Elites, Intellectuals, Reason, Questions, and Critical Thinking

Warning: this is not an easy read, nor am I presenting it as particularly worthwhile; it’s just me thinking aloud for my own benefit and because I like to read back at my stuff after it sits for a few years; it keeps track of how my thinking might have changed. If you just want to see the photos, ignore the writing and go directly to the gallery at the end of the post.

At no time during my short life have I been more concerned about what I see around me. I understand that in the span of human history we are going through what is essentially a small hick-up.

But, history itself gives fuel to my fears. History can almost call the play-by-play of what we’re watching unfold.  

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowReaders are probably thinking I’m speaking about Trump, but he’s just a symptom of a larger, more general concern. 

Namely, that a large portion of the United States population, and indeed, the world, is ignorant and willingly so. 

More troubling, they seek not to ameliorate their condition and deride those who do. Anti-intellectualism is not a new thing, but when translated into political movements with close ties to religion, it should worry people . . . unless they are ignorant which, come to think of it, is the problem in the first place. 

Side Note: Ignorance in this context refers to a multitude of things. Ignorance of political, social, and economic realities, ignorance of science and the world around us, ignorance of both the basis and validity of superstitious beliefs, and most of all, ignorance of ourselves; the history of the human species and what makes us tick.

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Anti-intellectualism is called upon both by far-left and far-right factions, conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats, or just about anyone who suffers not the burden of responding to questions with answers based on facts, anchored in the realities of the world we live in, and subject to rigorous critical thinking and examination. 

But, let me start slow . . . Elites. 

The noun “elite” has different connotation depending on whether you speak about an athlete, a scientist, a particular group of people with exceptional skills . . . but if at all engaged in the political discourse, “elite” usually comes with negative connotations. 

For instance, it’s a favorite term of Foxtards, as in “the liberal elites”, the “elite (mainstream) media”, the “Hollywood elites”, and so on.

Multi-millionaires like O’Reilly and Hannity use the term to present themselves not only as champions of the common person but, indeed, as ones with them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder against them nasty liberal elites. In general, if you are successful — they argue — if you are educated, if you “know stuff”, you’ve lost touch with the plight of the common man and have no business in the discussion of “how things should be”. You may even be actively working to “destroy civilization” by undermining the greatest country on Earth, the United States of America. 

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowUnless you are Trump . . . Then, your success, elitism, disdain for “losers”, questionable business practices, and general detachment from the real world is a huge plus. Apparently, only the “proper” elite individual can truly understand the plight of the common man. 

Paradoxically and ironically, every elected leader immediately thinks they are “better than” . . . they think themselves as elites. 

Side Note 2: Philosopher King – the term coined by Plato – posits the ideal ruler as one who possesses both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Someone who comes to the office not for power, but out of a genuine desire to improve the lives of others. 

Of course, when it comes to telling people how they should live, rank and file conservatives have no peers. They may not identify themselves as “elites” but only because they claim a direct link and profess allegiance to the “head elite” . . . god. To ask conservatives, they literally speak for god . . . and god speaks back to them. They demand we take their word for it and get quite cross if we don’t.

It’s easy to pick on conservatives but let’s remember there are plenty of self-identified elites on the other side of the fence spewing forth proclamations dripping with contempt and condescension.

Most of the senior Democratic Party leadership, many professors, and yes, even our newly-deposed ex-President Obama. 

So, here I sit . . . tired of elites, tired of people accusing others of being elite, tired of self-described elites, tired of anyone claiming to just “know” stuff, tired of anyone claiming they “know better”, tired of everyone bringing nothing to the table but their ignorance, their superstition, their limited and biased views, and an unwillingness to answer the tough questions.  

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowSo, who would I want at the table, you know, if we had a table? I’m referring to the table where we all sit and discuss societal and global problems and possible ways to solve them for the good of all. 

Well, my instinct is to answer “intellectuals”; the type of people maligned by nearly everyone.   

