Posts Tagged ‘college coupons’

The value of critical thought

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

If you think about it, nearly everything in life can be problematized. We have the power to scrutinize ideas that are normally left unexamined and unquestioned. If you’re like me, you’ll find this prospect invigorating.

Don’t get me wrong––gratefulness is a large part of the self-revolution. It goes against everything we’ve been taught since we were young, especially in terms of our relationships with material goods. Indeed, gratefulness can open us up to opportunities like college savings and college discounts. But the practices of critical thinking and gratefulness do not have to be mutually exclusive.

You can practice acceptance of certain conditions––for example, the not-so-great material conditions you may face as you pursue the path that you’ve chosen––while at the same time refusing the very basis upon which this idea is founded: that the pursuit of money above all else is necessary for a comfortable existence.

A critical thinker would pause and ask why this has to be.

Do you think as deeply as this guy?

“Hard work” has long been a foundational value of American cultural and political thought. You could say that it’s entrenched in the American consciousness. But if you reflect for a bit, you’ll see that the idea of “hard work” is often used to justify racism, classism, sexism, nationalism, and other forms of discrimination.

The Declaration of Independence is a list of completely subjective statements constructed by a group of individuals interpreting their history in an effort to legitimize the coming insurrection against their rulers. One very famous line that Jefferson uses in the Declaration is meant to stifle critique before even it has the chance to manifest: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

This phrase is a perfect example of “one-dimensional thought” in operation. As critical theorist Herbert Marcuse wrote in One Dimensional Man:

“The closed language does not demonstrate and explain––it communicates decision, dictum, command” (101).

Deeming certain principles “truths” and describing these “truths” as “self-evident” without explaining why they are effectively shuts down any possibility for critique. If you don’t believe in what Jefferson is about to lay down, you’re perceived as unreasonable.

How can you question truth, let alone truth that is visible to each and every one of us? C’mon!

The perpetuation of unquestioned ideas is certainly not limited to 18th century political documents. Each of us contribute to this process every single day without realizing it.

Right from the beginning, our education system attempts to suppress the curious and critical tendencies of each child by forcing them to adhere to unquestioned notions and behaviors through standardized tests and rigid modes of teaching.

In a socioeconomic system that relies on a mass of individuals who do as they’re told and not much more, there is a multitude of power in critical thought. Critical thinking works to subvert the blind acquiescence which is a necessary component of the political and economic systems under which we live.

Given the fact that some ideas and methods of thinking are so powerfully entrenched in our consciousness, how can you begin to think critically?

To answer this question, I turn, once again, to Michel Foucault. Foucault described the elements of his moral code as such:

“(1) the refusal to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us; (2) the need to analyze and to know, since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and understanding—thus, the principle of curiosity; and (3) the principle of innovation: to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined. Thus: refusal, curiosity, innovation.”

The first step, then, is to realize that some of the truths we accept as “self-evident” are not necessarily so.

We say certain things and behave in certain ways that conform to what we accept as the “facts of life.” These “facts” are, for the most part, accepted by everyone and perpetuated without question.

Questioning these assumptions which are so often taken for granted is a powerful practice. It’s what we must start doing if we wish to radicalize our selves and society.

You can use critical thinking skills to change the direction of your life. Hopefully you'll perform a bit better than this button-hungry parrot.

The third element in Foucault’s list––innovation––depends entirely on the first two, refusal and curiosity. Without rejecting and analyzing an idea that is assumed to be self-evident, it’s impossible to create something new. How can you innovate without moving past the artificial barriers you face?

Critical thinking enables you to be creative, to see things differently, and to define your true values within the midst of a monotonous society that encourages cookie-cutter modes of thought.

Part of the challenge is recognizing the need to think critically. The next part is in applying your critical thinking skills to your everyday life, thereby uniting theory with practice.

 

Amanda Fox-Rouch (Hunter College)

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Defining who you want to be in a commodity-fetishizing society

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

In life, we are forced to make sacrifices. We do things we don’t necessarily want to do because we have to do them. What are some things you do because you feel like you have to?

Some actions, like earning money to pay for shelter and food, are necessary in order to achieve and sustain a comfortable lifestyle. But think about it: beyond this, not much is necessary. So why do we often feel like we’re lacking something, even if our most basic needs are fulfilled?

I believe that this constant drive to do more and be more is a result of the ideological apparatus of our society, which the mass media and we ourselves are agents of.

Tyler Durden from Fight Club may have captured it best when he said:

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”

Eccentric philosopher Slavoj Žižek has applied psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s frameworks to cultural and ideological analysis. Žižek is one of many thinkers who have argued that the dominant ideology in modern society conditions us to rationalize, idealize, and endorse certain actions and ideas without even realizing it.

Slavoj tellin' it like it is.

For example, people often ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

From an early age, without even realizing it, we push kids to define their future selves in terms of the type of work they see themselves doing. “An all-around nice person” is usually not the type of answer we seek when asking this question.

As subjects in a given society, we are conditioned from childhood to allow the dominant ideology to shape our innermost values and desires. We are taught to define ourselves according to certain standards which we usually consent to and perpetuate without even realizing it.

In effect, we often find ourselves inadvertently supporting the powers-that-be through things we do and say every single day.

When we are faced with one of life’s many obstacles which prevent us from realizing a goal, it’s not uncommon to have an emotional breakdown and feel like it’s all our fault, rather than realizing that society has taught us to fetishize certain things that despite the advertisements for these products and experiences telling us otherwise, cannot actually rectify our inherent emptiness.

Given this seemingly untenable situation, what is to be done for those of us who still manage to dream about living up to standards that we consciously define? I believe that, to an extent, we can try to reclaim our agency and become self-defining subjects.

But how do we do this?

The first step is to become conscious of those things you do out of compulsion because you’re told that it’s the “right thing to do.” Demarcate the border between these actions and those things you actually value and want to do and have.

Michel Foucault was a scholar who challenged taken-for-granted conceptions of power and "normality" through his histories of prisons, biopolitics, and sexuality, among other topics.

“But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” — Michel Foucault

Treat your life as a work of art–pick and choose the qualities you would like to embody, and start doing just that. Realize that some of the ideas that you value and perpetuate in your daily life may have been influenced by societal forces, and weed them out with a vengeance if they do not serve you. Constantly strive to become someone you would admire. Transcend societal-imposed standards to the fullest extent possible, and begin living on your own terms.

Now that we’ve laid out the problem that we’re dealing with (as I see it), the rest of a book will be a guide to living up to our conscious, self-defined values and standards in a stupor-enducing culture.

 

Amanda Fox-Rouch (Hunter College)

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Interested in more deals for students? Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter to get the latest in student discounts and promotions  and follow our Tumblr and Pinterest. For savings on-the-go, download our printable coupon e-book!

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