Lately I have been troubled by what seems to be a general diminishment in people’s abilities to engage in rational thought and discussion. Expressed concerns are countered with irrelevant claims, generalities are “proven wrong” by citing exceptions, legitimate points are made moot by name-calling and character assassination, errors and mistakes are not addressed with the idea of correction of the cause, rather they are writ large by what people believe to be justifiable outrage, anger and violence, I suppose on the theory that two wrongs do somehow make a right.
A few years ago, I was trying to make a point about the need for firefighters to have a certain amount of physical strength and made a comment about men being generally larger and stronger than women. “Oh no!” countered the woman with whom I was talking, “I know lots of women who are bigger than lots of men!” As far as she was concerned, the exceptions she knew of effectively countered my point about men being generally larger and stronger than women. I was not arguing that my generalization was grounds for excluding women from becoming firefighters. I was saying that firefighters had to prove themselves able to carry large, dead-weight bodies, sometimes down ladders, and that men had a natural advantage over women in the area of size and physical strength. But our discussion was over because she had proven my outlandish claim to be false. She knew lots of women who were bigger than lots of men. (The ‘stronger’ part was dropped from the discussion.)
The idea of countering logical argument by character assassination is an old trick with a new polish. Any day now, I expect Donald Trump to be hawking a “How-to” character assassination DVD as a money-making sideline to his presidential bid.
Speaker: “We must find a way to present and to hear civil discourse, thereafter to engage in reasonable debate.”
Character Assassin: “Why? So that you can bamboozle people with all your fancy, ten-dollar words like ‘discourse’? Go back to your ivory tower, you prig!” (Applause)
Race relations in the U.S. have been a breeding ground for irrationality. Unfortunately, the issue of race relations in the U.S. cannot be adequately served without acknowledging that the majority subjugated a minority for centuries and has continued to do so up to the present. No doubt decreasing numbers of whites will continue to do so for a time into the future. There is shame involved with this issue and everyone is loath to acknowledge shame.
Issues that have cropped up over the last few years do suggest that police forces and the communities they serve must come to a new understanding of what it means to “serve and protect.” Don’t make the mistake of jumping to the erroneous conclusion that I am castigating the police. I am not! Yes, they need re-education, but so do communities of people who somehow believe that it is the right of citizens on the street to resist arrest, to demand justifications for police actions in tense situations, to attack police constables, to loot, steal, destroy, etc.
Still, I have to acknowledge that cooperating with an aggressive policeman is difficult, and it would be especially difficult if one felt that one faced an uncertain future by so cooperating. Because I am not black, I believe that cooperation with the police is best. It would take a person of great character and faith in the system to be black and be cooperative with arrest. Still, character-building is exactly what black communities need to focus on and understanding policing roles as service to the community is what police forces all need to learn and to practice.
Think of how differently things would have happened in Ferguson, Missouri if Michael Brown, who was walking with his friend down the center of the road, had simply scooted off the roadway when the cop told him to do so. Nope. He ignored the cop’s direction and continued walking down the center of the road. Cop gets angry, begins more aggressive approach, orders them over to the squad car. Nuh-uh. Active, aggression against the cop, resistance, escape. Is the cop rattled? Of course he is! Did he make a mistake? Yes! Is Michael Brown dead, the community in turmoil, distrust and hatred sewn into the fabric of the community? Yes, yes and yes! I repeat, how would things have happened differently if Michael Brown and his friend had simply cooperated with the cop’s reasonable order, however unreasonably expressed it might have been?
If we want to live within a community of laws and order, then we need to follow the sometimes disagreeably phrased orders of the police who are trying to enforce those laws, to keep that order.
I once read a very influential book called, Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The book was not about how to train subversives to disrupt society. It was about getting kids to think for themselves, to ask legitimate questions in appropriate ways and to generally become excellent “crap detectors.” A whole society so educated to be excellent “crap detectors” would be a formidably strong society. They would be hard to trick into submission or to be guided into taking the wrong path. ISIS and other fundamentalist extremists of all faiths would have no power if education systems worldwide concentrated on getting kids to follow logical, ethical, individual paths of thought, including identifying false or self-serving arguments wherever they might occur.
Unfortunately, my hopes are not high for this development anywhere, as the BIG MONEY is fully invested in non-contextual, 140 character tweets, the joys of backstabbing and character assassination as a preferred substitute for well-developed, well-phrased, thoughtful statements of position followed by civil debate of the issues.
I rest my case with you, thoughtful reader.