Dayeinu; A template for gratitude —  Simon Apfel

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I’m thankful for critical reasoning

We live in a post-truth generation. A world of alternative facts. Fake news is ubiquitous. Soon, we might be unable to believe our own ears. 

A Montreal startup, Lyrebird, has released a product allowing users to create an audio clip of anyone saying anything. Adobe, meanwhile, is in the early stages of developing Photoshop for audio. 

This has serious repercussions for politics: influencers creating fake clips of politicians to undermine them — or politicians denying they said things they were really recorded saying, calling it fake audio.

But it’s not only fake news leading people astray. Away from the Macedonian troll farms and Russian Twitter bots, slanted news exerts an influence more subtle – and, for that reason, more insidious. Every newspaper report these days is an opinion piece, the grammar and sentence structure and word choice all finely calibrated to elicit a specific emotional response. 

Op-eds and actual opinion pieces meanwhile are seized on by the party faithful, by the favourably predisposed, as proof of whatever position they happen to be heralding, regardless of how spurious the logic or shaky the premises. 

Left and right are equally complicit, and while the likes of Fox News and Breitbart are often more overtly and transparently partisan, the Guardians and Slates of the world are often equally, though more subtly, tendentious. 

So what am I grateful for? Being critically minded. Having the critical faculties to discern and differentiate in fine detail. To smoke out intentionality. Everyone has a superpower. This is mine. 

I’m not sure critical reasoning is something you’re born with. My own faculties were awakened in high school English classes. I was blessed with a succession of teachers who pushed us hard to tease out meaning in the stories we studied. Reading between and within and through the lines. Diving deep into the quanta of language. 

These critical skills were then developed and formalised through an undergrad degree in philosophy and then sent into hyper-drive during a six-month immersion in intense Talmudic study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. 

Like any superpower, critical reasoning comes at a cost. Crippling indecision. An unsteady, often elusive, sense of self. Wherever I look, I find other people’s non-sequiturs and fractured reasoning popping out at me. Sometimes I feel like that kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people. It’s a gift, but it makes my life a misery. It’s no way to live. It’s discomforting and disconcerting as hell. 

But when Breitbart bullshits and Fox fabricates. When Slate slants and Slant slates. When Conway is conning you and Trump tramples truth with every Tweet from his toilet. When Ben Shapiro cares less whether his “facts” are facts than he does about your feelings, and stand-up comedians are political spokesmen. When what we see and hear is confined to algorithmically assembled echo chambers.
…Is there any other way to live?

Tips for developing critical reasoning:

Read deeply and widely; don’t accept superficial analysis; discard catchphrases and sloganeering.

Read anything that accords with your pre-existing worldview with a double dose of skepticism and critical faculties turned up to ten.

Pick a tractate of the Talmud to study; it’s resistance training for critical reasoning, an exercise in holding two (and often three or four or five or ten) conflicting arguments in your head at any one time and impassionately evaluating their relative merits. No preconceptions, no taking sides, just a battle for truth.

Simon Apfel was born into obscurity, the son of a frozen peas importer and a washing machine. His love of writing has always outshone his ability by a humiliating margin.

Click here to read Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft’s Pesach article
Click here to read Adam Zartz’s Pesach article
Click here to read Rabbi Emma Gottlieb’s Pesach article
Click here to read Jamie Kawalsky’s Pesach article
Click here to read Joel Merris’ Pesach article
Click here to read Adam Selikowitz’s Pesach article
Click here to read Elan Lohmann’s Pesach article

Click here to download a PDF of the April edition of the Chronicle


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