Context, Sound Bytes, and Intellectual Laziness

I rarely weigh in publicly on politics. Well, other than to note that George Bush was always interesting to listen to, and that there are certain individuals I think would be fun to watch as president. I'm going to wade in today, not because I support one candidate over the other--I think the way we select our president is fatally flawed and we end up with having to choose the lesser of two evils and who we think will least damage our country.

People have short attention spans, rely on shortcuts, accept memes blindly, and pass around a great deal of misinformation (especially on facebook). It's so easy to figure someone else has checked the information so we pass on the bad information until someone finally Snopes it and is the killjoy.

Usually it's nonsense stuff, things that don't matter. Some of the time it's woo products or woo information (and our news can be horrible about helping that along). Then there are the emails warning women to be careful at gas pumps, and more---you name it, Snopes has debunked it.

Critical thinking--that key and vital requirement of being able to put a hand up and say, "Wait a frakking minute--show me"--is sorely lacking in our culture. Sure, it always has been, but given the supposed emphasis that primary and secondary education is placing on critical thinking, it's abundantly clear that we remain, in general, a very gullible people.

In these last few months, nowhere has that been more clear than when it comes to politics. The polarization and willingness to demonize the other candidates is shameful. Attack ads that use out-of-context sound bytes to whip up the party members into a frenzy of hate and disdain for the opposing candidate may be effective for the core party members, those who already have a candidate simply because the candidate is a member of their team (and isn't that what this has become-dueling sports teams where the winning team gets to control our armies, our policies, and the degree to which our personal liberties will be further eroded?). Whether it influences moderates and those who've given up any faith in our election system is debatable.

One of the Republican's favorites is to trot out Obama's out-of-context "You didn't build that." However, the full speech makes clear that Obama was setting up the argument that we, as citizens, band together to create the infrastructure and rules that allow success to occur. We need the roads, the police, the firemen, the teachers, and all of the other resources that our pooled moneys provide to everyone. Clean water, electricity, garbage collection and disposal--all of these are supported or regulated by local, state, and federal governments. We can't do it alone. If you think you can, go ahead and build your business in the middle of a field with no electricity, no water, and no road access and see how that works out.

Context matters and it is intellectually dishonest to rely on snippets that distort what a person has really said. And that applies regardless of your party affiliation.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  --What Obama actually said.

Imagine how different our culture would be if people routinely engaged in critical thinking. Overnight, much of the misinformation would stop being spread-people would check before passing on patent bullshit. People would seek out the rest of the story, to borrow from a radio great, before buying into the latest meme.

Imagine if people, instead of accepting at face value, ridiculous health claims about how to boost their immune system, lose weight overnight, get natural pain relief, realign their chi, spent a little time evaluating claims first.

What a different world that would be. I'd even bet it would be less polarized.


farmwifetwo said...

Obama's side is just as bad. We get a lot more coverage about both parties up here than you probably do there. I am rolling my eyes at the hipocracy that is your NY mayor and NJ govenor. Let me kiss up because I want to make certain you don't forget to dump lots of money my way. DUH!!! Do you truly think either party is that ignorant to not help those people??? If you want to sell your principals for a price... go for it.



My parents find your news system beyond frustating when they are Stateside at the lack of "outside my own 100mi" sphere news coverage that you have and that what you do have is mostly "opinion" news.

I discovered - and was shocked really - long ago at how few people actually attempt to learn both sides to a story. Most, can't be bothered. Most, happily repeat the rhetoric they have heard because it suits their "needs" (for lack of a better description). The more non-fiction I have been reading lately, the more I realize this is not new to us but has gone on since... forever. People, like their ruts. Personally, I'd rather learn new things and know why choose to think they way I do. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of my learning but I keep looking for new non-fiction books to read.

melbo said...

Let loose the crazed squirrels!

This post should be cut and pasted everywhere.

Stephanie said...

I have heard/read the full quote and it's still (intentionally) offensive to business owners.

Yes, business owners do use shared resources to succeed. But failed businesses use those same shared resources and they still fail. Government provides the basic opportunity--that's all. Innovative people (owners and employees) build successful businesses and those people are the backbone (and most of the meat) of a prosperous economy.

President Obama said, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." And that's wrong.

Providing opportunities and using those opportunities successfully are two very different things. Even with the best of opportunities, some people fail.

We all have access to public resources (though, distribution is far from equitable), but not all of us can run a successful business. Those businesses that support the families of their owners and those businesses that provide jobs for employees aren't made by government; they're made by innovative people who work hard and deserve the fruits of their labors (as long as they are ethical and responsible in those labors).

We need to work together, yes. But President Obama's comment was a dig at Gov. Romney, trying to undermine his claim of having built a business. The speech also "builds" the idea that increasingly bigger goverment will make for increasingly more prosperous businesses--after all, if all these services and resources provided by government actually "build" businesses, then more of these services and resources will "build" more businesses.

President Obama's actions over the last four years seem like proof that he actually believes that, but that doesn't make it true.