Tuesday’s Quotes – May 16, 2017 – Moderation

“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

Alexander Hamilton, Constitutional Convention,  June 1787

It seemed like a good time to dust this quote off. Our government was created as a Democratic Republic primarily try to minimize the impact of extremist views, which are a risk in a true democracy, and to thereby protect the rights of those in the minority. It seems like out polarization keeps getting worse – what we need, and do not have, is both a president and a congress that are willing to work together – dare I say compromise – to unify the country, in stead of actively promoting the divisions.

Alexander Hamilton image from http://www.biography.com/people/alexander-hamilton-9326481

For what it’s worth…

As I was commenting on the EPA website in regard to the rolling back of the regulations that have been protecting our air and water since the Nixon administration, I was reminded of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the dangers of allowing corporations to do whatever they want to for the sake of profit. I’ve used it before, and fear that I’ll have to repeat it again as the current administration, and our congress, allows profit to overcome sensibility.

“To permit every lawless capitalist, every law-defying corporation, to take any action, no matter how iniquitous, in the effort to secure an improper profit and to build up privilege, would be ruinous to the Republic and would mark the abandonment of the effort to secure in the industrial world the spirit of democratic fair dealing.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, December 8, 1908

Just some food for thought as we wrap up another politically overwhelming week.

Pax.

Photo of the Rio Grande Gorge, taken July 2015, in northern New Mexico – an area now at risk as the interior department looks to potentially eliminate or reduce the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, along with 20+ other National Monuments under the terms of  President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order.

Tuesday’s Quotes – May 9, 2017 – On opinions & thought

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

— John F. Kennedy

I’ve been increasingly dismayed at how many people espouse extremely strong positions based on something akin to ether. In conversation, it often becomes obvious that those strongly held opinions are at odds with what the speaker really thinks about the topic. Although this phenomena is certainly not new – the desire to follow a path laid by others is innate to us humans because joining together is how we survive – but our world has become more crowded with information, accurate or not, and everyone’s opinions (even mine – isn’t that the point of this blog?), that we frequently do not take the time to think the things that we are hearing through. Ironic that in the information age, many of us seem reluctant to look into a claim before we allow ourselves to react, or before we help to spread it via social media. I’ve even seen things posted by people who I know would never have shared an article had they read it – because the article itself was opposition to the headline. And these are not isolated incidents, not are they limited to individuals of any one political persuasion (or even nationality), or any particular age group. The spanning of generations reinforces my own, anecdotally based, opinion that this is not an educational issue, or a matter of upbringing. I think it is a by-product of having too much available to take in – it is just easier to let someone else tell us what the truth is than to reason it out for ourselves.

So, I’m taking this opportunity, once again, to share the 10 Commandments of Logic:

IMG_0595

JFK photo from insidegov.com

Originally posted May 19, 2015.

Tuesday’s Quotes – February 7, 2017

“When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together.”

— Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, Nov 16, 2010

Or when the President of the United States and his closest advisors feel free to say anything & base their statements to the media on stories published by conspiracy theorist websites like Alex Jones’ Infowars, we have a very serious problem indeed.

And while I realize that some of my conservative family and friends seem to find it amusing that so many of us (and not only the ‘liberals’) have issues with President Trump, the simple fact is that this is not remotely funny – we can disagree on policy – we can even disagree on the approach to policy and whether it is a prudent one, we can disagree about a wholly unqualified set of cabinet picks and whether that lack of knowledge might actually help cleanup the underlying bureaucracy,  but we cannot, should not, must not disagree on the danger inherent in the continual lying and distortion of facts by high ranking public officials. Truth is not relative, and facts are not a matter of opinion.

Perceptions

“If those in charge of our society – politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television – can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.”

I’ve shared these words of Howard Zinn’s before along with the Weapons of Mass Communication image, but it bears repeating once again as we grapple with increasingly divisive interpretations of the facts.

I’ve also previously shared this wonderful Wall Street Journal look at a ‘typical’ liberal vs conservative Facebook feeds. The link is kept current (so the content changes with events), and covers several hot button topics. If you haven’t seen it before – and even if you have – I urge you to take a look. It shows how the presentation of information skews our perception of it. Recognizing that reality, understanding it, and taking steps to broaden our information sources to include opposing views – and to avoid the inflammatory ‘click bait’ headlines will take us a long way in our quest to heal the divisions in this country.

