Virtue of Critical Thinking

No point of opening up a book unless you open yourself to it.

At the helm of knowledge lies the ability to think critically—to analyse an issue, to interpret it in light of the presented facts and to draw an inference in your context. It doesn’t matter really, if you have amassed a bunch of degrees in a bunch of topics; what matters is your ability to ask the right questions and seek till you find the right answers. Books, in this regard, are an excellent repository of the knowledge. Every once in a while, comes a book that challenges the way we think. It makes us want to step out of our comfort zone and look at the world from the author’s perspective. Here are 3 books that made me take a hard look at the reality of the world, and below are my inferences:

  1. IN SPITE OF THE GODS: THE STRANGE RISE OF MODERN INDIA

As a regular citizen I have my concerns for this country mainly because I belong to the largest slice of the demographic pie— the youth. I am concerned about my future here. Where is the economy headed? Will I get the right opportunities to grow if the reservation system continues to create more and more sub divisions? Will the regressive nature of national policies ultimately lead to a generation of people too divided to compete on the global scale? Will I have to uplift my entire life from here and go someplace where being in research does not mean being poor?

Mr Edward Luce gives a critical opinion about this country after having lived, worked and married here. He gives straight facts about the nation of contradictions and on the brink of either soaring high or getting lost in the abyss. According to him, while the world has its eyes set on China as the next big thing, India is not too far behind but it has a tendency to get scattered along the way. The beginning of the book ensures the reader that this is not an ode for the spiritual land that has been written by many an international tourists, it is much more than that.

I think as long as we do not try to step out of our bubble of “ethics and culture” which is a convenient way to meander around certain pointy issues, we will always remain on the brink. As is mentioned in the book, corruption is, in some places, the system. The idea of an honest bureaucrat is as fantastic as a time travel, and we might be closer to achieving the latter. This book will give you a wonderful picture of diversities and the true meaning of the phrase, order in chaos.

  1. BRAVE NEW WORLD

The point of this brilliant novel by Aldous Huxley, of a futuristic world is that no matter how people change conventions remain as binding as ever. This book was written after the World War I and is set in London where after the war there was an immediate change observed in the society and practices. With the expansion of industries came a world where mass manufacturing was common and there was a questioning of the morality in traditional sense such as taboos on sexual desires and gender distinctions. Huxley created a London which was headed by a World Controller. Humans were produced not born and emotions such as sadness had no place in the society. Soma was prescribed as a solution to anxiety/ sadness and sexual promiscuity was encouraged. In this “new world” there was Bernard Marx who was dissatisfied with the ways of this world and visited the “Savages” or the people who continued to live without all the mechanisations. He brings back John from there. A series of tragic events, which question the importance of class divisions, desires and emotions, ultimately lead to John committing suicide and the world returning back to its utopia which was disturbed by this savage.

Although it was written a long time back this book is still as relevant today. Every society has a fixed convention and as members of the society, people have a mentality to eliminate (violently, if need arise) any element that tries to question their lifestyle. By the juxtaposition of the savage lifestyle with the London elite Huxley points out the irony of modernization. No matter how much technological innovation occurs the people of the new world turn out to be the real savages because if their inability to cope with someone who stands outside their ring of acceptable norms.

  1. THE FOUNTAINHEAD

How long can you endure injustices of the world to stand by what you believe in? What kind of a person are you if you can’t stand by your own standards?

These are the questions that Ayn Rand tried to answer in her book. It is by far the best book I have ever read because even if I don’t believe in the way the protagonist lives his life I can’t help being in awe of his conviction. Howard Roark is a man who is shunned for insubordination continuously by the world just because he has a vision that is not within the bounds of conventional norms and acceptable standards. As an architect he wished to create a daring skyline for New York and everyone tries to bring him down throughout the book. This is not a story of victory of good over evil but of perseverance and honesty to oneself. Roark makes the reader seriously question his sanity when he chooses destitution over corruption of his designs by his employers. He has to constantly encounter hurdles simply because of his uncompromising spirit. Roark and Ellsworth Toohey are two sides of the same coin. They both believe unrelentingly in their ideals and can go to any lengths to achieve their goals. Neither is willing to relinquish their stand.

It is an inspiring and thought provoking book. The stark contrast of a man willing to give his life to safeguard his ideas against a world that believes that success can be achieved only if one sells their soul to the desires of a mob is what makes this an incredible journey. I keep going back to this book because it reminds me, in my lowest times, that one is not the slave of the society. To achieve real success you need to have the courage to fight on your own terms.

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