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Lack of critical thinking

The point of this post is to point out that life is complicated. This complication, and life, requires thoughtfulness, critical thinking, objectivity, and not rash opinions. Sadly it seems that so little of this happens today, and it seems that there is such lack of critical thinking these days. While we have observed this lack of critical thinking for a while now, reading about and witnessing some of the mindset people take to COVID seems to highlight this lack of thoughtfulness.

What is critical thinking? While there are a few definitions of it and they may vary slightly, in general it is the ability to skillfully analyze and asses facts and data. It is an ongoing evaluation, using self-discipline, asking probing questions (even the simple “who, what, where, when, why”), looking at life from multiple angles, finding the root cause, and being rational among other things. Critical thinking in understanding the links between concepts, being self-aware to find and admit flaws in reasoning, using logic and systematic approaches, finding the root cause for problems and more. It is finding a conclusion using objectivity, data, consistent approaches and logic.

There are tons of examples showing the lack of critical thinking and thoughtfulness, only some of which we have below as these are some topics that come to recent mind. The examples are sort of a blend of lack of critical thinking and also maybe the hypocrisy that is in American society. These examples just scratch the surface.

Why is critical thinking and thoughtfulness lacking?

Why do we think critical thinking is lacking? Who knows, we can only speculate, but I find it very sad and pessimistic about the future that that it is lacking. Is it lacking because of “group think” and/or people needing to feel part of a tribe and their need for acceptance regardless of the what they give up in said quest for acceptance? Is it lacking due to the increased loneliness in society (that many surveys show Americans feel) which causes that need for connection to become even more of a powerful pull these days; and in that search for connection people join a “tribe” and blindly follow the group? It is Group Bias?

Maybe it is due to the high use of social networks and the propaganda on them. For those that do not know the definition of propaganda, it is information that is intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions, (which maybe the antithesis of critical thinking).

Is the cause of the lack of thoughtfulness from social networks and the algorithms as well as manipulation that takes place on them and those “10 word” quick, thoughtless opinions presented on social platforms? As up to 50% of Americans (sadly), say they often get their “news” from social media and/or it is their only source of “news”.

Maybe it is the 24 hour news cycle which seems so partisan? Maybe it is something that is failing in our educational system and not stressing to our youth the need to think about issues from multiple angles, finding root causes, using data, etc. Is lack of critical thinking from schools not teaching kids the importance of data, math, numbers, analysis, empathy?

Who knows the cause? Maybe it is from all the above and other reasons. Regardless of the root cause(s), I actually think the lack of critical thinking and thoughtfulness is worse as people age. And studies and surveys actually support that view as well. Those may be part or some of the reasons, but there are probably many reasons with no easy answer.

Just a examples of lack of Critical Thinking (CT)

Below are just a few examples. Sadly I actually think many of these examples also highlight the lack of common sense. Maybe the true problem is the lack of critical thinking, thoughtfulness, and common sense?! Now once again, there is generally not a right or wrong answer to many of these issues, and I do not have the answer either. But most issues are complicated, and many issues in life require people to have the ability to look at data, questioning their personal biases, asking “why”, asking difficult or probing questions – using crititcal thinking.

The answer to issues in life is not as simple (and mindless) as saying “I am a Democrat so illegal immigrants should not be deported”, or “I am a Republican and illegal immigrants are evil criminals”. Which these group think approaches all too many people seem to do follow these days for almost every issue.

People want to deport illegal immigrants.

CT Objectively (using data), illegal immigrants hold countless jobs that are critical to America. They are about 50% of farmers, with illegal immigrants doing such jobs as picking fruit/vegetables in challenging, “back-breaking” conditions at very low wages. Even right now, in maybe the ultimate irony that shows the lack of critical thinking for those who want to deport them (no questions asked), undocumented immigrants are now essential workers during this pandemic as they our even more critical than ever in keeping our farms, meat plants, etc operating so the country has some sources of food. Even in a non-pandemic world, people want to deport illegal immigrants but those same people who want the fresh, cheap produce that illegal immigrants help provide us as a nation. CT – Deport illegal immigrants, then who will provide the food people want at cheap prices? Who will work those jobs (such as picking fruit, hotel cleaning, etc.) and countless other jobs that illegal immigrants now hold and that few (if any Americans want)? People who want to ban immigrants want to bake their cake and eat it too…they want less immigrants but also fresh cheap produce, meat from meat plants, and more.

