NOTE: For further reflections on the ideas of this book, please see my personal blog — I’m moving more and more of my online life there.
Why did I write this book?
Across the political spectrum, people speak with a single voice on one point and one point only: our public sphere is a great big mess. Mistrust and suspicion of our neighbors, anger at their folly, inadvertent or deliberate misunderstanding of their views, attribution of the worst possible motives to those whose politics we despise: these are the dissonant notes we hear struck repeatedly every day, especially on social media. And while none of this began with the big political stories of 2016 — the Presidential election in the U.S., the Brexit decision in the U.K. — those events seem to have increased the volume pretty dramatically.
All this agitated hostility has grieved me, especially since I know and love people on all sides of the current culture wars. As someone who lives in both academic and religious communities, I am reminded every day of how deeply suspicious those groups can be of one another — and how little mutual comprehension there is. I’ve reflected a great deal on the major causes of our discontent and mutual suspicion, and I’ve wondered whether there might be some contribution I could make to the healing of these wounds.
Eventually two points occurred to me. The first is that many of our fiercest disputes occur because the people involved simply aren’t thinking: they’re reacting or emoting or virtue-signaling or ingroup-identifying. The second is that I have spent my entire career thinking and trying to teach others to think.
When those points became clear in my mind I understood what I needed to do. So I wrote this book.
Here are some of my key themes:
- the dangers of thinking against others
- the need to find the best people to think with
- the error of believing that we can think for ourselves
- how thinking can be in conflict with belonging
- the dangers of words that do our thinking for us
I have tried to make it useful to anyone and everyone, but I am especially hopeful that this book will be read and used by young people, both within and without academic contexts; if they learn to think early in their lives, perhaps they can avoid some of the disasters their elders have created.
Thinking is hard, really hard, and there are a thousand forces at work preventing us from doing it. But we can all think better. And if we learn to think together, then maybe we can learn to live together too.