Friday, August 05, 2005

Discussion or Diminution

I saw this in a friend's blog today and it struck me as sounding terrifyingly antiquated.

"The only way in which one human being can properly attempt to influence another is by encouraging him to think for himself, instead of endeavoring to instill ready-made opinions into his head."

Antiquated not because it is out of date, but because it seems so foreign to our "modern, American" sensibilities. Sensibilities formed by watching TV and reading Newsweek. Where our perceptions of what is entertaining are based on the current reality TV show. The terrifying part isn't the statement or the idea, it's that it actually sounds old-fashioned.

Last night I was talking with a friend about the CAFTA debate. Better said, the lack of a debate. I recognize that there is a growing consensus surrounding the value of free trade, open markets, and most of the peripheral benefits. That doesn't mean CAFTA was a good idea, just because someone said it's free trade. I mean, what were the provisions?

More succinctly, and quoting from one of the great politicians of our time, "Who wins, who loses, and who decides?"

Who opposed CAFTA? I'm assuming the AFL-CIO did, along with most other unions. But why? Has anyone heard any concrete explanation of the opposition? Facts or figures about the consequences to U.S. jobs or industry? Consequences or benefits to Central American workers, businesses, or families? No where did any of this come out.

Both sides of most debates seem to expect us to simply accept ready-made opinions into our head. If you're liberal, Al Franken is supposedly your guru. Conservative? Follow Rush's lead. Evangelical? Billy Graham. Why isn't there discussion. Don't tell me what to think, tell me where you stand and why. If you're particularly bold tell me how you got to where you're standing.

"I don't have time to follow all of those issues." "Policy is too complicated for me to follow." Wrong. The number of Americans who can keep track of 6 different reality shows, or memorize stats on about 60 different baseball players, hundreds of football players, and keep track of scores in 12 basketball games from last night at the same time are more than smart enough to decide if "loosing 1200 jobs" is more or less significant than "improving the well-being of 3 million people in developing countries". (those are just made up for illustration).

When journalists don't demand that our civic and business leaders engage us on a level that allows us to make informed decisions, we are left in a country where, simply put, Superbowl commercials are more important than healthcare and Fear Factor takes priority over Fallujah. As long as we allow this to continue, we are in big trouble.


Gabriella said...

Where does this misery begin? Does it begin at home? In the classroom? On TV? It will take a serious shift in perspective to get humanity to wake up and realize that communication on an honest human level supersedes all escapist bullshit. If you are bitching as to whether or not you are getting adequate pay as an electrician while you are eating TV dinners, watching Jerry Springer and buying your sneakers from Nike, bite me.

Sure, anyone can make the arguement that people don't have the education to know how to make change - ridiculous. If you can figure out how to find the cheapest television after researching six different shops than you also have the ability to read six different articles on the same political/social topic that affects you - choosing the opinion that most corresponds with what is good for the community, not just your own private greedy household.

Let's face it, people are lazy, exhausted by the notion that thinking for yourself is something that takes too much effort and time. You wonder why Bush is in office - monkey see, monkey do!

Brian said...

Amen I say to you, or to Chinahand, as the case may be, on the matter of CAFTA and all other serious issues, study it. The community spends too much time on sports, Hollywood stars, and rock music.

Two caveats, however. Unless you are professionally engaged, as a diplomat, a media pundit, a think tank expert, there's just too much to keep tabs on in detail. A bevy of continents and all those countries.

Secondly, while it might be ideal to encourage all to make up their own minds rather than tell them what to think, one must insist that training in thinking methodology precede wild abandonment in opinion making. This is better known as logic, with accompanying appreciation for experience and authority.

I've not spent time on CAFTA details. It's not one of my priorities. Ask my view and give me some weeks to look into its inner workings and, given a certain experience in parallel fields, I might have something to say. Not now, however.

So, while it has importance, I'd best stay with issues closer to home, China, Church matters, moral matters. I might get to CAFTA if need be, but Latin affairs mostly turn me off. I can make a bigger contribution elsewhere.

Gabriella said...

I couldn't agree more. I think it is incredibly important to choose your weapon of information. If you are our savvy electrician, then I suggest you pick those issues that spark your interest (alright, I lose points for bad puns) - CAFTA may not be one on the list. However, if you are someone who enjoys a bit of complex political jargon, dive in. For me, the point is to get dirty regardless of the social topic, local or international. It is quite the challenge to tell someone how to create a 4 course meal if you, yourself, have never even opened a cookbook or seen someone pull off such an incredible stunt. People are scared to think. They are terrified that they cannot understand. But in the end, they are socialized to belief this. They can understand, but it begins with the question "why".

As for logic, what's that?! I agree that this is quite important and completely overlooked. It is impossible to ask someone to "do" the research without having the appropriate tool or methodology. It is like asking someone to fix a pipe with a staple, sort of impossible. Therefore, how is this shift going to come about? I feel that Al Franken, god love that man, has started the role modeling via media, but it is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to what is actually needed.

And just out of curiosity, why are comedians looked towards for current political shifts and opinions?