Can we bring thinking
by Jamie McKenzie
Sometimes it seems as if thinking is no longer fashionable here in the USA, as political discourse often shows little sign of reasoning, logic or the consideration of evidence. Many citizens on the Left and the Right are all too willing to embrace staunch positions on complex issues without considering the merits of these stances.|
This willingness to support simple ideas or the appeals of demagogues and populists is not new to the USA, of course, as one need only look back to figures like Huey Long to find examples of leaders who rose to power on a wish and a song. He made it to the Governor's mansion in Louisiana and then to the Senate before being assassinated by the son of a political opponent in 1935.
During all of the decades between then and now, other leaders have appealed to the baser instincts of voters and met with mixed results, but recent years may have produced a national shift that is more pronounced and dangerous than any witnessed earlier. Some suggest that social media have contributed to this shift, with sites like Twitter (now called "X") encouraging brevity and simplicity rather than comprehensive, thorough analysis.
But what are the chances this shift might be reversed? Is it too late to convince a majority of citizens that logic and rational thought are worth practicing, that civility and tolerance are essential? Can we restore a willingness to talk about politics and exchange ideas in a polite manner?
Some observers have given up hope, as you can see when you read Steven King's essay in the New York Times: "Stephen King on Mass Shootings: We’re Out of Things to Say."
There is no solution to the gun problem and little more to write, because Americans are addicted to firearms.Schools have made rational thought a focus of social studies and citizenship education for decades with only partial success, and recent efforts like the Common Core Standards have met stiff resistance from some quarters. Note the New York Times 2014 opinion piece "Rage Against the Common Core."
Many teachers like the standards, because they invite creativity in the classroom — instead of memorization, the Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving. But they complain that test prep and test-taking eat away weeks of class time that would be better focused on learning.Unfortunately, we cannot count on these exhausted schools and their teachers to lead the way when it comes to equipping all students with powerful thinking skills and a willingness to employ them. Nor can we expect them to influence the adult citizens dramatically.
Prospects for a revivalAre the prospects for a revival of thinking as dismal as King's assessment of the prospects for a solution to the gun problem?
Sadly, the two questions are linked, as it is difficult to define concrete steps that might lead to constructive change with regard to guns or thinking. It is much easier to build a case for pessimism, as the current social trends and attitudes appear to be stubborn and persistent like the tides that rise each day along the Atlantic coast.
Because many people in the USA are feeling bitter and alienated from the system, they are quick to grasp positions like ready-made suits of clothes without pondering, researching or considering. Some are easily mobilized to support a mass movement and an autocratic leader.
According to Christine Rosen in her article, "The Age of Egocasting," most people now pay attention to information sources that match their predispositions:
They (these technologies) encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish. And they contribute to what might be called “egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste. In thrall to our own little technologically constructed worlds, we are, ironically, finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate genuine individuality.For a democracy to thrive and endure, a solid majority of the citizens and voters must value and practice what are called "democratic norms" -- tolerance, cooperation and willingness to compromise. When these attitudes erode, the system is threatened, as is the case when one side refuses to accept the outcome of an election and actually takes up arms to reverse the outcome.
It is difficult to imagine what might restore healthy democratic norms in these United States. Perhaps a charismatic leader might inspire citizens to "lay down their swords and shields" along with their alienation, despair and anger as JFK tried when he called in his inaugural address upon Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country!" But there is no such charismatic leader currently on the horizon. Hope could prove a powerful antidote to despair and provide the impetus for renewed tolerance, cooperation and compromise.
Sadly, sometimes one must hit bottom in order to reverse direction. A catastrophe of some kind on the order of Pearl Harbor or the recent Hamas attacks might awaken civic virtue and call upon everyone to join together to save the Republic. But what an extreme price to pay!
"United we stand, divided we fall."
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FNO Press is applying for formal copyright registration for articles. Unauthorized abridgements are illegal.