is the questioning of the assumption.
The tax on gas in Rhode Island is used to fund DOT programs and projects. It is a flat tax, x amount of pennies per gallon. Over the years, the DOT has lost a significant amount of its funding because as gas prices rise, fuel efficient cars have become more appealing and less gas is bought. Raising the gas tax is not seen as anything but a short term solution because after a few years, the cars will become more efficient or maybe even the people will – with car pooling and thoughtful errand management.
Another proposal is to implement the VMT. The VMT is a vehicle mileage tax, where you are taxed according to the miles that you drive. No body has quite figured out how to do this without big brother overtones of installing tracking devices or requiring odometer readings with yearly registations plus, it unfairly penalizes those who drive out of state and those in state who commute because they cannot afford to live near their jobs.
Dancing around all this is the small voice of RIPTA saying, “um…we are going to have to cut our services by 10%.”
The lacking element of critical thinking that runs through this discussion (and this is just a fairly simple example of discussions taking place across the board) is the lack of questioning of the assumption. The basic assumptions are two-fold: one, that DOT must be funded from a vehicle/gasoline related tax and two, that people in this State need to drive to get around. And I say “in this State” because we are so small and statistically, do not commute far (or further than we could reach using public transportation).
Another assumption that applies to the VMT is that big brotherish methods must be used rather than rely on people selecting an expected mileage to be driven in state each year (as car insurance companies do). In other words, the assumption is that the population cannot be trusted to be honest.
There are many more assumptions woven into both of those issues. It is the core assumptions that provide the pattern for our behaviors, personally and communally. Unless the core assumption, the core belief, is modified – no amount of change will work to resolve the problem, it will (going back to Fromm) reassert itself as a pattern because it is a necessary part of the system of beliefs existing.
One of the core assumptions in our society that sustaining all of these problems that we have is the assumptions about basic rights and freedoms. The social/cultural shift has placed an emphasis on the defense of freedoms with a companions education on the responsibility of having freedoms. I forget who said it (and I know I recently tweeted the quote) that freedom of speech does not excuse you from the responsibility of knowing what should and should not be said.
Our cultural attitude towards ownership and use of property is firmly in the arena of viewing it as a natural right and a part of our freedom. Missing is the awareness that ownership and use by an individual can have detrimental effects on the community. In a state this small, where just about everything is reachable (for now) by public transportation – is it right to own and drive a car? It is a convenience for many – but viewed as a necessity. That it creates an enormous and unsustainable financial burden on the community that can result in funding cuts or increased taxes is seen as a personal affront. The personal sense of necessity is seen as more important than the impact that choice has on the community. Yet it is on the community that the individual relies for the roads they travel on.
What is the core assumption where this is allowed to be seen as right and true?
What core assumptions to you have about social and economic issues that allow you to believe what you believe and to give voice to your opinions in the manner that you do? It doesn’t mean that they may be right or wrong, but the more aware you are of what your assumptions consist of, the better able you will be able to see where the assumption does not match the reality or even blocks possibilities and opportunities for change. If the assumptions do match, then you will find ways to become more effective.
c. 2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.