Indonesia Expat
Observations

Mob Mentality and Critical Thinking

critical thinking
Critical thinking. Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Din Syamsuddin, a lecturer at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta and former Muhammadiyah chairman, was reported by the Anti-Radicalism Movement of the Bandung Institute of Technology (GAR ITB) to the Civil Service Commission (KASN) and the Civil Service Commission (BKN).

He is accused of violating civil servant discipline regarding his comment on the Constitutional Court’s decision regarding the outcome of the 2019 presidential election dispute and his role in Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI).

Reporting opposing figures to the police constitute a mob mentality as a backflow of democracy. It is a tendency to destroy and spoil by unorganised masses. Earlier this year, the Americans had been shocked by the actions of President Trump’s supporters who were dissatisfied and unhappy with the US presidential election result by besieging and occupying Capitol Hill on 6th January.

They are ordinary Americans with jobs and families. So how could they contribute to a bad chapter in American history? It goes unnoticed there are soaring groups of people who can obscure one’s feelings, convince others that they are brave with an honourable mission, and deceive their own followers into thinking that they are above the law and free from guilt and retribution. In numbers, there is strength, but also the particularly important aspect of anonymity.

In Indonesia, the mentality shows an increasing tendency when people can no longer distinguish between criticising and blaspheming, between questioning and slandering, between dialogue and black campaign.

This discrepancy gets exacerbated due to a poor tradition of critical thinking among people with different views. In the past, differences of opinion run smoothly by exchanging books and polemics in newspapers. Now disagreements have degenerated into split and rift through social media.

The absence of critical thinking originates from low literacy. It cannot be separated from people’s poor reading interest in the community, which is not correlated with high illiteracy rates. Many can read and write but still have a low reading interest. In fact, high reading interest is of paramount significance for critical thinking ability.

In a book entitled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (2011), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa cited a study that people who make the greatest gain in critical thinking are those who read at least 50 pages a week and write 20 pages over a semester. That sounds like a lot, but all of that comprises of looking at the text, reacting to the text, summarising the text, and communicating about it. All hone people’s critical thinking skills.

People with extensive reading would be more prudent, less judgmental, not easily jump to a conclusion, and adopt no black and white perspective on something heedless of their dissimilar political background and religious faith.

The mob mentality and tendency to report opposing parties to the police to manipulate sensitive issue such as radicalism has created character assassination. Accusing Din Syamsuddin of being a radical figure aspiring to topple the Jokowi government represents the ignorance of his track record mainstreaming Islam Wasathiyah (moderate Islam) for decades at home and overseas.

With President Jokowi appealing to people to criticise for better government performance, it should be greeted with freedom and safety for those posing criticism. If one views the criticism posed as far-fetched or irrelevant, check and recheck (tabayyun) is the best solution instead of putting those deploring the government as subject to arrest by the police. The checking and rechecking approach is necessary, both contextually and textually. Contextually, the reluctance of checking and rechecking would position someone in a vicious circle of slander and gossip. Textually, aversion to check and recheck is instrumental in the making of partial and misguided conclusions when it comes to reading someone’s criticism of the ruling authority.

The mob mentality marked by absent critical thinking leads people to think irrationally. It is detrimental to leadership and power.

Donald Trump’s acts as the US President had been notoriously known as anti-science and sensational, leaving the US national security at risk and placing his public policies questionable. In his final days, Trump has spoken frequently about his intention to build his own cable network. The US security experts fear that he may try to sell state secrets, on purpose or not, in the form of analysis or simply in his penchant for bragging about how he knows very much.

The mob mentality that is cynical towards criticism will disappear when the ruling authority—political, religious and security authorities—realises what David Hume, a great philosopher and one of the classical liberalism fathers, has said, “power is always in the hands of governed.” If people are critical of the government, it means that they are exercising their political rights as citizens. Conversely, if they are satisfied with the government, it confirms that the government has succeeded in performing and honouring its obligations to the people.

The writer is a lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities at Andalas University, Padang.

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