I read with such delight and extreme joy the powerful and utterly robust critical exposition of Anas Alam Faizli, “Revolutionizing Malaysian Enlightenment through Critical Thinking”, the Free Malaysia Today, June 3rd.
Though I overwhelmingly concur substantially to all of his major points, I beg the indulgence of the reader that I may further expand on his points and in doing so share my own views with regard to the matter that is so close to my heart and soul.
We can’t step into First World status with a Third World mentality, severely under equipped in intellect and thought.
It is my take that what the author is trying to imply is the irrefutable fact that, Third World mentality is antithetical or a grave impediment for any country to reach a First World status.
Third World mentality is characterized by being myopic in one’s view, close-mindedness and being self-centered. This kind of mind-set or mentality is further aggravated by an intellect that is afraid to think and a thought that is not bold enough to pursue its own conclusions.
What is Enlightenment?
According to Wikipedia:
The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries, which began first in Europe and later in the American colonies. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition, intolerance and some abuses of power by the church and the state. The ideas of the Enlightenment have had a major impact on the culture, politics, and governments of the Western world.
There is a universal consensus among commentators that the central principles/ideas of the Enlightenment are the following:
- Man is not innately deprived.
- The aim of life is life itself not the afterlife.
- The essential condition for the good life on Earth is to freeing of men’s minds from ignorance and superstitions.
- Man, free of ignorance and of the arbitrary powers of the State, is capable of progress and perfection.
- Everything is interconnected and forms part of the grand scheme of a benevolent Providence.
- Further, the two generally accepted slogans/mottoes of the Enlightenment are the following:
- Sapere Aude (Have the courage to use your own reason; and
- Carpe Diem (Seize the day).
To quote from another article of mine, “Blind Obedience is the nemesis of Critical Thinking: In Defense of Reason and the Enlightenment”, Etniko Bandido Infoshop, July 3, 2012:
The German moral philosopher, Immanuel Kant wrote in an influential and monumental essay, “What is Enlightenment” the following remarkable words:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without the guidance of another.
This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding!
And what are the root causes of man’s darkness of his mind that breeds immaturity and inability to think for oneself?
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life.
For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians.
It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over me.
Hence, applying Kant’s contention in the case under consideration, there is no shadow of doubt that he will be totally opposed to those believers who blindly believe just for the sake of merely believing without question or reservation!
It logically follows that to be fully enlightened and truly rational means questioning the mistakes, misdemeanor and wrongful acts of our leaders. It does not matter whether they are political (whether the administration or the opposition), social (whether private or public) civic (whether local or international) or religious, always remain vigilant and critical of all their actions and policies that affect our people and society at large!
Indeed, the author is in point when he posited that: “Thinking as[is] tool to achieve First World mentality”.
As he said:
It is only critical thinking that will enable us to extract the fruits of educating our citizens, from the belief that they consequently form and act upon.
I concur with our author, except that I would like to add a ‘dangerous necessity’ with regard to critical thinking and that is the pleasure and delight of mental liberation and their eventual need to act!
Once, the citizen of one’s nation are already thinking, worst, critically thinking, then that is a dangerous scenario for any erring leaders, stupid administrators, unjust system, unfair policies and abnormal conditions.
The people, who are already critical will definitely raise a howl, issue their criticism, register their point and stress their concern. If the said leaders will not act upon the grievances of the people, then, the critical thinking of the people must not stop simply on the level of words, critical thinking also and most importantly requires actions and movements.
There lies the danger, for the government?
There lies the extreme need – for the people as a whole!
Is this the reason, why up to now, we do not have even a single Department of Philosophy in any Malaysian university?
The ironic ‘trichotomy’ of thinking, knowledge and education
Engaging a Malaysia that thinks, we cannot run away from attacking the problem at its core, and that is education…
What we need Malaysian students to empathise with is something much deeper; like observing their local communities, questioning purpose, reason, logic, being creative, appreciating literature, language and music as sciences in their own rights, being critical, innovative, improvising and technological.
In the ancient world, knowledge is achieved by scholarship from great teachers who guide students into discovering the fundamental truths of existence and purpose.
Our author is correct in this point! What we need is to be critical, radical and be a keen observer of everything in our daily lives.
Wrong is wrong and right will always be right! It is part and parcel of our moral duty to criticize and to right a wrong and to stand and fight for the right to always triumph — regardless of who the culprits are and irrespective of who are the erring leaders or persons!
The strict requirements of Enlightenment require passion for reason and the utilization of one’s understanding, not only for the benefit of the individual but also for the greater good of Humanity.
Again to quote the succinct words of our German philosopher, Immanuel Kant:
Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters. But on all sides I hear: “Do not argue!” The officer says, “Do not argue, drill!” The tax man says, “Do not argue, pay!” The pastor says, “Do not argue, believe!” (Only one ruler in the World says, “Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!”) In this we have examples of pervasive restrictions on freedom. But which restriction hinders enlightenment and which does not, but instead actually advances it? I reply: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind…
Undeniably, there is no shadow of doubt that blind obedience is the nemesis of critical thinking, in the same vein that unreasonable or dogmatic faith is the enemy of Enlightenment!
