Critical thinking, especially in times of crisis, takes a healthy dose of humility, according to Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan, co-authors of the new book, Coercion and Cooperation: How Busybodies Became Busybullies and What That Means for Economics and Politics.
“You don't have to be team red and team blue shouting at each other,” said Harrigan. “It's very easy to look at a complicated set of circumstances and say, ‘All right, I don't really have the requisite knowledge to understand what's happening here. I'll do my best with it.’”
Davies and Harrigan sat down for an interview with Freedom Media Network founder Curt Mercadante about their new book. One theme in the book is the importance of knowledge in making policies that address a wide variety of issues. Mercadante asked the two authors for their advice on how individuals can empower themselves to think critically in an era in which we are bombarded with information, studies, reports, and claims on each side of every issue.
“You pick any issue, there's going to be studies on either side. How does someone with this amount of noise look at something and empower themselves?” asked Mercadante. “You brought up critical thinking. You're sitting there, an average Joe or Jane, and you see information on both sides, three sides, five sides, come at you on complicated issues. What advice do you have for that person to empower themselves to think critically?”
Davies said an open mind and humility are important first steps.
“The first step is to read what's in front of you with an open mind. And as much as I would encourage people to read our book with an open mind, I would encourage them to read Paul Krugman with an open mind,” he said. “And I think when you've done that, you've done all the homework you possibly can and you're still left with uncertainty, it's at that point that your humility should kick in and you should recognize that I don't have enough information to be able to make me confident in imposing my will on my fellow man. Therefore, my default position should be just to stay where I am, let people do what they do until more information becomes available.”
“It's OK to be an interested observer in things that are happening around you. You don't have to weigh in with your own expert opinion on everything,” he said. “We each have Ph.Ds. We've studied a lot of things for a long time. There are certain issues that we don't even address because we feel incompetent to do so. And I think you have to admit that no matter what you've studied or how long, it's probably the case that the majority of things in the world are going to be beyond you.”
Harrigan said this type of critical thinking negates the need to resort to partisan “teams.”
“We don't have to be team red and team blue shouting at each other. It's very easy to look at a complicated set of circumstances and say, ‘All right, I don't really have the requisite knowledge to understand what's happening here. I'll do my best with it.’” he said. “And yet we devolve into the Fox versus MSNBC shtick real fast, that whenever some guy with my preferred team jersey says something that's just simply true and I have to back him all the way down the line.”
He added, “That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous.”
Davies and Harrigan co-host the weekly “Words & Numbers” podcast.
Davies is the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. He writes frequently for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and he also has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications.
Harrigan is the F. A. Hayek Distinguished Fellow at FEE and director of education at the Freedom Center at the University of Arizona. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a host of other outlets. Previously, Dr. Harrigan served as dean of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani; director of academic programs at the Institute for Humane Studies; and senior research fellow at Strata.
“Cooperation and Coercion” was published by ISI Books, which is affiliated with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
You can watch Mercadante’ full discussion with Davies and Harrigan by clicking here.