Magazine article New African

Straight and Crooked Thinking

Magazine article New African

Straight and Crooked Thinking

Article excerpt

During my formative years, in my early teens, pure chance, acting via a very perceptive second-hand book seller, delivered me a book that had a profound impact on my mental apparatus. It has lasted me a lifetime and over the years I have found myself dipping into it for a refresher whenever the need arises.

The book is called Straight and Crooked Thinking by Robert Henry Thouless, first published in 1930. Like many other teenagers my age then, my head was in a whirl trying to make sense of the world around me--trying to separate out facts from interpretations of facts, rationality from irrationality, opinions from analysis, logic from the lack of logic, belief from reality, the true from the false. Straight and Crooked Thinking became my guide through this labyrinth of information--showing me how to classify information, how to subject pronouncements to tests, how to distinguish false logic from real logic, how to arrive at rational deductions and above all, how to see through emotional manipulation.

The book was written as a warning at a time when skilled demagogues were stoking up fires of hatred and destruction across Europe. Unfortunately, not many people read the book or took its message to heart and the continent duly descended into the cauldron of the Second World War--the most destructive war, so far, in human history.

Today, once again, we have seen examples of how "crooked thinking", based on a false initial premise, outright lies or the stoking of imaginary fears and hatred, has influenced election results across the world. One consequence of this crooked thinking by voters is that they have unwittingly voted against their own interests, but by a twist of logic, continue to uphold their positions because 'I voted for what I thought was in my interest, so what is happening must be in my interest ... even if the facts don't bear it out!' This twisting of logic was precisely what Henry Thouless warned about since it is very seductive.

Lesson in democracy

This brings us to Africa. Apart from a few, increasingly isolated cases, Africa is bucking the global trend and voters are using the power of the ballot to bring about genuine democratic change. The elections in Nigeria, Ghana and The Gambia (perhaps the biggest surprise of all) have demonstrated the power of the people to choose for themselves. …

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