People want to allow more immigrants into the US, and in particular allow immigrants who are fleeing unsafe conditions, violence, etc.

CT The data shows there are probably, sadly, hundreds of millions of people (if not billions) who live in poverty or unsafe conditions and many may want to come to America. CT Do we let them all in? Do we let in 50 million people who want to flee violence or poverty? Let in some random numbers of immigrants…what is the solution as if you agree to let them people facing violence, no questions asked, where does it stop?

People complain about companies and foreigners in US taking jobs.

CT The data shows that immigrants are 50% to up to more almost 100% more entrepreneurial (and arguably work harder) than native Americans and take more risk. Immigrants start 50% to 100% more businesses (per capita) than Native born Americans on a per capita basis. Immigrants were founders of about 40% of Fortune 500 companies. Maybe instead of incorrectly blaming others, like immigrants, for your own financial challenges or place in life, you should actually study and learn what makes immigrants more entrepreneurial, hard-working, and quite frankly successful (e.g Fortune 500 founders.)

COVID deaths mis-classified to inflate the numbers

I read a couple stories about this. It is apparently the new “hoax” going around about COVID deaths being fake. The fact is that tens of thousands of medical examiners, doctors, funeral homes, etc, all across the nation, in all 50 states, and people of all both Democrat and Republican parties determine cause of death. Therefore, the implication of people that say the deaths are not really occurring (or are way overstated) is that implication means that all these thousands of people (of all political parties) are in a mass conspiracy, risking their medical licenses to lie (for what reason?). That being said, cause of death is not an exact science.

CT The undisputed fact is oftentimes COVID can be “straw that breaks the camels back”, that finishes people off. So when it comes to the reason for their death, did they die from a pre-existing heart condition that they have had for years (and they could have continued to live with for years), or did that COVID “finish them off”. Use another example of an individual who is a diabetic (medication controlled) develops diagnosed COVID 19, and their health deteriorates to the point of being put into ICU and then put on a vent. In a period of 2 weeks this individual goes from being a functional adult to their death. What is the main contributing cause of their death? COVID 19 in many cases is systematically causing the failure of multiple body systems. In this case, the fact is while there might be underlying health issues, without COVID 19 the individual would not have die at the time they did.

On a personal note, my mom passed away earlier this year. She passed of a blood clot that was in effect caused by her knee surgery. So why did my mom die and what was the cause? The blot clot or knee surgery? As if she did not have the surgery she would not have had the clot. While someone may say the cause of her death was the “clot”, the fact is the root cause of her passing was the knee surgery.

Now of course there is “noise” in the data and they are not precise counts (for many reasons). But for every COVID death mis-classified, there is probably a death that was missed (such as a death not tested or someone dying at home). Critical thinking involves peeling back the layers, asking “who, “what”, where” and maybe even most important “why”, “why”, “why” and determining root cause.

Many people complain about CEOs and business leaders making too much. But many people also love sports, athletes, singers, etc, many of them are paid millions of dollars for “playing a game” and people rarely complain about them.

CT CEOs or entrepreneurs, who may be paid millions of dollars for employing thousands of people in their company and beyond responsible for economic activity, they are bashed by society. But athletes who are paid millions for nothing more than playing a game are often revered. Why? CT is that a rational, thoughtful, logical approach? People that play a game, or an actor or singer, can make that money and no one cares but CEOs that are responsible for hundreds of thousands of employees are bashed? Is that logical? While like all these, examples on this post I do not know the answer but it is something that requires thought, analysis.

People that complain about professional athletes kneeling during anthem

CT What about people in rest-rooms, beer stands, those fans talking to other fans, etc. during the anthem and who pay no attention to the anthem. CT Is that logical? Why do people hold athletes to another standard? Why do parents and society raise their kids to idolize these athletes (and care what they do) vs. idolize that person that starts a non-profit to better society?

Those who blame housing crisis in mid to late 2000s on banks pushing loans

CT People who took said loans and that had lower paying jobs would have known they had no chance to pay the mortgage, or they knew they were living on the financial edge. Both parties have some form or responsibility; while there were definitely some high pressure sale techniques, the facts are that banks could not force all those millions of people to take mortgages on homes they could not afford.

