TUMBY BAY - Writers, poets and journalists are generally thought to be intelligent and articulate people, even if you disagree with the opinions they express about particular issues.
Perceived intelligence cuts across political and social boundaries. Neither is it particularly related to educational levels.
Left wing, right wing, progressive or conservative, ivy league education or bush school education, all have little bearing on how smart a person is perceived to be.
There is one common denominator, however, and it doesn’t just show up in writers, poets and journalists.
No matter the person or their profession (or lack of it), it is the practice of writing that makes the big difference.
Writing improves thinking and contributes to the development of critical thinking skills. It is those skills that largely differentiate smart people from dumb people.
While it is possible to develop critical thinking in a number of ways, nothing is as good as writing in forcing people to clearly state ideas and lay out logical and realistic arguments.
To produce a good written argument, writers must undertake research and read widely before they can pull all the strings together and make their case.
When developed, this skill improves other aspects of their life. When they speak, they are able to articulate ideas and opinions more clearly and assess and respond to situations in a balanced and logical way.
Scientist and writer Michael Dom recently circulated a YouTube clip, which you can view here, in which Professor Jordan Peterson lamented the fact that university students are not taught to write correctly.
One of the reasons Peterson thinks this happens is because teaching someone to write is time intensive and expensive.
Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
In the clip he makes the point that through the process of writing people become articulate. Being articulate, he says, is a very powerful weapon.
He says there is little difference between writing and critical thinking. If you can do these things you are deadly. They are your sword or your M-16 rifle. Being articulate makes you deadly.
I’m not entirely convinced by Peterson’s argument, mainly because of the limiting context in which he expresses it. He doesn’t directly claim wider relevance beyond tertiary education but the implication is there.
I would suggest he might modify the general thrust of what he says and its relevance beyond academia if he were exposed, or had been exposed to, pre-literate societies.
One can hardly claim that critical thinking didn’t or doesn’t exist in pre-literate societies. Not being familiar with the art of writing doesn’t make the members any less intelligent than a literate society.
Without the benefit of writing, other societal practices contributed to the development of critical thinking.
One good example is the hausman as it existed in many areas of Papua New Guinea prior to colonisation.
These were places where ideas and opinions were discussed and responded to in a similar way that writers use, but in an oral fashion.
In the modern context writing is an excellent way of developing critical thinking skills but, as our ancestors have demonstrated, there are other ways that it can be done.
The important thing is the development of the skill and not the way it is learned.
You may have a different view.