By “intellectual” I mean someone dedicated to reason, critical thinking, and the pursuit of knowledge (truth) and wisdom. All those components need to be present. 

I previously wrote about being “smart” (HERE) and linked it to being a high-functioning individual and a part of that definition includes knowing one’s capacity for being wrong, and one’s willingness to commit to continuous learning and adjusting one’s views and opinions when new information comes to light. Especially when that information convincingly challenges one’s preconceived ideas and understanding of the world. 

By that definition, both liberals and conservatives have shown themselves to be at best a version of “smart” but far from being intellectuals. 

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowSomeone will call me about using sweeping generalities . . . and I would heed the criticism were it not for what I observe with my eyes. Sure, not all, but a great number of conservatives and liberals hate each other. Yes, hate. In this case, it’s not too strong a word. 

With that hate comes an automatic dismissal of anything not conforming to one’s views. You can show someone proof countering cherished beliefs and they will ignore facts, ignore reason, and dismiss facts as irrelevant because “they know what they know!”

There is no question in my mind that at least at the spokesmen level and deep into the leadership ranks, each side marches in step, never questioning, never wavering from condemning “enemies” and lauding “friends”. 

Some of these people are smart. Some are not. None come close to my definition of an intellectual. 

An intellectual does not begin with the answer before knowing the facts. An intellectual is not afraid to say “I don’t know, but I will find out.” An intellectual is not afraid to say “I was wrong; here are the facts, here’s what I discovered.”

Instead, we live in a world where admitting you don’t know something is seen as a sign of weakness, and dismissing people who actually know something is seen as a sign of strength. Unchanging and immutable blind acceptance of dogma is seen as a virtue. Gone are the centrists and moderates or, if not gone, at least driven underground. 

What reinforces my concern is the lack of independent thought. The lack of reason. 

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowThe 24-hours news channels are good at one thing . . . removing the need for independent thought. People willingly substitute their ability to reason with an ability to listen to hours of the same message and eventually repeat versions of that message as if it is the gospel . . . and to many, it becomes gospel. 

As a noun, reason is both “a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event” and “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.”

As a verb, reason is to “think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.”

Having interacted with liberals and conservatives I am convinced for most there is little reasoning associated with the views they hold. Want to know why I say that and why I have a high degree of confidence in my statement?

Because I often get the same answers to questions from different individuals, sometimes word for word, without evidence of independent thinking, of understanding, of the application of logic to their views. They abdicate all those functions to some slimetard pundit and the only thing many of them bring to the table is “judgment” based on what they heard. Of course, even that is naught but the regurgitation of what they were spoon-fed.

Offer up a logical counterargument, offer up conflicting facts, offer up videos, offer up anything you want and you have a better chance that a pebble floating in space will alter the path of the Solar System than some people will even consider reexamining beliefs.  

. . . actually, it’s a trick analogy . . . the chance of a pebble altering the path of the Solar System is 100%. It’s beyond minuscule but the gravitational contribution of the pebble is present. However, that’s science, so nevermind. 

Side Note 3: at this point, some readers may think I’m presenting myself as someone with all the answers. Sadly, I wish that were true. What I have are opinions I consider sound based on the breadth and scope of readings, listening to others, and my own thinking. Ultimately, it’s not egotistical to say the opinions are mine because even if I heard them elsewhere, the vetting process falls on my shoulders. Exposed to an idea, I’m the one that decides if it makes sense or not, and that process is a lot more than me saying “I like it” and declaring something true. Show me something that will change my mind, and I will be grateful.

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowEarlier, I mentioned the pursuit of knowledge.

One of the ways we acquire knowledge — and the wisdom associated with knowledge — is questioning. Questioning our beliefs, questioning what we are told, questioning simple answers to complicated issues, questioning, questioning, questioning. 

It may be half of the population of the United States is completely wrong about everything, but it could also be they are right and you belong to the half that is wrong. How would you know? By questioning. 

This is where certain aspects of the human psyche — and the American public in particular — greatly hinder progress toward a better understanding of the world we live in and the society we have created. I’m speaking of the human propensity to adhere to invented religions. 

