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  • Writer's pictureChetan Walia

Critical Reading or Accepting Majoritarian Viewpoint?

Critical Reading is a crucial skill. It is almost non-existent in the conditioned mind. In fact we are trained and raised to do the opposite that is to believe the written word to be the gospel truth.

From childhood education to the present day, we have been conditioned to accept the written word as truth. We lend weight to our own presentations, writings and other citations by including quotes or data as printed elsewhere. The society has come to a point of belief, “if it’s written, published and well sold then it must be legitimate.”

Critical Reading involves examining the text and digging deeper to find meaning, the actual truth. It means to question what you read, and not merely accept it.

Imagine a trusted friend or a colleague highly recommends a book to you. You start reading it and its appealing. You may even find it insightful. What basis do you have to judge the insight? Is it actually true? Or is it conveniently true?

Do you pay attention to and challenge the author's arguments, logic, and organisation. Critical reading is more than merely scanning the words on a page; it's an exploration of the author's ideas and beliefs. To be able to do that one must first be willing to challenge their own. The first of which in this case is the misplaced belief in the authority of the author itself. Why accept it?

Critical reading is critical thinking. One needs to use contextualisation, and reflection to question and challenge the thought process.

It begins with questioning. Most readers fail to question because their primary goal when reading is to finish the text. Questioning doesn’t mean to question for the sake of it. Questioning means an intelligent discovery. What would lead you to an intelligent discovery? To be able to discover one must challenge everything - the assumptions, the context and the belief. It may well be that you end up with the same conclusion as the author but at least it will be discovered, not believed.

Do you have an open mind? An open mind is an unconditioned mind so obviously you don’t have one. We’re afraid to challenge our own beliefs or ideas because that leads us to uncertainty. It is convenient therefore to conform and lean towards popular beliefs - the bestsellers!

You see each argument any author is trying to make has a point. Is it strong enough to change your point of view? Why? Why must you believe the author? Why must you believe the research? Why should you be convinced of author’s beliefs? If its the truth and so evident why did you fail to see it thus far?

Do you really go beyond what suits you? Reading reinforces memory. Memory means all the past knowledge and beliefs. A new input is essentially processed by an old set of knowledge and beliefs? Can this process really ever go beyond what you already know? How would it?

Logically you can go beyond only when you’re willing to challenge the old itself. Though if you keep accepting the truth in what you’re reading then you are neither challenging the old nor do you have any chance of discovering anything afresh.

What’s the context? It's easy to read things from our point of view based on our experiences, beliefs, and values. However, take a step into the author's shoes for a moment. They may come from a different background, culture, or even era. What influenced them to write what they did? Unless you figure that out their really isn’t a way to understand the whole picture. To be able to really get an insight one must be able to delayer the biases, the prejudices and the intent. One has to be able to go beyond the temptation of aligning with the majoritarian viewpoint. No majoritarian viewpoint ever changed the world - it only caused wars and destruction!

Where’s the insight? The author obviously has an insight and thats why presumably the piece was written. Is your insight the same? Thats the easy part because all you have to do then is to read and not question. Do you have a unique insight into the trigger the author provided you with? Does your mind allow for that? How will that come? If your reading didn’t provide the unique insight then you’re simply conforming and in that there has been no analysis of information. Theres been mere acceptance and surrender. Thats what our conditioning was supposed to achieve. It worked.

What’s next? There isn’t any definitive text. Even scientific discoveries keep evolving and changing almost every generation. So no matter how much you are in agreement with the author there must be more to discover. Unless you question it how will you discover more? What else do you need to know to develop a complete understanding of the text? Are you curious enough? If you aren’t curious for more, then critical reading or even critical thinking isn’t even a possibility.

Critical reading helps you discover the truth, the insight, your insights into the text rather than merely skimming it over and repeating populist interpretations. This takes practice. Though more than practice it takes intent. An intent to question and challenge everything because everything currently that you know came from some text or the other and it hasn’t really worked out perfectly well for the world. Has it?

Chetan Walia

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