Then, the author proceeded and stated sadly that:
Now, knowledge is unemotionally reduced to condensed and concise textbooks to be memorised. Malaysians who come out of such a system are limited to a narrow idea of success, rights, boundaries and purpose. We become so confined to pursuits of economic wealth and pleasure, thus rarely think beyond the default doctrines or syllabus.
I ardently hold the view that: “there seems to be a grave confusion with regard to what we what for our students as against the interest of the general system.”
Extrinsically, we are encouraging them to memorise and aspire to get big marks, even perfect scores; yet intrinsically we are also demanding they must possess critical thinking, creativity and persuasive discourse.
This is a blatant contradiction and self-defeating to the utmost. How could we expect our lads to possess critical thinking when we are not encouraging them to speak their minds?
How could we expect our pupils to become creative if we consigned them to the borders of the lecture-notes and syllabus of the subjects? And most importantly, how could we expect our students to express and talk in a brilliant persuasive discourse if they lack the personality, the basic foundation and the necessary training (both the written and the oral form)?
I believe that it is unjust for the system and for the teachers to expect too much for the students, given the confusion and contradiction of the system. It follows that it is also unfair for the student to be expected to deliver when they are not even trained and nurtured in the first place.
How could one expect the horse to run fast if the trainer of the horse did not fully practise and exercise the maximum speed of the said horse? If we did not allow the horse to run freely in the plains to explore the vastness of the wild, but rather subjected the same to the four corners of enclosure, do we expect the said horse to perform well the day we release it for the race of life?
Lastly, if we did not give the “finest grasses” and the “best vitamins” to the said beast, do we have the right to expect the said beast to launch and unleash its full prowess and potentials? I do not think so!”
- A discourse on a true educative blueprint, Side Views
This ‘trichotomy of thinking, knowledge and education’ is plaguing not only us, but also much of the developed western world. For America, the battle is saving the new generation from societal doldrums, having tasted economic success. But for Malaysia, going too far down the wrong road may mean perishing even before reaching the peak. The victims, surely, are not us nor the policy makers in their glass panelled Putrajaya (city) offices. It is our children, and Malaysia.
Sad but true! As Chris Hedges, the notable American writer had said on this matter:
We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.
It is common knowledge that the core business or function of schools today is to make students score and pass examinations.
The “emphasis” is on drilling and coaching, to ensure that students do “well” in exams. It is because of this that I concur with the observations of Robert Kiyosaki, the international author, motivator and financial commentator, when he said categorically that:
“It seems to me that the school system cannot admit they are not preparing children for the real world. That would be admitting to failure, and we all know what failure means in the school system.
“It means the school thinks your child is not smart, but what it really means is that your child isn’t doing what the school tells them to do. What a shame!
“Though, this is now the current trend, let me highlight the dangerous tendency of these misplaced procedures of the school owners’ attitude …”
Kiyosaki said that to the school authorities, it did not matter if the students did not learn anything at all, so long as they had complied with the requirements.
My view is that such a mindset and the indifferent attitude of the school authorities is the ultimate betrayal of the true aim of education.
A student had once mockingly questioned a teacher: “Should we put down what we think is right, or what we think, you think, is right?”
I am vehement that this should not be the main objective of a true, libertarian and enlightened education.
It is incontestable that what many school administrators now implement is not education at all, neither does it cultivate the minds of our children.
Sadly, the procedure now being subscribed to by the modern educational system is spoon-feeding. This is the worst type of brain-washing that would give rise to intellectual retardation and academic regression.
The process of relying solely on attaining good grades in exams would undeniably kill all forms of creativity, dynamism, distinctiveness and intellectual and mental diversity.”
- More to learning than good grades
Rethinking critical thinking via philosophy education
My first humble proposition is to establish a faculty of philosophy in every tertiary institution. This is not new; leading Universities e.g. Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge and MIT all have a faculty of philosophy. The word philosophy originated from the Greek word philea and sophia which means love and wisdom, hence philosophy is the love of wisdom. In academia, often it is the study of the basic fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.
A faculty of philosophy will begin to help solve the dire need for thinkers and inculcate knowledgeable persons within our society. Philosophy opens our minds, pushes us to reason, question things, which thus prepares the perfect grounds for critical thinking. While some human capital is best placed in the industry to produce tangible economic outcomes, there must be space for those who are best to appreciate great works of past thinkers that built human civilisations, to research, explore and retrieve solutions to some of the most pertinent problems that plague society currently.
As I stated in my article, “Philosophy important in knitting moral fibre”, The Star, Education Section, Let’s Hear It, August 5, 2012:
It is sad that Malaysia does not have a university with a Department of Philosophy. Undeniably, “this absence affects the integrity of the educational mission of universities.
