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Miniblog #171: Calling Out Four Popular Tricks of the Faux Thinking Trade

by Carson T. Clark on January 23, 2013

I’m terribly vexed by those intellectually proud people who incessantly nitpick in order to sound smart yet offer little in the way of meaningful contribution. I’ve in mind four types of these guys.1 The first is the guy who uses typos2 to flippantly dismiss someone’s belief, opinion, or perspective. For example,1.And, no, I’m not using guys as an all-encompassing pronoun. For whatever reason, in my experience the perpetrators tend to be dudes. over the years I’ve met a number of these perfectionist goons who treat all dyslexics like morons because they commit the grave and sinister transgression of mistaking there, their, and they’re.32.i.e. spelling errors and grammatical mistakes The second is the guy who automatically discredits anyone who possesses less social capital.3.This just in: Get over yourself. This is the asshole who offhandedly dismisses the opinion of anyone who doesn’t come from an upper-class background or doesn’t have a PhD.44.I confess to finding it nearly impossible to be civil around such people. The third is the guy who criticizes a writer for essentially not dealing with every conceivable point in his/her piece.5 This is the numbskull who, after reading a 15-page sociological essay on Martin Luther King’s5.All the while almost completely ignoring its content. organizational strategies in the South, rejects the thesis’ validity because the author “should’ve” also addressed Malcolm X’s own organizational contributions in the Midwest and Northeast.66.Ducking all the issues while appearing insightful. Impressive. Most impressive. The final type is the guy who categorically writes-off all assertions of general trends as being innately misleading and simplistic. Examples of this are the geniuses who cite a handful of excellent evangelical scholars to (supposedly) disprove Mark Noll’s view that evangelicalism’s valuing of populist activism, and ethos of zealous pragmatism, has resulted in a widespread anti-intellectual culture.77.In sum, it’s far too easy to 1) be petty by criticizing people’s minor mistakes, 2) be condescending by discrediting them due to a lack of privilege or attainment, 3) be evasive by focusing on what should have been said instead of what was said, or 4) be difficult by perpetually playing the nuance card to sound clever. It’s a lazy mind that employs these tricks of the faux thinking trade. Let’s be honest. It takes bare minimum effort or skill to make oneself sound intelligent by dismissing, demeaning, deflecting, digressing, or otherwise being a dick. Conversely, what takes real intellectual effort and skill is humbly engaging, synthesizing, facilitating, gleaning, discerning, and creating. Be a real thinker, not a faux thinker.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Seriously though, on the “you didn’t say everything ever on the subject” criticism. I suppose it’s a hazard of writing nowadays that one must caveat and acknowledge all that you can’t acknowledge in order to make a point, but you simply can’t say everything at once if you’re going to say one thing. Unless you’re Karl Barth and want to produce a 10,000 page dogmatics.

    • Carson T. Clark

      And even then… I’ve got a feeling Barth would tell you that he still didn’t say half of what he wanted to throughout the course of his lifetime.

  • Sentinel

    Love it.

    Short, to the point, and spot-on.

    • Carson T. Clark


  • Pingback: Carson Clark on Four Kinds of Intellectual Perverts « Persona()

  • Mike Weaver

    Excellent post! Noted, and critique accepted. I have a habit of doing what the third and fourth guys do. Unfortunately, I think these types of faux thinking take a person very far in academics. It is a habit that makes research papers and theses easier to write, I think. But I think that you bring up a good point: that feux thinking isn’t just annoying, its an ethical problem. We should eschew it because its intellectually dishonest and simply no different than a schoolboy throwing rocks. Putting the other guy down is always easier than being fair.

  • Jonathan Noble

    Good analysis and enjoyable to read. Thank you!

    • Carson T. Clark

      Thanks, man.

  • Ethan McCarthy

    I might run the risk of committing one of your faux thinker faux pas here, but I’m not sure I like the categorization of faux thinkers and “real” ones. Aren’t we all somewhere in between? Even the cleverest and most intellectually industrious will make one of these mistakes from time to time. Most of the time lazy thinkers are lazy because that’s what they know. They haven’t been shown any other way… Shouldn’t we be more charitable to folks who make these mistakes (instead of writing them off as dicks)? I know I’ve been guilty of intellectual laziness many times.

