Thursday, August 9, 2018

One Party Country

It seems to me that the USA has become the DSA - the Divided States of America. Worse still is that the movement is in the direction of a one party country, like those in China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia and elsewhere. That movement is not unique to the DSA as it seems to be happening in Turkey and other countries as well.

Indicators that are worrisome include attacks on the press, restricting access to information to the party in power or the person in power, denying facts well established by scientists (i.e., climate change) and other researchers and investigators, and using ad hominem arguments and tactics of distraction and denial to denigrate those who ask questions or who want clarification. 

Basic values are being lost. No more love thy neighbor as thyself but send your neighbor away without his or her children. No more bring me your tired and huddled masses but bring on the privileged few. No more a chicken in every pot but a can of chicken soup for all, before taxes of course. No more facts and logic ... just spin and vitriol. Whatever became of those 21st century skills that included critical thinking, collaboration and creativity? When did the age of reason disappear?

When Logic and Reason Fail

Thinking is not merely having thoughts. Thinking involves reasoning about those thoughts and adjusting them so that the thoughts are coherent and form a logical nexus. Thinking involves logic and reasoning.

There are some obvious limits to meaningful thought and meaningful statements and collections of statements. Logicians might say that the extreme boundaries of sense are formed by contradictions (statements that cannot ever be true, as in “I just ate the last cannibal”) and tautologies (statements that are always and can only be true, as in “Never before have things resembled the present as they do now”). The problem is that sometimes contradictions and tautologies arrive in disguise. For example, “there is a person on this planet who loves all and only those persons on this planet who do not love themselves.” Surely such a person exists! Surely not. Either that person loves him/herself or not, assuming one accepts the Law of the Excluded Middle (LEM). I understand a new LEM is circulating around the capital of these divided states called the Law of the Exclusive Muddle (as in “there were some good people on both sides, including the ones carrying torches and wearing swastikas” and “I did not collude with the Russians during the election and even if I did it was not illegal”). Long live the new LEM.

I just learned that the new LEM is in competition with yet another one emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – namely, the Law of the Excluded Middleclass. The new tax laws will eventually put the middle class in the category of the forgotten class along with those already there. Long live the newer LEM.

Oh yes. Back to logic. It is so hard to concentrate these days. As I was saying, or tying to say, contradictions and tautologies often come in a disguised format, making them harder to identify. An example of a disguised tautology is this one: “We - the president’s legal team and the special prosecutor’s legal team - are in agreement about questions to be asked in an interview IF the special prosecutor’s legal team agrees with us”). This one is harder to identify as a tautology empty of meaningful content as it almost sounds reasonable. However, closer scrutiny reveals the following logic – we are in agreement if you agree with me … or, more blatantly, if you agree with me, then we agree .. as in, if we agree, then we agree. Language can provide meaning and build understanding but it can surely lead us astray.

Those without trained ears are easily led astray. To minimize attempts to lead us astray, we need to be teaching logic and reasoning to our children. When I read De-voh-reem (Deuteronomy) 6.7, I interpret “thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” to be about teaching inquiry and critical thinking and not just the love of G-d. I guess that reflects a personal bias, but it seems consistent with much of what follows in that 5th book and what I was taught by my father, an orthodox rabbi, about doing what is right and what is good.

Teach kids to think for themselves. What harm can come from that?

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