Leaders who talk about loss of life from COVID and focus only (mostly) on that and not immense financial hardship

CT There is risk in everything we do. The COVID loss of life is tragic, but there also needs to be a balance of some form of safe, economic activity as well. As the data shows that millions of people are struggling to pay the bills, small owners losing their businesses that they may put their heart and soles into, children going hungry, etc. CT Where is the focus on the root cause of why as a country we can’t be successful in both keeping the economy open and reduce COVID deaths (like many advanced, democratic countries have done as others have low deaths and an economy – unlike the US)? Where is the objective analysis of risk vs. reward?

People who complain about the rich paying too little taxes

CT The top 20% of Americans pay about 85% of federal income taxes already – The top 1% of Americans pay about 48% of federal taxes. In addition to that, millions of Americans may complain about wealthy not paying enough, but about 76 million Americans, or 45% of Americans, pay zero taxes – so they complain about others but pay zero themselves. Where is objective, thought based reason on “do as I say and not as I do”.

Employees that complain about focus on diversity at their companies and claim companies are hiring more women and it is unfair

CT The lack of diversity of companies, such as the latest diversity issue of less females in management, was caused by white males in management jobs discriminating and showing sexism by hiring only other white males (part of that good ole boys culture). If white males did not screw up hiring in past, then these diverse hiring moves being made today to fix those egregious errors would not be required. Where is the critical thinking on the root cause of that – males screwed up work places (not women). Plus, another level of CT/empathy, now white males who are unfortunately in those positions of being passed over for promotions know what it is like to be a woman who has always been passed over just because they were women.

People complain about traffic or poor infrastructure in US

CT They complain about traffic, but do not want to pay for road improvements. Even trying to raise gas tax a penny a gallon is hard, and our infrastructure is falling apart. People complain about roads, bridges (15% which are deficient), etc. but do not want to pay a cent for them. There is also NIMBY. Logical, rational? Are people who complain not looking at data on how to pay for it?

People complain about national debt or annual budget deficit

CT About 50% of budget is spent on safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. 17% defense spending and 10% on interest. People want spending reduced, but not if it impacts them. No logical, rational thinking.

People who complain about global warming

CT But then they order products every day from Amazon for say overnight delivery. That is a terrible, in-efficient use of resources, gasoline, pollution, boxes, etc.. All those environmental resources are used to get them their “all so important package”, say of a piece of clothing, in 2 days. However if they planned better, did not demand overnight shipping, etc. they could use so much less resources as data shows online companies such as Amazon use tremendous resources, even more so for people who order from them all the time. Or of course celebrities or rich people railing again warming then they fly private or waste resources in other ways (houses, travel, etc.).

Some people say “liberal states” are bad, most of which have democratic leaders (and have historically)

CT The data shows those “liberal states”, they are the states with the most wealth per capita, highest per capita income, highest education levels, often lowest obesity rates, etc. In fact, about 10 of the top 12 states by GDP per capita are “liberal states”. 15 of the top 20 states by per capita GDP are liberal states. While the liberal states have downsides too and of course are not perfect, maybe someone with the ability to use critical thinking should ask why do liberal states have so much wealth on a per capita basis than “conservative states”, why are “liberal states” so much healthier, etc.? In other words, why in aggregate are “liberal” states more successful (financially, capita income, health metrics, etc.) than “conservative” states (which often have republican leaders).

People bash liberal states but they are the most successful by per capita GDP, health metrics and more. Many people that live in Kentucky or Louisiana or countless other states, they mindlessly say “liberal states are bad”. But isn’t it common sense to say maybe instead they should take a step back and try to learn why other states are healthier, have less obesity, higher per capita income. Isn’t it common sense for a business that is not doing as well or maybe a mid level athlete or anyone to study more successful people, businesses, athletes etc. to try to learn? Should that concept of learning from others apply to states? Shouldn’t liberal states take a look to try to determine what good things conservative states do?

People with “live free or die mindset”, which I will generalize and say a large number of people in South

CT Why do so many who are “anti-government”, say live free or die, or who are against societal values also have the have highest reliance on public assistance? As but one example, 4 of the 5 states with the highest use of food stamps (on per capita basis) are these “live free or die states” or “conservative states”. It they want to live free or die or bash liberal states or the government why do they also want the government to help them pay their bills and why do those people take government assistance (and the money they take in effect comes from taxpayers in Liberal states)?

Take this to another CT level, since people in wealthy democratic states pay more in federal taxes to the federal government than those conservative states get back from the feds, people who “live free or die” are actually relying on financial assistance from people who they say are liberals. In effect, the population of “liberal states” like NY are paying for people food stamps in the SE. There is a transfer of federal government taxpayer dollars from Liberal states to Conservative states.