    • Carson T. Clark

      If I catch you lying one time I wouldn’t forever brand you a liar. Although Ray Comfort would surely disagree with this, I think most of us would distinguish between a person who lies from time to time and a liar, i.e. someone who lies with frequency. Likewise, I agree that all people will almost inevitably do one of these four from time to time. Human-nature. We screw up. yada yada yada. But if a person uses the above mentioned tricks of the faux thinking trade with regularity, he or she becomes a faux thinker.

      Also, yes, I think it’s important to be gracious. Yet I also think we need to call people on their crap far more than we tend to do. Speaking from my own life experience, almost all the times I’ve grown the most were when someone in my life had the cojones to call me out or tell me to step up. That is, with consistency the occasions of significant maturation, development, or the like have come from people in my life challenging me. I remember one mentor, in particular, who said, “Carson, I love you but you’re being a dick. Grow up.” Though it might not superficially appear charitable or gracious, it truly was.

      As for the issue of them not knowing better, my response to that is neither did I. Do keep in mind that I came from an anti-intellectual background. But I committed to learn, developing, maturing, and growing.

    • Ethan McCarthy

      Sorry, man. I do understand what you’re saying, but this is just much too simplistic for me. I’m never comfortable when anyone makes two categories “good” and “bad,” especially when they implicitly place themselves in the “good” one… I myself am OFTEN guilty of “faux thinking.” So are you. If poor thinking is a result of sin, then like sin it’s not something we ever grow out of. It’s certainly not something we can ever get on a pedestal and blast other people for. “I am the chief of sinners” said Paul.

      The kind of loving critique you’re talking about is of course very important. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that it’s very hard to do properly. It takes a lot of wisdom and humility, and it always goes on a case by case basis… I imagine you’d agree with this. So while I agree with you that there are times when we should call one to answer for sins, I think for balance it would also be good to remember the Eastern Orthodox mantra, “Never try to convince anyone of anything.” I’ve found it’s usually the example of other people (or of Christ in them), much more than their words, that makes a lasting impact on our lives.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Gonna deal first with this post:

      “The first is the guy who uses typos to flippantly dismiss someone’s belief, opinion, or perspective.”

      I never do that. As someone with a LD, this pisses me off.

      “The second is the guy who automatically discredits anyone who possesses less social capital.”

      I rarely do that, and cannot recall the last time I did so.

      “The third is the guy who criticizes a writer for essentially not dealing with every conceivable point in his/her piece.”

      Seriously, it’s rare I do this. No doubt I used to a lot, i.e. TFC’s philsophy club forum, but I seldom do anymore.

      “The final type is the guy who categorically writes-off all assertions of general trends as being innately misleading and simplistic.”

      I don’t do this. Not all supposed general trends are created equally, but I don’t categorically write-off trends just because they’re generalizations.

    • Carson T. Clark

      “…but this is just much too simplistic for me.”

      I think faux thinking a most helpful concept. It makes sense of a great many of my life experiences. Here was the original post where I mentioned and explained the idea:

      “I myself am OFTEN guilty of ‘faux thinking.’ So are you.”

      See my comment immediately below.

      “If poor thinking is a result of sin, then like sin it’s not something we ever grow out of.”

      Someday we’ll have to discuss the noetic effects of sin. In the meantime, I’ll just say this: For as much as I’m told that I’m too critical of people and need to be more encouraging, I’ve actually got a pretty hopeful view of what they’re capable of. The Discourse of affirmation that so many of our churches use is demeaning in that it requires very little trust in people whereas the faithful Discourse of inquiry I hold to is exhortative in that it requires them to step up.

      “It’s certainly not something we can ever get on a pedestal and blast other people for.”

      I few weeks ago I replied to a theology prof somewhere who described Noll’s ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind’ as promoting a “culture of discouragement.” It’s always interesting to me how often people read in their own interests, temperaments, and those sorts of things. As I read his post I sensed an optimistically-inclined fellow who perceives sharp criticisms, even if accurate, to represent a “culture of discouragement.” I couldn’t have disagreed more. Noll’s sharp criticism gave the evangelical world a much need kick in the pants, and it worked! Noll’s book is replete with criticism. No doubt there. Yet I would suggest that in and through those criticisms is a powerful encouragement that has been absurdly successful. The same has been the case with this blog post.

      ” ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ said Paul.”

      C’mon, man. Let’s not go there again. As we worked through a couple years ago, I openly and readily acknowledge struggling and failing in a great many areas. But don’t project intellectual pride onto me. Also, criticism of others isn’t the problem; rather, it’s inaccurate, uncharitable criticism of others along with a lack of equal or greater self-criticism that’s the problem.

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