We didn’t forget about you. Sometimes we get busy with those parts of our lives that pay the bills (and this isn’t one of those parts). Sometimes there isn’t much to say. Sometimes what we want to say would not be printed. And sometimes we write down what we think we want to say and, fortunately, sleep on it before deleting it the next morning.
Over the last couple of weeks we worked. Hard. We like to work hard because that usually leads to sleeping hard, and sleep is one of the best things in life. We read several books. We also read emails and comments on our posts. By the way, if you like to comment, check out the blog at onthemiddlepath.com, where you can read things the newspaper won’t print (nothing ugly, mind you, just some opinions that some might find disagreeable), and say anything you like, as long as it isn’t rude to another contributor.
Based on the messages and comments we have received over the years, we have formed a strong opinion that our readers are the most intelligent and enlightened people on the planet – even (or especially) the ones who disagree with us. Occasionally we see an opinion that changes our own. New information should always suggest the possibility of an upgraded opinion. Now there’s a good working definition of what it means to be rational!
Occasionally, however, by some accident of fate, or because they enjoy being outraged, someone will comment who is not rational. Irrationality can happen to any of us, like catching a cold. We see it all the time in any forum which invites commentary. Unfortunately, outrage appears to be in vogue right now, but if you are among those of us who don’t enjoy it, there are some simple measures we can take to avoid it.
The phrase, “It goes without saying” is a logical fallacy, like the beautiful, inspiring and archaic phrase “self evident.” Nevertheless, “it goes without saying” that we can often avoid being outraged by the written word if we read more than just the headlines or the titles. Are you listening, Facebook users?
If we are particularly outraged, that state of being can often be assuaged by a more careful read of the offending material. It is perhaps a sign of the times that a constantly texting and tweeting public can lose the thread of an argument (the classical, not the confrontational kind) that is built from an assortment, a collection, a diversity of statements leading to a set of conclusions. Furthermore, if our only experience of a rose consisted of being “triggered” by the thorns, we might be outraged by a bouquet, but most of us perceive “rose” as something greater than the sum of its individual parts. We should read opinions, and follow arguments, in the same way.
We have written often about confirmation bias, which is a heavy contributor to outrage. It is almost tragic to see an otherwise admirable intellect which fails to apprehend reality because perception is so strongly colored by prejudice and a narrow range of experiences. Are you listening, partisans, democrats, republicans, people who only watch either MSNBC or Fox News? If we are attached to or insecure about our opinions, we read to reinforce those opinions rather than to absorb new information. Any information that might challenge our opinions we either disregard, or it makes us angry.
There are others for whom we have no remedy, and since we are not politicians, gurus or saints, we will call them by name. We refer now to stupid people. Yes, we can all do stupid things, again, just like we can all catch a cold. But people who have poor hygiene catch more colds. People who have poor mental hygiene do more stupid things. Some, we might say, are even willfully ignorant,
Whenever you hear the statement, “I’m entitled to my opinion,” there is a good chance that opinion is based on willful ignorance. No, you are not entitled to your opinion. You are free to have an opinion. There is a difference. To be entitled to an opinion means that you have done some research, gathered some facts, garnered some experience and reasoned through to a conclusion. Those who are entitled to an opinion are a rapidly shrinking minority.
If that opinion makes you angry, we’re willing to examine any data you may have that runs counter to it. Barring that, we will go a step further and say that we see a trend toward “entitlement” which we believe is detrimental. It is popular in some circles to believe that, not only is everyone entitled to an opinion, but everyone is entitled, period. This is detrimental when diversity becomes tyranny. It is detrimental when, for example, the Marine Corps reduces its qualifications for infantry officers so that more candidates will be successful. It is detrimental when people believe in universal income while the country is $20 trillion in debt.
We’re not disputing human rights. We strongly agree with our Founders that all people are created equal, and that this is, indeed, self evident. We practice democracy because we believe all human beings should have equal opportunity. But – and this is pivotal – we are a republic because all do not contribute, sacrifice or perform equally. All do not, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say, have equal “skin in the game.”
Democracy and socialism are two sides of a coin. When we roll that coin on its edge or spin it on a tabletop, we see the republic in action. It takes both skill and focus to keep that coin on its edge, to keep it in motion. Distracted by our partisan opinions, we’re letting that coin slow down to a wobble. Whether it lands on heads or tails is anyone’s guess, and sadly, it’s worth about 4% of its former value. A penny for your thoughts…