It matters not what era of known history one chooses, religion played a part in people’s lives. And, just like now, the majority of people bow to the words of a few individuals claiming consort with this or that god. They bow and accept the edict to not question. 

Most; not all, but most. 

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowReligious leaders and political leaders and crime bosses have one thing in common . . . they cannot afford to tolerate disobedience and the questioning of their authority. 

It matters not that every form of government and every religion prior to those currently infesting Earth have fallen, have been discredited, have been supplanted. It matters not if today we have concurrent religions teaching different truths. It matters not if we can look at other belief and political systems and easily see their flaws.  

It doesn’t matter because the majority of people are conditioned from an early age not to question their beliefs, be they religious or political. 

Think about it . . . the one way we can learn and grow as individuals is discouraged by people professing to have our best interests in mind. They encourage your obedience by threats, they discourage questions, they promote ignorance, and they present doubt not as a virtue, but as a great evil. And always, always, they offer punishments for daring to use reason, use logic, and questioning what they tell us. 

That, I can understand. Leaders have an inherent interest in wanting an ignorant and subservient populace catering to their needs . . . but what’s in it for the people being governed, the followers who are not leaders and don’t hold high office in the political or religious hierarchy?

That is the part I don’t understand . . . people willingly handing over their ability for independent thought, their ability to reason, and most of all, their ability to question. 

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Here is the thing . . . it’s difficult taking responsibility for the quality and maintenance of one’s views and beliefs. It’s difficult being an independent thinker.

You have to learn multiple things so that you can understand what’s going on around you. You have to learn your way around a logical argument so that you can both defend your position and recognize logical flaws when you hear them. You have to learn to distinguish between fact and bullshit. You have to rigorously exercise reason when confronted with new information. 

This is where critical thinking comes into play. 

One can learn about critical thinking in places like THIS (Edited to add: this site is now pay-only and hence no longer recommended) and THIS, and other places you can find on the web. 

Critical thinking is difficult in part because it forces one to examine one’s own biases and preferences. Critical thinking requires that you question your own preferences, requires a deeper process of evaluation than most of us typically employ, requires following through to — and accepting — a conclusion you may not want to hear.  

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowHere’s an exercise you can (should) do . . . pick any question currently tearing our country apart. I don’t care what position you hold but whatever it is, argue the opposite position. 

And I mean, argue it fairly and honestly. Learn all the arguments, counterarguments, get data, do research . . . your job is to convince yourself that you are wrong. It’s OK if you can’t ultimately convince yourself; in the process, you will have learned a lot more than what you knew before and you will have a better understanding of the chosen issue . . . and you will have greater confidence in your position.

However, realize you may never be as good a champion as someone who believes opposite what you do. That’s why talking to them will garner you a deeper understanding of the counterarguments to your beliefs than you could on your own. A win-win, I would say, but not if you begin the process with a closed mind. 

From the article linked above, know there are questions with absolute answers (what time is it?), questions with better and worse answers (how strong a military should we have?), and questions asking for opinions only (what color do you prefer?). 

The middle category is the one requiring compromise, understanding, data, and which can be logically argued over a given spectrum. There is no one “right” answer to complicated questions, but there are answers that are better than others. Make an argument for them.

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowSo, let’s apply some of the above to my initial statement. 

“At no time during my short life have I been more concerned about what I see around me.”

Well, what am I concerned about? I mean specifically; something that’s above the concerns of everyday life. 

Bob: “You mentioned ignorance, but why would ignorance be a cause of concern?” 

Disperser: “Ignorance is never a good thing but relating to my worries, it’s centered in the political and the religious arena and the intertwining of the two.”

Bob: “Yes, yes, very interesting . . . what do you mean by that?”

Disperser: “Well, Bob, in the political arena we are now at a stalemate when it comes to the two parties. There is little talk of governing and lots of talk of “resisting.” No talk of compromise, no talk of cooperation. Basically, a continuation of the last eight years but with the roles reversed.”

