One of the hazards of making your viewpoints known is that it invites personal attacks. Given that it has never been in my nature to keep my mouth shut when something bothers me or I think someone is wrong, a habit that has certainly caused me some grief over the years, I have learned to pay the price required for speaking my mind—but I have never minded this at all. Freedom of speech is one of the greatest gifts that America has to offer, and none of us should allow our voices to be silenced by censors who seek to suppress or ignore ideas that differ from their own.
America is—and always has been—a spirited discussion with not a few insults sprinkled in the mix. We must welcome and embrace the fullest possible range of ideas and opinions in order to keep our nation strong and vibrant.
What does, however, tend to throw me for a loop today is the increasing frequency with which reasoned debate is, quite frankly, completely ineffective when it comes to persuading a reader or audience. It has, of course, always been the case throughout our nation’s history that a certain percentage of our population has been immune to discussion, but we now seem to live in a period when nearly everybody hears and sees only that which confirms their cherished preconceptions.
For example, I recently received the following comment from a reader:
“Your ignorance of facts is remarkable. Given that GOP administrations tend to run up deficits that defy belief AND the fact that the Biden administration has reduced the deficit by $1.7 TRILLION is your most significant blunder.”
This is a highly selective presentation of the data concerning our nation’s budgetary situation. It is, in fact, absolutely true that during the most recent federal fiscal year, the budget deficit dropped by $1.7 trillion dollars, which sounds wonderful until it is understood that this was almost wholly due to the expiration of temporary emergency spending meant to offset the economic harm caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns and shutdowns during 2020 and 2021.
However, my angry reader’s incomplete rendition of the situation neatly omits the sad fact that at the end of this past fiscal year the federal deficit was still an eye-watering $1.4 trillion dollars, which contributes to both eroding of country’s already dismal finances and fueling our 40 year high in inflation.
I suspect that, as is so often the case today, any attempt to point this out to my obviously frothing reader would only have led to an endless and circular argument because offering alternative realities is not at all welcomed by those who are completely satisfied with the explanations that soothe their minds and engender a comforting feeling of righteous outrage.
Pointing out the factual errors or omissions of others is today often perceived as a personal insult—or a pointless waste of their time—which perhaps explains why more and more candidates for public office seem content to avoid moderated debates altogether and simply spew insults at their opponents through social media and partisan media outlets. After all, the thinking seems to go, if the opinions of a large proportion of voters are impossible sway in our implacably divided nation, why even bother talking respectfully when argument by insult thrills so many voters and is a magnet for campaign donations from partisan interest groups?
We see this sad dynamic every day when we try—often futilely—to have discussions on topics ranging from immigration to energy policy to the teaching of Critical Race Theory. The inability of so many to bear hearing ideas and viewpoints that differ from their own leads to dead end discussions on abortion, national security, and public safety that seem divorced from any reasonable obligation to present a cogent and convincing line of reason.
We live in an age when slogans and hashtags too often are considered adequate substitutes for thinking through the practical consequences of a particular course of action.
Unfortunately, clinging to a cultish devotion to a single set of values and beliefs in a manner that precludes even the slightest possibility of acknowledging error or the validity of opposing opinions is not—and never will be—compatible with the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy. Given that the expectation of common courtesy in political and personal discourse is today notably uncommon, we should not be surprised at the prevalence of hateful and deceitful speech throughout our country.
Even more frightening, lies that are loudly repeated carry the day more often than the plain truth, which explains 99% of the political, social, and cultural disasters now afflicting our nation.
Consequently, it should be no surprise that so many Americans now choose to distrust—or simply reject—any idea that contradicts their own. This reflex prevails across virtually every segment of our society and seems unconnected with educational level. We have unmitigated zealots with graduate degrees and likely a nearly similar number with only a high school diploma, which contradicts centuries of evidence concerning the benefits of higher education in a democracy.
Whereas the Renaissance and the Enlightenment ushered in leaps in knowledge that moved the Western world in a positive direction, the “Great Awokening” that has gathered steam since the new millennium has been an exercise in assigning guilt, laying blame, and spreading craziness. Dangerous and destructive extremist ideas, which have been previously associated with ignorance now are equally—if not far more—comfortable residing in the minds of people with a PhD. This helps to explains why our institutions of higher education are now the playgrounds of ideologues masquerading as educators, and why knowledge itself has become a profoundly politicized commodity that serves only to further divide our nation.
Highly-educated fanatics with a glib talent for employing jargon in lieu of logic scare me much more than the stereotypical stupid and inarticulate bigot waving his fist at his next victim because the damage done to society and our institutions by the self-propagating extremists in academia is both more deep seated and far more long lasting.
We are, sadly, well past the tipping point, and I suspect that we are perilously near to a breaking point for our country. Debt, dysfunction, and division all add up to doom, and I just cannot see how a reckoning can any longer be avoided. Given that who should be the best among us, our most highly educated, are now in many cases the worst among us—howling for retribution, censorship, and totalitarianism on a regular basis—it is hard to see how this ends well.
Just watching America’s highly educated elites losing their collective minds over the possibility of more free speech on Twitter or having to now endure the horror of a Supreme Court Justice who was educated outside the hothouse confines of an Ivy League law school and is—gasp!—deeply religious besides only hints at the extraordinary reservoir of snobbish intolerance that now pervades our political, educational, legal, and cultural institutions—and drives us further apart each and every day.
No matter how many post-secondary degrees anyone can list after their name, if any American’s mind is closed to the possibility they might be wrong—either intellectually, personally, scientifically, or morally—because they are utterly convinced of their own genius, that individual is, in fact, ignorant beyond all measure and a danger to our nation.