Indubitably, “it would be odd to downplay the role of the liberal arts and humanities and then decry the fact that we are not producing students with critical thinking skills”.
I sincerely hope that one fine day, a Department of Philosophy in one great Malaysian institution of higher learning shall arise and commence the arrival of Philosophia.
Why are these things important? More to the point: Why do they matter?
I will argue in the affirmative. Yes, all these things are undoubtedly important. It is only through a free university with a Philosophy and Social Science Department that we can produce technicians, technocrats, future leaders, social critics, teachers, lecturers, professors and intellectuals which serve as a vital element in the continuous development of our body politic.
However, we must not only invest materially on intellectual capital; we must also bolster the ethical and moral cultivation of our young. Intellectual power must be tempered and harmonised with ethical foundation and moral sense.
Hence, we must engage in a two-pronged programme, which is the development of the mind and the cultivation of the inner spirits.
These two elements must concur in order for us to mould and create students and citizens of substance and good moral character.
Then, our author proceeded to his second proposal. Needless to state, I consider the same, that it is sound and utterly necessary.
Secondly, I propose making compulsory the subject of philosophy to all tertiary level students. Even at its most basic level, philosophy is one of the best ways to get students of knowledge to reason, because it is the foundation for every subject which will lead to the understanding of philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of sciences, philosophy of social sciences, philosophy of economics, thoughts and the list goes on. Whatever his or her field of discipline is, credit hours on philosophy will provide basic tools to keep them grounded to the purpose of studying, and the purpose of the particular field they are studying.
I subscribed completely to our author’s proposal to make the subject of Philosophy compulsory to all tertiary level students based on all the reasons that were given above!
relentless economic pursuits have backfired. The lack of critical thinking is arguably why we lack innovation, and thus limited economic abilities. Even with disciplines which supposedly produce ‘returns on investment’ such as medicine, sciences, engineering or business, students do not fully appreciate the philosophy behind them, and thus not many are incentivised to probe further. When knowledge is supplemented with thinking and translated into development and innovative capabilities, the economic bounty of an enlightened Malaysia is actually far larger.
Bullseye! The author in my view has certainly hit the nail at the head. Undeniably, the lack of critical thinking will lead unfortunately to lack of innovation, being box-minded, sticking to the book method and fear of committing a mistake.
Critical thinking is a kind of thinking that will compel a person to think independently beyond the normality of the situation and pursue the product of his or her logical thoughts to their conclusions without the fear of committing a mistake.
In my view, the Liberal Arts’ education is the source of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the capacity to think independently beyond the ordinary conception of prevailing reality.
Its mind is reason; while its heart is humanism. The precise utilisation of critical thinking will undeniably lead our students to the joys of critical analysis which in turn will certainly give them the philosophical tools necessary and pertinent for the conscious and bold exercise of complex insights.
Again, to quote the words of Chris Hedges:
The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralised authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think.
The process is something like this:
- There’s Philosophy.
- Philosophy will help us to reason.
- Once we are already using our own reason, we begin to ask ourselves and deliberate thoroughly.
- Once we use reason in our thinking, that kind of thinking is no longer ordinary but already critical.
- And finally, once we are already utilizing critical thinking, we begin to philosophize and see things in a different light and various perspective!
Countering the oppressed mentality via Thinking
Ordinary Malaysians need to understand the meaning of words to modern nation states like Malaysia, such as freedom, justice and democracy. They need to question first, in order to understand the purpose of certain jurisdictions, rulings or systems. In fact, there must be encouraging mechanisms for Malaysians to be allowed to think out of the box defined by schools, societal norms, and the government.
I concur with the author that oppressed mentality can only be remedied by thinking and more thinking. A person or much better a nation that is fully aware cannot be cheated or dupe by any powers that be! A person that is critical and aware is a free being!
The necessity to think
Socrates is correct in his philosophy and dictum that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ in the same vein that a life without a discourse is no life at all!
One can only engage into a discourse is one if using one’s own reason. If one is using one’s own reason, then that individual is using his or her own reasoning, if so, then that person is thinking and if he or she is using reason in his or her thinking, then that kind of thinking is no longer an ordinary kind of thinking, but a kind that is a reasonable one, indeed, a thinking that is already critical. Now, if the thinking is already on that stage or level, then that individual is now ready for a discourse, not simply a typical discussion or mere ‘normal’ talk!
Hence, in my conclusion, I will passionately argue that the ultimate objective of a true libertarian educational institution whether they are public or private is to push our children, students and other citizens to be the best that they can be by developing their character through critical thinking, harnessing their soft skills and cultivating their inner moral worth.
We must teach them to think logically, exhort them to always do the right thing and at all times, admonish them to act with justice and conduct themselves in a humanitarian manner, because in the final analysis: the ultimate aim of a true, dynamic and libertarian education is not simply to teach our lads how to make a living but to live a beautiful, virtuous and happy Life…