• Posted: Jun 19, 2011 18:00:05
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A popular conservative radio talk show host commented this week to a whining caller, "That's the difference between Conservatives and Liberals. You have to think to be a Conservative. Liberals react purely on emotion." The statement, of course, isn't true. But why isn't it true? And how do we know it isn't true? And what, really, are the consequences of making and propagating global statements that aren't true?
First, consider the words "to think". Many folks believe the words "to think" mean to have an opinion. That is, to have reached a conclusion, expressed a preference, decided upon a value. But to have an opinion says nothing about the facts or even anything about one's knowledge of the facts. It merely points to and exposes one's predilection or bias. The operational consequence of believing "to think" is to have opinions is that so called discussions degenerate into popularity contests between competing opinions. Debate becomes war with words, not the laying out of relevant facts to be taken into consideration.
Take a listen to the speeches of self-proclaimed conservative Congressmen, Senators, and presidential candidates and try to discern whether they are voicing opinions that attempt to appeal to the fearful and self-righteous emotions of their constituents, or if they are laying out the full range of unedited undisputed facts and offering rational arguments for realistic options dealing with the consequence of those facts. And while you are at it, take a listen to self-proclaimed liberal, progressive, libertarian, Tea-Party, socialist, religious, and even anarchist voices to see if you can discern any significant difference in the rhetoric they employ.
Let's return to the concept "to think". There is more to thinking than having opinions. And that isn't an opinion, that's a demonstrable fact. Thinking is a function of brain activity. Some thoughts do stir emotions. No political affiliation can escape the reality of that assertion. It can be clearly seen in scans of the brain and in changes in breathing, heart rate, eye motion, muscle twitches, facial expression, and skin conductivity. Other thinking processes have less connection to emotional reactions. Emotions seem suppressed or suspended. Such processes often involve high levels of concentration or focus. Solving a non-frustrating mathematical problem is one such mode of thought. Trying to decide which way to go while pondering a map or which product to buy from a supermarket shelf are similarly unemotional thought processes. Even bigger problems like trying to decide which of several job offerings to consider involve the largely unemotional weighing of facts and dispassionate mental modeling of alternatives. Again, no political affiliation behaves any different. It's how human beings operate.
The reality is that political problems could be approached and solved in a largely unemotional dispassionate manner, considering alternatives based on undisputed facts and probabilistic modeling. The results would likely be less wasteful, more efficient, less costly, more effective, yield quicker results, and be more healthful, sustaining, and emotionally satisfying all around. But politicians and their constituents seldom acknowledge that fact, nor actively seek to exploit it. Why?
Why must it always seem impossible to get anyplace rationally appealing from where we are right now, ensconced in a seemingly intractable morass of emotionally charged, factually dubious opinion? When will it become commonplace for people to actually think, instead of just having and expressing opinions?
Democracy would be much better served. And so would the environment we depend upon.
Sunday, August 9th, 2009