People say live free or die and who cares about COVID

CT However, then if someone at their workplce gets sick and/or starts to spread COVID, those people who say COVID is a scam will then say a corporation should then protect them or notify them if co-workers get sick. If it is a free or die society like some people say and everyone for themselves (damn others) then why do people feel entitled to a company needing to notify them if their workplace is ravaged by COVID? Or why do they want a company to try to protect them through a safer work environment? These live free or die people or those who deny COVID (and refuse to take simple precautions) and who have no societal values, if those people get COVID will be there right at the hospital, feeling entitled to health care and putting medical people (and those health workers families) at risk due to this contagious disease.

People want medications to fight again disease, cancer, pandemic, etc.,. But it costs hundreds of millions of dollars of risky investments to create these medications with no promise of a return from a drug company

CT People who complain about the cost of drugs and bash drug companies, but they also want medications to save their life and they want companies to risk hundreds of millions to develop them. But they expect companies (which take that risk) to sell them to them for less than they cost to develop. CT Address the root cause of your health issue to reduce need for meds – if you are obese with high blood pressure, lose weight instead of feeling entitled to pills.

Medicare now paying 20% more for COVID cases, so there seems to be a thought of the entire COVID pandemic is a hoax

CT Is it is basic math. Medical providers make a little more for COVID patients from the CARE Act, because the cost to treat COVID cases is generally higher. The extra payments to medical providers are to offset higher costs of their medical care, as COVID patients require say one on one nurse coverage, extra expenses including special equipment, etc. Basic math – higher payments for higher expenses. Hospital may get extra payments (revenue), but much (most or maybe all) is offset extra costs (expenses). Business 101. Now is it one for one in revenue/expense, it probably varies, but it is not as simple minded as saying extra Medicare payments flow to income.
CT Another probing question people should ask as CT is how many people does Medicare cover? The fact is the majority of Americans are on private insurance – not Medicare, so this conspiracy theory does not even apply. Medicare has ~40 million people, private insurance ~150 million.

Some people want free health care

CT How to pay for it? How to control it? As Americans are already some of the most unhealthiest, obese people in the world. If health care is free, what will be the incentive to live healthy (vs popping pills, etc.) and what keeps people from say going to doctor every month for some ever more costly service? We already spend the most per GDP than any country in the world, and there are limits/opportunity costs to using health care. If those opportunity costs were removed and it was free to everyone, costs would explode.

Some people want free college

CT If college is free, using using critical thinking and determining implications, it could mean the “value” of a degree may be reduced because in theory everyone will have one. As right now a degree will differentiate you in the workforce (ideally from more skills), which leads to more opportunity. If college degrees are free, then more people will probably pay for an Masters for that differentiation, and then what is next, make Masters degrees free? Then there will some other degree. CT also not everyone is meant for or wants a degree. So those people do not benefit.

The Point – life is complicated – answers are not simple and require thought

Now I do not have the answers, I make mistakes, and much of this is complicated. Like life is complicated. Much of life is “grey” – not black and white. (Other than math and numbers…that may be the only thing that is black and white in life). I am not saying what the answers to these issues are or are not. I do not know. There is often no easy answer. Even my comments above on those example are just some thoughts to facilitate discussion, highlight different views, hopefully point out some inconsistencies, etc.

What I observe, read about, and surveys show is people try to come up with and they believe (and push onto others) simple answers to complicated issues. But they do not look at root cause, think about implications of decisions, do not remove bias or group think, do not probe, and dig into something. This is what the point is….it is so unfortunate, sad, and frustrating that simple mindset. It is often mindless, involves no thought, does not use critical thinking, and often lacks common sense. As many solutions are not simple.

There are people that will say I am a Republican and my “tribes” propaganda is undocumented immigrants are bad, so get rid of them no questions asked. Or there are people that will say I am a democrat and my “tribe” says CEOs make too much money, and limit a CEO salary.

But the lack of thought and critical thinking comes into play as the Republican may say immigrants are horrible as the Republican is eating strawberries that were picked from a farm in California (by illegal immigrants) and those strawberries were super cheap for that Republican because of the work done by that immigrant that no “Native born American” wants or will do. But the comments (and person say them) are so thoughtless as they never think about those complications. Or the Republican makes those comments about immigrants being bad even though they work for a company that was founded by an immigrant.

