As I See It: Critical and analytical thinking missing on both sides

Why is our nation so divided? A lot of people ask me how 43% of the voters can believe in the president in spite of what they see as overwhelming evidence that he is — insert the descriptive adjective that you would use. There is also a slightly larger population 53% that does not approve. I do not suspect that either large population is stupid or naïve. There must be another explanation, or perhaps several explanations. Fifty-five percent in an American election is called a landslide!

About 40% of ex Soviets are reported to miss Stalin. What they missed, was the stability. Nothing was going to change under Stalin. You got a job, maybe a lousy job, but a job. You got a flat, maybe a lousy flat, but a home. You got food, maybe lousy and not quite enough, but food. No surprises. Actually, it was the illusion of stability, because you could just as easily be sent to the gulag. That however only happened to someone else, until it happened to you. It was the promise, no matter how false, of stability. The desperate slogan of failing regimes “Law and Order.” There might be a war, but always someone else’s fault, far away but a threat to the Fatherland. Someone else’s sons were sent, until it was yours.

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As a reluctant soldier I once asked a career soldier (we called them lifers) why he stayed in the Army. His answer shocked me. “My freedom!” It took a while for me to figure that out, but it hit me. What I saw as constant regimentation he saw differently. Freedom to be irresponsible. He was free to blow his salary on payday. Mother Army would see to it that he had three-hots-and-a-cot the rest of the month. He did not have to worry what clothes to wear, what grooming was appropriate. The decisions were made for him. If he went along, he could never be wrong or humiliated.

There is a rumor that Lincoln said “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Another version of the rumor credits huckster P. T. Barnum with a different twist “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time. And that gentlemen, is sufficient.”

The unfortunate part of that pearl is that there are about 10% of the population that is easily fooled and can be sold almost anything. Some engage in primary thinking. Whatever they are told first is the truth. There is a larger portion that though not particularly gullible, will go along with what they perceive as a majority, or as the leadership. A few loud enthusiasts in a room, or crowd can gather a multitude of go along supporters rather easily. They can also intimidate those who may disagree into silence, or acquiescence.

What is missing on both sides is critical or analytical thinking. One simple technique is commonly called Ockham’s razor. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The other is called reductio ad absurdum. Follow the logic to its most extreme (absurd) conclusion. For example, consider this statement, “All ducks are white.” This quacker is teal. Therefore, either it’s not a duck, it’s not white or the statement is wrong. It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, floats like a duck, but is not white. The simple logical explanation is that the statement does not fit the observable facts and is probably wrong.

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Then there’s infotainment. I was hospitalized a few years ago. At 3 a.m., I was unable to sleep due to a very enthusiastic speaker on the roommates TV. The speech was a constant stream of hateful invectives blaming certain people for events beyond their control, with no attempt to establish a causal connection of outcomes to people’s behavior. I asked the nurse to turn it off. I do not trust anyone to tell me what someone else believes, and neither should you. Try to go to the source. What was actually said?

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. Send feedback to obenskik@gmail.com