When we realize that our innate tendencies toward confirmation bias are precisely why we we get caught up in feeling angry that the other side (whichever side you are on) fails to be upset by something, or seem not to care about an issue that we deem critical, and we recognize that those with opposing views share that same tendency, we can begin to work on bridging the divides. We may not always succeed, but we can begin to see that sometimes we are as ill-informed about a given topic as others are about a different one.

I’ve lamented before – and surely will again – that the Information Age has, in many respects, made things much harder for us. Yes, communication has vastly improved, and the speed of communication, and the ease of communication, has helped shrink the world, and has exposed us to more socially, culturally, commercially. But it has not been without some pitfalls. That same speed of communication, that same ease, has broadened the reach of misinformation – both intentionally (as with lies and conspiracy theories) and sometimes just prematurely disseminated (as when the press initially incorrectly reports information in a disaster). And digital information, once it is has been disseminated, can never be fully retracted or corrected. “Fake” news and conspiracy theories now reach more people than ever before – and that’s not a particularly good thing.

And the fact that information lives forever is sometimes used a a manipulation tool. A recent example that comes to mind in Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and currently one of his senior advisors (and frequent spokesperson), Kellyanne Conway. A couple of weeks ago, she referred to factually incorrect statements made by White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, as “alternative facts” – which is about as Orwellian as you can get, and is hard to classify as anything other than a poor attempt at spin from a very intelligent woman. The other day, she did something slightly different – she referred to the media not reporting the Bowling Green Massacre during a speech defending the president’s executive order on immigration while lamenting all of the negative press attention it was getting. Of course there was never a massacre in Bowling Green, nor was there any indication that one was even contemplated. What had happened was that two Iraqi nationals were arrested in Bowling Green in an anti-terrrorism sting for intending to send funds and weapons to Al Qaeda in Iraq to use overseas. They were subsequently convicted and are in prison. Ms. Conway, after much ado about her speech, said that she’d misspoken and intended to say Bowling Green terrorists (and that the speech itself was a wonderful speech). The thing is, I don’t think she made a mistake. I don’t think she makes many mistakes at all. She knows full well that her initial words, the ones that matter for a subset of Donald Trump’s supporters, will live on. And that those same supporters are not troubled by “alternative facts” because they do not trust the factual facts that they hear.

There is a popular line “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”.  And while certainly true, I suspect that we tend to forget that opinions are formed, in part, by the way that facts are presented – humans, by and large, are not really objective perceivers of reality. So while ‘facts’ are always going to be facts, the ‘truth’ about those facts and what they represent may not always be what we think they are – especially when we only hear information sources that confirm our own biases. Our lives are not always lived with the rigor of scientific testing to support our perceptions of reality.

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Image borrowed from “Master in Mass Communication” – article on Priming Theory.

 

Still looking for the answer…

Originally posted December 15, 2015 – with minor modifications to the original.

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

— H.L. Mencken

These words have been in my head quite bit recently – in no small part because of the simplistic, alarmingly popular, near xenophobic rhetoric of US president-elect Donald Trump. Rhetoric that sadly seems to not be diminishing now that the election is over and the inauguration is a few short weeks away. And my concerns have only been amplified by some of his nominations to cabinet positions and administrative appointments. And the seemingly endless late-night rants on Twitter.

No, we cannot, and should not, attempt to deport millions of foreigners. No, we cannot build a massive wall spanning our entire souther boarder. No, we cannot marginalize the estimated 3 million Muslims in the US by threatening to inter them, take their passports or block them from returning if they travel outside of the US.

No, we cannot bully the rest of the world into doing what we want – we’ve tried that. It’s part of the reason we find ourselves where we are now.

It is simple to blame one group for all of our woes – the rich, the poor, the Mexicans, the atheists, the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, liberals, conservatives – and then to announce some highly simplistic, and largely unworkable, plan to eliminate that problem/threat. But there are consequences to any action taken – most especially with rash, poorly thought out, actions.

We cannot cure our country’s ills, and bring about prosperity and jobs,  by undermining the various governmental departments meant to manage certain functions. Clean them up, eliminate the waste, certainly. But appointing people with no understanding of what they are supposed to do to run them? That is likely to lead to a bigger mess.

Finding genuine solutions takes time, energy, and inclusion – no problem can be solved, or threat eliminated, by excluding those that disagree from the discussion. Yes, some divides may seem so intractable that they may seem unbridgeable, but people do open themselves up to other points of view, and possibly even to a change of opinion, when they are treated with respect, and they know that their concerns are also being heard.

There is no easy answer. There is never an easy answer. But that does not mean that you have to either give up, or resort to the “easy” answers – it just means that you have to be willing to expend the energy that it takes to find something that works.