As an inquisitive, yet apathetic college freshman—one skeptical and often hostile of dogmatic Academia and its rigid formalities…also, If I can continue to interrupt myself…I was prone to dismissive eye-rolling whenever a hyperactive music major thrusted their hands into the air, desperately straining for the attention of the Professor, hoping they could be selected to launch a spectacular, nauseating, sycophantic blatherfest…(whew…okay, I’m good, I got that out)—I remember sighing through one of those unremarkable, if not insufferable, Media Studies courses.
But, for one day, The Professor made a minor—though exceptional, for him—attempt at brightening his dreary lectures by handing each of us a photocopied newspaper article.
‘Now, ‘ The Professor said standing before my desk, ‘Suspending political biases, would you trust this writer as a respected, authoritative voice?’
(Uh, could one even propose such an idea to a college student in 2018?)
I smirked at the crude photocopy, immediately recognizing the photo of the esteemed writer, ‘Of course! It’s Buckley! The conservative!’
The Professor chuckled, ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes! It’s William F. Buckley Jr! I read his column every week in the newspaper!’
(Uh, could one even admit to such a thing as a college student in 2018?)
The Professor pointed at the byline, ‘Are you sure?’
Shit… Jake, you smug fuck…
‘Ah…’ I was deflated.
Yes, the byline was Bill Buckly…
The Professor smiled, ’See, I edited his name just ssssooo slightly to trick you…You simply took the article’s writer at face value. As we progress further and further into the age of the internet, you will have to equip yourself with reliable, discerning critical thinking skills.’
Ah, yes, how prophetic that was in 1998.
Ah, yes, how quaint and antiquated newspapers and critical thinking have become.
Did I mention this was the same distinguished Professor who during a conversation with a dumbfounded undergrad sneered, ‘It was called Operation Mockingbird, you poor, gullible thing…’
(Of course, for today’s modern customer—yikes, I meant student—such a haughty retort would be deemed not only insulting but scarring.)
Seemingly, within a generation, critical thinking—the technique of objective analysis utilizing the rational and skeptical to examine the possibilities and variables of a particular situation or subject to determine an unbiased judgement…or, maybe even to find The Truth—was vanquished by critical theory (or, for all the Jordan Peterson newbie acolytes, Literary/Social/Marxist theory) with its rigid parameters of uh um philosophical analysis.
One would think, in this Age Of #FakeNews, when everything is vulnerable to being decontextualized, conflated and reformulated by Social Media Hysteria, Meme Makers and Political Ideologues, those of critical thinking would be desired, even well compensated, to bring cohesion to the chaos.
The Critical Thinkers have been decontextualized, conflated and reformulated into Conspiracy Theorists.
Some would argue, this process was engineered by The Critical Theorists.
In The Olden Days, when The Professor was just a young lad, a conspiracy theorist was simply curious, their critical thinking stimulated by detecting a lapse in logic…
“Hey, Bill… Did you read that report? How the devil did they get from point A to C? I mean, something doesn’t make sense! Where’s Point B, Bill! Where’s Point B!”
“Jim, I wouldn’t go there if I were you…”
Of course, Jim went down the rabbit hole, confronting contradictions and assembling evidence to eventually conclude that something was amiss…
“Bill, look what I’ve found…”
After ruminating, Bill says, “Jim…This—this—this is profane! It differs from all that is scared! It opposes the dogma of the day! It questions what we accept as fact! And, most importantly, Jim, you’re seeking an answer to a question that we, as a society, have all agreed is much too taboo to provoke!”
“But, Bill, I’m not saying it’s the truth, darn it! I’m just saying doesn’t it seem plausible?”
“Gosh darn it, Jim, didn’t you read the Company’s Policy and Procedures! It’s on page 11, section 7, clause 33, Thou Shall Not Dispute Institutional Tenets No Matter The Rationality!”
He’s now a raging, frothing, spittle flecked Alex Jones…
In 2018, if some college student, upon hearing The Professor remark Operation Mockingbird didn’t screech Racist!—again, I apologize, I intended to use Conspiracy Theorist—and instead embarked on an intrepid, critical thinking journey into the term Operation Mockingbird, (like a few of us did in that class in 1998) what would they conclude?
Intriguing parallels to this Age Of #Fakenews?
Would that student also—
(Oh, wait, sorry to interrupt, again… Let’s be honest, Conspiracy Theorist is now decontextualized, conflated and reformulated to Racist. I mean, after that student’s triggering went viral, The Professor would be publicly reviled by his academic colleagues, The Dean would issue a self-righteous reprimand that pandered to the student body and The Professor, an eminent critic, researcher and author on Media Studies, a man with the expertise and merit to wield the term Operation Mockingbird, would be exiled into retirement.)
And, what if this student, after a rigorous, rational and skeptical examination thought, “I wonder what my racially and gender diverse dorm-mates would think of my findings on Operation Mockingbird?”
Oh, I’m sure I can’t even imagine…
Back in the day, there was a motto, A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, which, in this period of stymied intellectual pursuit seems—