Contrarian Scepticism as pro-level passive-aggressive performance.
This was a Twitter thread, now posted here, trying to reflect on, extend and reconstruct a talk I gave at ‘Question Criticality’ Symposium at Leeds @CentreCelt in November 2019 about criticality/critical thinking in HE and wider contexts
We often laud critical thinking, seeing a lack of it as socially dangerous, and desperately argue for students to ‘question more’. This seems like an obvious truth. It is generally accepted as such with philosophy: that this is a discipline based on searching questions. Socratic dialogues set this tone- and we are off. But to where? Might we reframe Socratic and other questioning methods as futile at best. From climate-change deniers, alternative facts and the distrust of experts, to ‘debate me’ Reddit edge-lords, we need to up our game in a more sophisticated articulation of criticality that doesn’t contribute to these progress/species-endangering behaviours
The ‘change my mind’ and debate-me voices mostly don’t want to change their mind, but want to *win*, or indulge in a performative display of contrarian, ‘edgy’ rhetoric.
The ‘debate me’ dudes are addressed in this short piece by @milesklee that I’d commend – https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/debate-me-dudes-ben-shapiro-ocasio-cortez
The ‘reply guy’ in some variants is framed as an attempt to debate – but as in the piece by @chloebryan in https://mashable.com/article/twitter-reply-guys/?europe=true (types 5 and 7 of the 9 types of reply guy seem to maybe fit here?) – the men have arrived to *tell* women something, and it’s pretty far from a dialogic undertaking that they engaging in.
Beyond this we see another demand to make spaces for voices, no matter how transgressive, unwelcome, abusive or hurtful as not only a staple of Trump’s platform, but mirrored closely in Office for Student in the UK – a forced ‘debate me’ culture in Higher Education maybe?
It’s hard to think that ‘being critical’ isn’t a goal we should aspire to for our students, but we need to do better. We might pause here and reflect on what we want critique for. What genuine dialogue is, and that isn’t a surface performativity that changes nothing, and isn’t open to being changed itself. ‘Marketplace of ideas’ is such a scrappy notion, that is used as though it’s a notion that is complete – rather than actually raising myriad questions as to whose market it is, what currency we pay in (attention?), whether we accept faulty and misleading goods, whether I am forced to hear every sales pitch, and who owns the stalls. Next time we are tempted to pop ‘critical thinking’ as a learning outcome for a course – we might want to think about what we actually mean, and have our criticality acquire some specificity.