The Democratic-Chronicles: Never argue with a bigot or an ideologue (life lesson No. 4)

By From page A4 | May 14, 2014

Never argue with a bigot or an ideologue because they do not know what they do not know; they only know what they believe. This has become my mantra.

Over the years when I encountered extreme political and social conservatives (our cultural Luddites) I tried reason and logic but that never seemed to work. Fear and loathing trumps logic and reason every time. People’s emotional side bullies their logical mind and they then choose to ignore, selectively filter or change facts to suit their worldview. It is as if a cultural proctologist reached in and massaged their hate gland.

I have to keep reminding myself that stupidity is a condition — ignorance is a choice. George Will famously asked, “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than evolution still be called an enlightened nation?”

All well and good, but to do this requires, among other things, the ability to think critically. Most important to critical thinking is that the information that fuels the thought process is verifiable. And either as free from bias as possible or with its biases clearly identifiable. This one of the issues the Common Core standard attempts to address.

A question that begs answering is, what is fact? Without getting too epistemological, it is interesting to think about how people today accept facts as fact. That is, something that actually happened, or is, as opposed to something that is alleged or believed.

An oft-repeated truism is that the victors write history. If bias affects journalism, written contemporaneously with the event, think how it affects history, written, most often, long after the actual events and relying upon the observations of people other than the historian. Whose observations are chosen, how are they interpreted and how are they positioned in context determines history. Wham-O, bias!

Theodore White, who was the China correspondent for Time magazine during WWII, wrote his book “In Search of History” some three decades after the end of the war, because he came to understand the difference between his reporting and history. He said that looking back on the events he witnessed “without bombs bursting in air” provided a very different perspective. So what are we to believe and accept as fact when the standard of proof is malleable?

Information comes to us so much faster and with infinitely greater volume than ever before in the history of mankind. First with the advent of modern communications, from the telegraph to television, and then the Internet, what is fact has become a double-edged sword when it comes to what is true. As Greg Guma said, “The problem is that it’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference (between fact and opinion) in an era when facts have been devalued. There are so many possibilities, the standard of proof appears to be getting lower, and theories tend to evolve, expand and mutate rapidly in unexpected ways as they circulate through cyberspace.” And I would add, speculation, conjecture or simple false-hoods are made “true” by constant repetition.

With many people thinking within self-imposed bubbles, their biases are not just inherently wrong but dangerous. Dangerous because if we set up “no bypass filters” then our biases lead us down a dangerous road where the lack of knowledge of what is really transpiring outside our bubble will hamper our ability to understand it, to formulate a response and, in extreme cases, to function.

Witness Karl Rove’s meltdown on FOX News election night 2012. Rove was so sure that Mitt Romney would defeat Barack Obama that he refused to accept the decision of the network analysts calling the election for Obama. The cameras followed him from the set, down a corridor into the analysts’ room where he raved that their conclusion simply could not be true.

“The idea that the minority party represents the ‘will of the people’ (not some of the people, but ‘the people’) is the seedling of a totalitarian mindset. In this mindset, democracy doesn’t matter, ideas are not to be discussed, and opposing views are not to respected. What matters is that they alone have truth, they alone are metaphysically connected to the ‘mind of the people,’ can interpret their will, and because they have truth and speak for the people, others represent a threat and must be silenced and stopped.” So said James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab American community.

Well, Zogby nailed it. This totalitarian mindset that Zogby speaks of includes the Tea Party adherents, bellicose libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul and ideologues from Sen. Mitch McConnell to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter (and some from the left), those who attempt to sell illusion as truth. This mindset determines the rules within its own bubble and thus what is the truth.

Joseph de Maistre said, “Faith is truly faith only when it is blind; once it looks for justification it is done for.” This aphorism holds true for religious fundamentalists, political ideologues and bigots of all stripes.

Gene Altshuler is a resident of Cameron Park and a community activist interested in economic development and local government.

Gene Altshuler

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