Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Critical Thinking - Considering Alternate Views

One of the keys to being a critical thinker is the willingness to consider alternate points of view instead of being wedded to one idelogical position. In order to sharpen my own thinking and expose myself to perspectives other than those advanced in mainstream media, I have always enjoyed the work of Canadian writer Linda McQuaig. What follows is my review of her latest book.

Holding the Bully’s Coat – Linda McQuaig

Whether holding forth on the global economy, the excesses of capitalism, government deficits or the U.S. invasion of Iraq, author Linda McQuaig never disappoints. Her willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, especially that which is promulgated in the mainstream media, is always guaranteed to provide the reader with new insights and rich material to allow him or her to critically examine previously-held beliefs. Whether or not one agrees with the things she asserts, this is her greatest strength as a writer.

Her latest book, Holding the Bully’s Coat, reflects this strength as she examines in both an historical and contemporary context, Canada’s relationship with the United States. She argues that by aligning the country too closely with the policies of the United States, our political, military, and economic elites are sacrificing Canada’s international reputation (one she acknowledges as being exaggerated) and our role as a middle power, as well as jeopardizing our independence as a nation.

McQuaig deals with a number of issues that will have occurred to thinking Canadians over the years, including how our reputation for peacekeeping and compromise is being unjustly denigrated by the right wing; how the United States’ penchant for exceptionalism has essentially made it a law unto itself as it chooses to flout international law, the United Nations, the World Court, the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition on torture, and any other potential restriction on its dominance; the destabilizing effect of the U.S. opposition to nuclear disarmament; and its military’s refusal to abandon Cold War thinking, having simply substituted Islamic extremism for “the Red Menace.”

While the above description may make this book sound like an anti-American rant, it is not. Rather, McQuaig shows, through copious examples and careful analysis, how the citizens of both Canada and the United States are being ill-served by those in power who are quite willing to mislead and manipulate their respective peoples. Indeed, some of her harshest criticism is reserved for the Canadian government, both the current Conservative one and the previous Liberal one, and its often uncritical deference to American policies of very questionable merit.

The book will be offensive to those who think the motives and policies of the United States (and Canada, for that matter) should never be questioned. It will, however, be appreciated by those who want to go beyond media rhetoric and think deeply about issues of importance. It will also appeal to those humble enough never to have subscribed to the jingoistic notion, “My country, right or wrong,” a very dangerous mantra for the people of any free society to adopt.


Redkudu said...

"...those who want to go beyond media rhetoric..."

This simple phrase, I thought, ties nicely into your previous posts, and is something I was talking about with my mother (a retired teacher) the other day. We were talking about various observations on how difficult it is to get students to ask questions. Not just the usual "Is this for a grade" type questions, but they rarely, if ever, ask any questions about the authors or the reading they do.

It's as if they are perfectly satisfied that the information they are being given is all they need to know - or all there is to know. A little frightening, when we consider how they are inundated with media rhetoric daily - even more than most of us from previous generations realize. Getting to the point of even considering alternate views is difficult for me, as a teacher, because often times students don't seem to think there might be one, or that it might, in fact, come from them!

Sorry this wasn't about the book review. I just discovered your blog, and am catching up on your thoughts. Very interesting.

Lorne said...

Reduku, thank you for your comments. The kind of passivity you describe is pretty common, and I guess the only thing teachers can do is to keep challenging them to emerge from their complacence. There were times in my career when I was delightfully surprised by the insights and perspectives that some students were willing to offer.

A lot, of course, depends upon the composition of the class. I'm sure that you have had the experience of teaching the same thing to two different classes and perhaps getting a rousing response from one class and nothing from another.

One of the pleasures of my own years in the classroom was feeling that I was actually learning new things from a student, be it from a perspective I had never considered or a fresh insight.

Keep up the good fight, and thanks again for your comments.

Redkudu said...

" The kind of passivity you describe is pretty common, and I guess the only thing teachers can do is to keep challenging them to emerge from their complacence."

Very true, and one of the reasons I am so privileged to have had a mother in education as well. She often helps me find new ways to challenge them.

You are so right about the composition of the class as well.