Critical questions

Haven’t posted in while because I haven’t been in the group for a while. Not because of the nice long college holiday but because two weeks ago there was a paper work snafu and I was told there was no callout for the men (though I learned this week that there *had* been one on my night even though the day before when another instructor went and spent an hour tangling with the lobby guard there was no callout); and a month ago I was snowed out.

Was worried about the hit to attendance that absence might have, but heartened that there were nine people this week, nine lively talkers no less.

I’ve always liked the ambiguity of “critical” attached to “question” or “thinking.” And our discussion this week bore both meanings out. It was a perfect example of logical/CT skills applied in almost textbook ways to a timely discussion on matters ripe for disagreement. Subject: the protest march in DC tomorrow (to which I’ll travel by bus in the middle of the night tonight).

Another enlightening ambiguity here was the first question a new person to the group raised: “What is the point of the march?”, so often asked rhetorically to suggest that something lacks one. And indeed the non rhetorical answer is not obvious at all. Different people proposed every one of the following preliminary answers:

1. It’s like a child questioning the authority of a parent’s rules. You lost, get over it. (IOW: yes, pointless.)

2. It’s likewise undemocratic to protest a lawfully elected official. Has a point, but a problematic one.

3. “It’s a silly waste of time unless it genuinely threatens the system. You are not allowed to take backpacks? (I’d mentioned this unusual fact) – then everyone should take a backpack, and you should try to get thrown in jail for doing so. Fill the jails, BRING DOWN THE SYSTEM by overwhelming it.” His model of a successful protest: the Wobblies’ strikes, boycotts, and violence against the AFL. He needed to fill in a lot of the historical blanks here, of course. He also argued that  the civil rights movement’s successes owe as much to the actual violence (and threat of likewise) of riots like those in Watts, as to its non violent actions and principles.

4. Meta level analysis immediately after #3:  What counts as a protest’s success anyway? #4’s analogy to support the point that maybe the defender of #3 was setting the bar for success unreasonably highly: in an argument with a fellow inmate about Obama’s record on prison relief and reform (work on sentence reduction) the final word of his opponent was: “I’m still in prison! Obama’s record is shit.” — an absurdly high measure. But what about the too low bar, asked proponent of #3? Isn’t there a danger in counting merely  feeling like you’ve done something  as politically effective (by the big numbers, etc.)? Surely there have to be some actual effects beyond the protesters’ beliefs that they did something?

This question was then refocused helpfully on: What are the goals of the protest? Progress towards some goals at least can be measured! Bring down the presidency? Too high! Feel solidarity? Too low! How about feeling empowered leading to actions to take power, to take politicla action? To hold your representatives responsible (and the like)? (My suggestions.) What do they do to try to exercize power? Big range of answers, but the first thing would be to SHOW UP.

Two people pressed some other analogies: Black Lives Matter, and Occupy Wall Street, the latter of which some think did itself in because it really did not have recognizable goals.

We ran out of time at this point, but I was able to remind them of my favorite “pillar of critical thinking” the appeal to analogy to persuade someone on the other wise, though in this case the primary analogies themselves came under some fire about whether they showed non prejudicially what their agents wanted them to!

A model of mature, thoughtful, tough debate that certainly left all of us with more to think about about goals, models, and measures.





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