Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 917
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds is a book by Alan Jacobs. The author of this book is a professor of humanities at Baylor University and has contributed articles to a wide range of national publications, including The Atlantic and Harper's. In this book, he explores a phenomenon that he feels is the root cause of the increasing divisions experienced in American political and cultural discourse. Jacobs suggests that these divisions are not inevitable; rather, they are caused and exacerbated by people's inability to critically evaluate data, facts, and their own personal beliefs. That is, people are no longer "thinking." The following quotes are key contributors to this overall message.
This twofold response perfectly embodies the mental state of the person who has begun to think. She didn't leave the church, she didn't stop picketing; but she drew a line in her own mind that had the inevitable effect of separating her, to some degree, from the community which until that point had given meaning to her whole life.
In this section, Jacobs discusses the Westboro Baptist Church, a forty-member organization notorious for its aggressively homophobic messaging. Claiming that they were simply obeying Biblical commandments, Westboro members—including Megan Phelps-Roper, the church founder's granddaughter—advocate dfor the death penalty for gay people and picketed at funerals and public events with anti-gay signs. However, once Phelps-Roper began to engage with people on Twitter, her belief system slowly changed until she was eventually exiled from the church.
In the quote above, the author highlights the pivotal moment when Phelps-Roper began to "think." Jacobs notes,
First, while she continued to go picketing with other Westboro members, she stopped carrying the signs that read "DEATH PENALTY FOR FAGS."
That is, after she started interacting with people who respectfully challenged her beliefs, she began to examine her beliefs. As she started responding to people who expressed skepticism about her ideas, she started seeing those people as human and realized that their criticisms had merit. In the initial stage, though, she responded to her foray into thinking with fear. She cut off correspondence with the main Twitter user who helped her realize the problem with advocating for the death of all gay people. Jacobs states,
On some level, if not consciously, Phelps-Roper had to have known that the one issue—DEATH PENALTY FOR FAGS—was unlikely to be the end of the story. If Westboro was wrong about that, then what else might they be wrong about? If the answer turned out to be "a lot," then the result could be exile from the only world she had ever known, the only belonging she had ever experienced. So she closed the door from which she perceived the greatest threat.
At that point, though she had begun the act of thinking, she was afraid to continue doing so.
Stories of forbidden knowledge come in many varieties, but in our time this is one of the more common: the tale of a community that provides security in exchange for thought, and the courageous member of that community who, daring to think, sacrifices the security. It's the Enlightenment—whose rallying cry is, Immanuel Kant said, Sapere aude!—dare to think, dare to be wise—writ small and writ in a hundred ways.
In this passage, Jacobs points at a common myth about thinking. Over and over again, Jacobs asserts, we are made to believe by many works of iconic literature (including Lois Lowry's The Giver ) that there is a guarantee of an ultimate happiness and fulfillment that comes from leaving a corrosive group and...
(The entire section contains 917 words.)
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