Ask almost any university educator about the purpose of a college education, and you will hear about critical thinking. Higher education involves much more than learning facts and concepts. It’s about learning how to think clearly, assemble facts, and make judgments. Our society today suffers from a shortage of critical thinking.
Consider the ongoing racial unrest. George Floyd’s death was a tragedy but continues to be poorly understood and misrepresented. Video accounts of an incident are at best limited and at worst misleading. They ignore everything before a recorded incident, cover a limited visual angle, and do not tell us what the participants were thinking. In the case of George Floyd, we know that Officer Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck when he died. Without any additional evidence, scores of political leaders and prominent media anchors concluded that Chauvin acted irrationally and intended to kill him.
Floyd’s “murder” was touted as more evidence that police prey on minorities in a country entrenched in systemic racism. Statues must come down, the police must be defunded, and violence in the streets must be understood. Somehow a disturbing video raised serious questions about the nation’s legitimacy. Anyone who points out the logical flaws in this analysis or dares to question the political agenda of Black Lives Matter is a racist.
The widely accepted interpretation of Floyd’s death raised many questions. For example:
- What does the evidence tell us about interactions between people officers and citizens of various races? We shouldn’t base our conclusions about police on a relatively small number of videos.
- Would Chauvin have dealt differently with Floyd if he were not black? It’s impossible to know for sure, which is precisely the point.
- What did race have to do with Breonna Taylor’s death? It resulted from a tragic police error, not racism. We should eliminate no-knock warrants.
- Why weren’t CEOs held accountable for the corporate sins they confessed after Floyd’s death? For example, if 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki was serious, why didn’t she resign in shame? I suggest you follow the money trail.
We still don’t know all the facts about George Floyd’s death, but Chauvin’s attorney—Eric Nelson—offered a different and detailed account based on the bodycam footage. We also learned that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison initially withheld the video that could have shed additional light on the incident before the civil unrest began.
I don’t expect a media outlet like CNN to take Nelson seriously or question why Ellison did not release the video. As I write, most Americans know little, if any, about his claims, but anyone seeking to make a fair analysis of Floyd’s death must consider them. Many will refuse to listen to Chauvin’s defense because it might make them uncomfortable. But as former Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (and others) used to say, people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.
Critical thinking takes practice, but it’s not complicated. It requires serious questions and a willingness to deal with inconvenient truth. Once you practice critical thinking, you will demand no less from corporate leaders, politicians, and media outlets.