Developing Critical Thinking Skills

To be honest, I do not have very good critical thinking skills. I do know my critical thinking skills are poor. Knowing this, I spend a lot of time thinking and examining problems, and trying to figure out the context of the issue. People wonder why I don’t trust what they say; it could be from all the time living in the “Show-Me” state (Missouri). It could be that I am naturally skeptical. My education and training in geography has provided me a wealth of exposure to many global issues. From this exposure I am able to measure the content I am exposed to via Media, newspapers, politics, cable TV and Internet. Domestic and global issues have complexities that most media do not illuminate. To help pass along a method I use for helping analyze an issue, I offer two geographic terms, proximate, and distal.

Proximate: “the nearest or closest cause of an effect or cause.”

Distal: “the distant reason for an effect, or the distant reason why something happened.”

Both “proximate” and “distal” refer to events that occur in time and space, with measureable units, like seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years; and, inches, feet, or miles.

Proximate and distal work like this:

“The husband died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.”

This would be an example of the proximate cause of death.

“The wife told police that after suffering years of physical and mental abuse by her husband, his drinking, and infidelity, she snapped and blew a hole in his chest with her husband’s own .357 handgun.”

This is the distal cause of the husband’s death. The legal system often attempts to explain behavior by couching the actions within the distal reasons for the action, such as years of abuse.

Our lives are constantly pushed and pulled by proximate and distal influences.

OWS is a proximate result of distal government legislation. One of the themes of OWS of income disparity, the vast chasm that has opened up between the U.S. middle class and the extremely wealthy. I’ve heard many people discuss their hatred of banks, and financial institutions, of golden parachutes, and CEOs receiving millions of dollars as bonuses while the company itself may have lost money.

While I do share the irritation felt by many OWS supporters, I do not really blame the financial institutions. I think about it this way, those in the OWS crowds, should they have found themselves to be a beneficiary of wealth, would probably behave as many of those in the “1%.” The 1% is simply taking advantage of an environment birthed in the 1980s, from trickle-down Reagonomics, the “Me” Generation. The federal government, especially the Legislative branch, has been engaged by lobbyists, special interest groups, and political action committees, to undertake actions that benefit the few. Or, the financial markets.

While OWS is directing their anger at the proximate sources of their distress, the Bank of America, Wall St., et. al. the real, aka the distal root of their anger is Congress.

We have elected too many people who do not really reflect who we are as a country. That is one problem. Another problem is that we have elected people who seek to use the funding available at Federal levels to support people at regional and local levels within their domain of influence.

Few legislatures want to address and solve a problem without first examining how a resolution can best benefit themselves or their constituency. Real, lasting, honest solutions do not come about through selfish behavior.

OWS, to implement real change, should identify specific legislation that has allowed financial institutions to engage in risky financial behaviors. Secondly, OWS should identify people at all levels of government who act selfishly to support only themselves, or who support legislation that allows for too much risk-taking.

Many of the causes for today’s economic disruption can trace their distal roots to legislation passed by both Democrats and Republicans during the Clinton administration.

Fixes for today’s economic disruption need to consider the downstream effects, the distal ramifications of choices.

A proximate cause for today’s economic malaise in the United States is unemployment.

The distal reason for today’s unemployment is the lack of economic foresight, planning, direction, and leadership throughout all levels of government. Germany, South Korea, France, and China all examine current and future trends. Government, Education, and Business engage to set economic plans to ensure continued economic success.

The proximate reason for EU economic troubles is the poor spending habits of Greece and Spain, and Ireland. The distal reason is the habitual poor public welfare spending behaviors of those countries over decades.

People who say that Socialism is the answer only need to examine Italy, Greece, and Spain to see that Social Welfare has an immense number of problems. A country cannot stay solvent by borrowing money to pay people not to work or to retire while still very able-bodied. Greece is its own worst enemy. And Germany has been the major supporter of the Greek bail-out only because of the responsible attitude of the government in curbing its own welfare spending and social programs, and investing in the education of Germans, and investing in future-looking industries.

The proximate argument against U.S. government spending in business and industry, investment in technology, is the crash of Solyndra.

The distal cause of the fall of Solyndra was that the company was engaging in competition with an industry already dominated by Germany and China. Businesses in both countries also received financial support by the government. China’s government invested $1 billion dollars over 5 years ago in solar cell technology. That investment allowed China to grab 75% of the solar cell market. Our government could have done that, but we have been too busy “investing” in our military. And, once the U.S. got interested, we were already behind the development curve. Thus, our engagement in solar cells was doomed from the start. Now, we have to listen to idiot politicians who argue that “the United States should not be a venture capitalist!”

In fact, we should be investing like crazy. Yes, we might lose a $1 billion dollars, initially, but we might make back $4 billion dollars.

Ask Microsoft, who sunk $1 billion into the Xbox, and got back $4 billion for their efforts. Their return on investment took 10 years or so, but they made their money back, plus.

10 years ago, I would have said, “keep government out.” Today, in order to repair the damage we have made not only for our proximate, day-to-day lives, but the distal lives of our children and grandchildren, I would argue that, yes, invest in automobiles, invest in mass transit, invest in technology and science. Find good people, good managers, good CEOs, promising young people, promising smart people with good ideas.

Make good proximate choices today that have a decent distal return on investment.

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