Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More musings on a hot summer morning

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. -Martin Luther King Jr.

“The American public is suffering from an education deficit. By this I mean it exhibits a growing inability to think critically, question authority, be reflective, weigh evidence, discriminate between reasoned arguments and opinions, listen across differences and engage the mutually informing relationship between private problems and broader public issues. This growing political and cultural illiteracy is not merely a problem of the individual, one that points to simple ignorance. It is a collective and social problem that goes to the heart of the increasing attack on democratic public spheres and supportive public institutions that promote analytical capacities, thoughtful exchange and a willingness to view knowledge as a resource for informed modes of individual and social agency.” This is the opening of a long article by Henry Giroux.

I don’t agree with all of his later points, but I am a strong believer in the fact that the more we incessantly and vilely trash the only institutions we have in our “representative” democracy the worse off we all become. When intelligent people cannot differenciate between undocumented poisonous diatribes and fully supported and reasoned argument, we are doomed to follow the path of ignorance. I have no problem with policy disagreements that challenge authority or the status quo, but when the disagreement constantly starts with the supposition that the other side must be “criminal” and is pursuing some kind of evil agenda instead of a different agenda, I feel the necessity to back off and ask the kind of questions I was taught when I was studying Aristotle’s Rhetoric way way back in the dark days.

i.e. Who are you and what is your reputation as a purveyor of truth? What evidence do you cite or use to prove that your assertions are valid? What is the reputation of the sources you cite? What percentage of your argument hinges on emotional flames like name-calling, racist insinuation, fear mongering, blatant untruth, etc. How do you or do you answer or rebut any opposing arguments?

The fact that your grandmother says it or that some news source or book says it does not prove it true. Only a compilation of multiple sources followed by some kind of reasoned assessment of probability gets you toward the final answer. And only some kind of compromise may allow you to move toward a solution that will contain a little bit for both sides in a complex and perhaps ultimately unsolvable issue like “What is the best way to deliver the best possible medical care to the most possible people in your country?” Some facts are undeniable. Several other civilized industrial countries have statistically lower infant death rates, less obesity, and higher life spans with a different system of healthcare administration. Do we adopt their systems whole cloth? Not at all.   Do we look at what they are doing and try to get better results for us with some tinkering? Yes. If we don’t we are ignorant and foolish and do not have the best interests of our country’s citizens at heart.    

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