Despite living at a time when immensely more information is available at our fingerprints than ever before, and even because of it, we have reached an age of intellectual dwarfism. This syndrome is worldwide, and it affects the right, the left, and the center.
We can find answers to trivial questions within seconds, but we have lost our ability to think critically. This is true of the uneducated person, and it is true of the most educated people as well, because we are taught facts and we are tested on facts. We are rarely taught the ability to question, and we are rarely if ever tested on it.
Our universities have become Petri dishes of stupidity where self-declared progressive students demonize the only progressive country in the Middle East while making no effort to examine critically the anti-Israel rhetoric presented to them. Students who support Israel are harassed and prevented from speaking up and organizing events. Students who blindly uphold the anti-Israel mantra are rewarded and placed in positions of leadership.
As my friend Nadiya Al-Noor, a pro-Israel Muslim student, wrote, “Goucher College, like many American colleges and universities, is an echo chamber. Ideas get repeated and recycled at such a high frequency that it is often hard to stand. If you diverge from the common belief thread, your opinions are discarded”. Thinking is simply not tolerated.
Anti-Israel bullies on university campuses claim to be on the political left, but the syndrome is not isolated to the left. The nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential election is a proof that the right is just as capable as the left of following trends without critical thinking.
Trump has no qualifications to be President of the United States, and he does not even have a coherent ideology. His policy directions change with the wind, and they are dictated by one factor only, which is whether they are likely to gain him popularity. For years he promoted the theory that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., but suddenly, he discovered that taking a different position would help his campaign. So he blamed Hillary Clinton, the same person who had called that theory racist, and his supporters bought it.
Trump changed parties six times, and he was a Democrat from 2001 to 2009, which overlaps parts of the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He claims to oppose free trade, a staunchly Republican platform, and he has a low opinion of the U.S. army and U.S. veterans. Trump has been deserted by many high-profile Republicans, including President George H.W. Bush who intends to vote for Clinton, and many other Republicans support him with little enthusiasm.
Trump does not rely on solid conservative ideology any more than BDS relies on solid liberal principles. There is nothing liberal in pretending that pressure on Israel will magically create a two-state solution when the Palestinian leadership has shown repeatedly that it will settle for no less than a single Arab state, and there is nothing liberal in pushing for a single Arab state that would marginalize or even eliminate Jews from the Middle East . There is nothing conservative in electing an incompetent candidate who has no program and only marginal party support.
Trump voters hate Hillary Clinton enough that they are willing take a risk with the U.S.’s and the world’s future by putting them in the hands of a demagogue whose priorities have always been him, him, and him again. BDSers hate Jews enough that they are willing to turn Israel into another failed Arab apartheid state.
But hate is not enough to explain this phenomenon. When Trump first announced his candidacy, the general opinion was that he would be dropped early in the Republican nomination campaign, but he endured, and he eventually won handily. When BDS first appeared as a worldwide movement (as an Arab-only movement, it has existed long before Israel became independent), general opinion among Zionists was that it would be ineffective and fizzle out, but it has continued to gain ground, and it is now widespread and powerful.
What explains this is the public’s growing inability to think critically. If the U.S. dodges the bullet of Trump in this election, that bullet will keep coming back, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. In Britain, that bullet is called Jeremy Corbyn. In France, it is called Marine Le Pen. Not surprisingly, one of Trump’s promises is to further weaken the education system. What the U.S. and the world needs is a stronger education system, and an education system where critical thinking is rewarded.
Earlier generations had much less information available to them, therefore thinking critically was a simpler task. Today we are bombarded with information of all kinds, much of it untrue or only partially true. We need the ability to sort through vast amounts of disorganized data in order to filter out the factual and essential elements, and to make sense of them. The task is daunting and intimidating, but those of us who are not capable of it will be the victims of snake-oil salesmen like Trump, BDS, and many other charlatans waiting to take advantage of us.