Moreover, as the neo-punk band Bad Religion sing, there is an inner logic to the events that surround and involve us and, very often, we are taught to stay far from it. We often think that the best way to live our lives is to stay out of the way. As the song ‘Inner Logic’ continues: ‘don’t ask questions, don’t promote demonstration/don’t look for new consensus/don’t stray from constitution’.
There are two equally undesirable extremes in this refusal to think things through. At one extreme, staying away from the ‘logic’ means putting too much faith in so-called ‘scientific’, ‘objective’ knowledge (which appears as if it can never be questioned). At the other extreme, we shy away from complexity by putting too much reliance on individual relativism, in which each person’s opinion is thought to be as good as anyone else’s.
We should never assume that there can be only one right view; we should not, in turn, presume that all views are right. We do need to make the ‘effort to reveal’ the logic, to ‘pierce the complexity’, not only for ourselves but for the common good. Smart thinking is how to do it. Generally, knowledge is tied up in contexts of power and influence, and is hardly ever ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’. Smart thinking can help empower us in the face of knowledge, revealing its political and social purposes,
its biases and consequences, its exclusions and errors. Thinking smart is about recognising the contexts of power and influence in which knowledge exists. Thinking smart is about using knowledge within and against the constraints of these contexts. It also always involves remembering that our own reasoning may equally involve the exercise of power and of influence.5