And the Democrat maybe said their comment as they are sitting in Yankee Stadium watching some baseball player who is making $30 million a year just for playing a game. But they are thoughtless as they do no think of the fact that the athlete is making as much money for playing a game and not employing 10,000 workers like the CEO. Or the Democrat that says that statement criticizing the CEO, maybe that Democrat who criticized the CEO is paying zero dollars in federal taxes.

It seems there is such lack of critical thinking.

Some people are anti-immigrants, but they want low cost food at the same time. Some people say CEOs or the wealthy pay too little in taxes, but they do not pay a cent of taxes themselves. Some people say stop global warming, but they constantly order overnight packages from Amazon multiple times a week. People will say raise the minimum wage, but then they complain when the price of a meal they buy at a restaurant goes up due to those higher labor costs. All of those simple mindsets do not look at the root causes of the problem, data that conflicts their thought, implications to a decision, etc. It is so sad how little thought / critical thinking / objectivity used.

As I said, I do not know the answers. But I do think life is complicated and people need to use critical thinking, data, try as much as possible and be self-aware. They need to try like heck to remove their personal biases (which everyone has).

The answers are not easy. I do not like undocumented immigrants coming across the border illegally or living here. But if you just start deporting them, who will work our farms say picking fruits, which is often back breaking work? Will we develop some automation? What is the implications of kicking them all out tomorrow? As very few (if any) “native” born Americans will do that work. Even as I write this there is a mad rush for meat at stores as meat plants are being hit but COVID (which also can employ undocumented immigrants) and plants need to shut down. Imagine if that happened to our farms,,,if our farms shut down due to workers being deported?

I do not like how much some medications may cost. But I also realize it also costs companies hundreds of millions of dollars to invest to try to create a medications, test it, etc. Many of those attempts fail. As but one example, El lilly invested ~4 billion to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and the medications failed, so they lost that money. So I wish there was a way to get develop cutting edge medications at super low prices, but until then, if we Americans want the latest life saving treatments, and expect companies to take on hundreds of millions in risk to try to create cutting edge drugs, do we need to pay more for the medications? Or what are the other causes, problems, and solutions? If we just import medications from other countries, it still takes away from drug company innovation and R&D programs. Do we force drug companies to charge European governments more? then what is impact to other trade arrangements?

I think it must be very challenging to be passed over for a promotion at work because the company promoted a female to try to diversify (while of course even that must be complicated as I am sure the female also has strengths and skills too). I can’t imagine being passed over and it must be tough for the male worker who is passed over. But really, the reason for companies trying to diversify is because the “male” executives promoted mostly (only males) in the past as they operated as “good ole boys” and discriminated against others. Those past males, who discriminated, are the reason for the problem. Plus now males or people who miss promotions should know what it feel like to be a women (or minority) that are still often passed over at work and have been for years. How do you right past wrongs and make it also as fair for current people going for those promotions? Does it need a be a zero sum game when it comes to promotions? After all women do not get a majority of college degrees in this country.

I do not know these answers. But as I said, I completely disagree with the lack of thoughtfulness from people who do not even thing about all the aspects of these challenges. I find it so hard to communicate with people like this, who do not even try to identify their personal biases. Who do not look at issues from multiple angles. Who follow the “tribal” mindset.

Is lack of critical thinking getting worse?

I have always been a believer in learning each and every day/week/year, using past experiences. I always believed in the concept of people trying to educate themselves and becoming more thoughtful and understanding as they age. I always thought adults, people in their 30, 40, 50 should be more open minded and diverse in their perspectives and life experiences. I am not sure if Wisdom is the right word, but I thought as we age we as humans should gain life experience, information, and perspective. But I am not sure if all those things happen…I am not sure if people are becoming more thoughtful and sophisticated in their depth of knowledge as they age.

I think what is maybe most sad in this entire situation is it seems like as people age, even 40, 50, 60 year old, they are less open minded. There are more people that do not use critical thinking, logic, rational thought or open mindedness or analytical ability. Study shows this as well as anecdotal data.

It often seems the older someone is the less thoughtful they are. The more ingrained in their opinion. And older people seem opposed to using data, rational thought, being self-aware, and using logic. And while some of that is anecdotal from my own experiences, observations, reading, etc. there are also surveys that seem to support this…Americans are generally partisan, do not use critical thinking and not thoughtful as they age.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

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