By Khamati Shilabukha
During the debate on the Statute Law ( Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2012, Isaac Rutto was opposed to the requirement that parliamentary aspirants should have a university degree. That was fine until he argued, rather shallowly, that this would turn Parliament into another Senior Common Room (a Private Members’ Club at the University of Nairobi).
Why he chose to liken such a requirement to admission to the Common Room may be lost to many Kenyans, who are his audience. And here in lies the reason MPs should have genuine university degrees.
Our politicians have never appreciated the import of thinking before speaking. It is evident they speak instinctively, without cognitive engagement. If there is any cognitive engagement, the thinking is so impaired it borders on paranoia and neurotic schizophrenia.
First, let me remind Mr Rutto that to be a substantive member of the club he tried to trivialise, you require not one but two or more genuine university degrees. That is why in Senior Common Room, unlike in Parliament, discussions even on mundane and everyday issues, are based on critical thinking.
In Senior Common Room, we recognise that thinking should always be active. In discussing issues, we skillfully deploy the cognitive faculty to those general principles and procedures of thinking which are most conducive to facts, laws, truth or accuracy in judgement. We aspire for validity and reliability in our conclusions. And they need not be agreeable to everyone.
To understand what I am saying, you may have to consider some of the things that uncritical thinking MPs do. Many MPs, as uncritical thinkers, accept things purely on faith or authority. They also think their beliefs and false principles are universally true and cannot be mistaken or criticised. Furthermore, they are not disposed to seek evidence to challenge beliefs or statements.
They never ask critical questions such as “What am I being asked to vote for and why? Should I accept it or not? What are the arguments and how strong are they?
Our MPs rarely think about how claims are supported or opposed by evidence, that is, how information is relevant to whether a claim is true or false. They don’t know that any particular piece of evidence can be cast in the form of a reason for, or objection to, some claim.
So at the most basic level, they need general principles and procedures governing reasoning and argument. These MPs are unable to identify the main contention in any issue. They are intellectually lazy to look for evidence that supports or opposes that contention and assess the strength of the reasoning.
They, most of the time, rely on rhetorical and tautological thinking. We know that they voted for the Bill because they are not thinkers, they are uncritical believers. They voted for what they did not know. They are functionally, if not literally illiterate. They relied on some authoritative word of mouth about missing on high salaries and their collective neurotic paranoia and unbridled avarice were set into overdrive!
We must find ways to direct politicians’ attention to critical thinking. For Rutto and his ilk, Professors may not be streetwise, and surely they are no verbal thugs. In discussing they are always very composed, they never lose their direction and this is a good sign. It shows they are intelligent higher primates. That is why thinkers in Senior Common Room cannot pass a resolution they don’t understand, unlike MPs who comment on budget estimates, pass Bills and engage in multiple gears without verifying. Even simple mechanics cannot allow that kind of thinking. Parliamentarians need to think like the members of Senior Common Room and that is why they need genuine university degrees, to unblock their self – serving and atrophic herd mentality.