Bob: “But hasn’t that always been the case?”

Disperser: “Why, no, Bob. The problem has worsened in the past fifty years.”

Bob: “You blame ignorance; do you mean our elected officials are ignorant?”

Disperser: “Well, Bob, elected officials certainly often proudly flaunt their ignorance, but I blame the voters. It takes ignorance to put ignorant individuals in charge of running the country. I blame ignorance because voters and elected officials don’t even want to hear about anything not conforming with their predetermined views.”

Bob: “I’m still not clear; what exactly are you concerned about? I mean specifically?”

Disperser: “Sigh . . . just saying this stuff is going to land me a crapload of holy crap on a cracker, but, here goes nothing:

First, I am concerned about what essentially will be a religious war. And by war, I mean people getting hurt. We have Christians and Muslims, of course, and they both seem to be chomping at the bit to go at each other. Yeah, yeah, moderates, coexistence, blah, blah . . . Look, there may be moderates on all sides of the multi-faceted problem anchored in religion, but the discourse is not being directed by moderates. As an atheist, I fear becoming collateral damage to the increasingly powerful religious right. You may not see it, but just reading and listening to the people that came into positions of power along with Trump should scare people . . . except that half of the country is cheering.  

Second . . .”

Bob: “Excuse me; this is fascinating stuff, but we need to interrupt a moment for a photo. We’ll be right back.”

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowBob: “And we’re back. So, going on to the second point of concern.”

Disperser: “Second, we’re back to the divisiveness . . . wait, I have to ask; what was that?”

Bob: “That, and all the other photos during the break, are reworked macro shots of car details you took during the June 2015 Cruisers car show in Monument.”

Disperser: “I thought I recognized them! Nice work! Anyway, divisiveness. It’s getting ugly out there. On the internet, within friends and families, and on the streets. Not only that, both sides make excuses for violence that breaks out . . . as long as it’s their own side that’s committing violence. 

This, by the way, is at least understandable. At any one time, depending on who’s in power, at least half the country is left without a voice. As you know, Bob, when you take away people’s right to be heard, to be represented, to have their concerns included in the national discourse, well, you’re just asking for trouble.”

Bob: “Still, that also is nothing new and . . . “

Disperser: “Yes, yes, but we now have an insecure megalomaniac in the WH. Let’s just say he doesn’t take criticism well. He’s threatening action against the Press and anyone who might say he is too self-centered, immature, ignorant of world affairs, a pathological liar, and the exact opposite of what a country facing serious socio-economic issues needs right now. Plus, there is no denying he is in the pocket of Big Business, but more than that, the Far Religious Right. Them guys be nuts! . . . er . . . or so I’ve heard it say.” 

Bob: “We have weathered difficult and divisive times before.”

Disperser: “I hope you’re not thinking about the Civil War because that’s not reassuring. It’s also not reassuring having states talk about secession, threatening to fight the Federal Government. Plus, I can guarantee you that on the next terrorist attack — and there will be one — you will see the people in power (supported by the near-fanatic Christians who voted them in) calling for Draconian measures “to keep us safe”. 

Bob: “Excuse me, but we need to take another for a photo. We’ll be right back.”

Disperser: “I don’t mind; I like those renditions.”

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowBob: “And we’re back. Excuse me for saying so, but even with all you mentioned, it seems a bit of an overreaction.”

Disperser: “Here’s the thing, Bob. It’s one thing when we deal with internal problems that may or may not be addressable by rational men and women. However, aside from the fact I’m not seeing much rationality out there as confrontations get more acrimonious, there are global concerns that are about as large and likely more catastrophic than our internal differences of opinions.”

Bob: “You’re talking about Climate Change.”

Disperser: “That’s one of them. Can we roll the tape?”

Bob: “That’s funny . . . and not. But, still, that’s a TV show.”

Disperser: “Yes, but they are explaining science. The science that people ignore because of limited self-interests and willful ignorance. Plus, it’s not just the weather. The consequences of Climate Change on the geopolitical stability around the world are . . . Look, you are seeing the consequences of what is by historical accounts a small migration from the Middle East to the rest of the world, especially Europe. As a consequence of it, you are witness to the rise of nationalism rivaling times when wars used to break out on a regular basis. Now, look at all the countries that have large populations along their coastal areas.”

Add to that the military and economic saber-rattling going on between major powers, and then add to that the ignorance of well over half the people in this country when it comes to all those issues. With all this going on, I’m frankly astonished the biggest news out there is about a new smartphone or about some starlet leaving home without her underwear.”

Bob: “What if you are wrong about all this?”

Disperser: “Bob, Bob, Bob . . . it’s like you’re not even listening. Here, let me make it clearer: I have no kids.”

Bob: “I don’t get it . . . “

Disperser: “It means none of this is likely to significantly affect me. Depending on the mood of the country toward my atheism, I’ll avoid some geographical areas where FSM-forbids anyone asks people to think and reason. I’ll choose a place to live where the chance of being catastrophically affected by climate change in the next 35 years or so is minimal.  I can’t do anything about global wars, but I’m too old to be called to serve and if it goes nuclear, I hope I’m at the epicenter of one of the strikes. Other than that, I’ll try and enjoy my life — what’s left of it — as best I can.  

If I’m wrong about this, my life won’t be much different. If I’m right about it, the lives of many, many people will be even crappier than they currently are. 

Understand, I’m not despondent, depressed, or losing sleep at night. I read, watch stuff on TV, do some writing, take photographs, go on walks with my wife, go to the gym, and eat. This {waves hands to include his surroundings} need only last another 20-25 years, and then I will be but a memory. Actually not even that. The only reason I’m even writing this is that I feel bad for people being born today. They have no idea what’s coming, and that’s too bad.”

Bob: “Thank you, Disperser. I think our readers are not likely to agree with you, but they often enjoy listening to crazy folks. “

Disperser: “Thanks, Bob. And don’t worry. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me. In fact, you would not believe how little I care if anyone agrees with me.”

Bob: “Goodnight . . . and we’re out.”

14JUNE2015 Tri-Lakes Car ShowObviously, no one is going to interview me. Heck, few will even read this. 

However, while I paint a stark scenario, it’s also possible we might just limp along sniping at each other, suffering this or that cataclysmic flood or storm, going in and out of trade wars, economic booms and depressions, living under the constant threat of nuclear war, fearing this or that religious nutjob deciding god spoke to them and told them to kill people, and in general live the kind of shit life that still seems pretty good when compared to life at any time prior. 

Not everyone, of course. Some will live astonishingly crappy lives . . . but they won’t be us, right?

You know what I forgot to mention in the above interview? Population.  

By 2050, the world is projected to house 9.7 billion people. It could be more. Throw in wars, famine, disease, or all three, and it’ll be slightly less. We are currently at 7.49 billion people. For reference, here’s the migration into Europe for the last four years<<link.

Let me wrap this up. I’m not sure how clearly I made my points, but the bottom line is that I hold a very pessimistic view of what’s ahead of us. I don’t see manufacturing jobs coming back to the US. I don’t see race relations getting any better. I don’t see religious people becoming tolerant. I don’t see people embracing science and critical thinking. I don’t see the US (at least under this administration) doing anything to prepare for Climate Change. I don’t see Freedom of Speech being heralded as one of the greatest rights we have (it’s the First Amendment, for FSM sake!) I don’t see population and resources pressures getting any better. All I see is more ignorance, more animosity, and the increased possibility of violence between individuals and countries. 

Not a great view of the future. I’ll repeat that as an individual, I’m fairly optimistic about my situation and ability to cope with whatever comes our way. I’m skeptical about the population at large and how they will fare in this quickly-changing world.

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As usual, click on the photos for a larger version or go to the SmugMug Random Post Gallery HERE.

For them who skipped reading my poorly-thought-out ramblings, here is the gallery of the above photos:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.

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