Posts Tagged ‘Critical thinking’

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Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

August 23, 2008

Imagine the scene:

With seemingly out of control inflation and unemployment figures; facing bleak real estate and stock markets; saddled by war debt and a tarnished global reputation, the newly-elected president, a Harvard graduate, former attorney who served as a Democratic State Senator steps up to the podium to give his inaugural address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Of course by now you realize I’m not talking about a potential future speech by Barack Obama, I’m talking about the January 1933 speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His first of four, a feat no President has or ever will repeat.

He certainly had his detractors – called both a warmonger and a fascist. It has been said that his economic policies actually prolonged The Great Depression by infringing upon Adam Smith’s notion of The Invisible Hand. And ok, sure, today his numerous calls to the divine and asking for the “blessing of God” later in the speech would have the ACLU filing a separation of church and state lawsuit faster than you can say Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But despite his political and philisophical shortcomings, I see in FDR’s speech a call for critical thinking:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.

And he channels Thomas Paine with

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

So what action am I alluding to? Thinking critically in the face of fear. Do you have friends who are afraid to have their children vaccinated? Show them articles like this.  We all have a relative who doesn’t trust doctors and seeks out so-called alternative medicine.  What can it hurt, right?  Think pseudoscience does no harm? Take a look here.

Of course you can’t just preach at them.

While talking to Dr G tonight about what I hope to do with this blog, she told me about a valuable lesson she learned while running for office. Her strategy to win started with discussing solutions to issues at hand in the same way she always had – with her closest friends.  Initial polling showed of course, that she already had their votes. The eureka moment came when she realized that she had to convince the remaining 99.9% of her constituents to support her.  And while her personal circle adored her (as do I, Doc), to win the election she had to reach the masses on their own terms with their own language.

We cannot change the way people think overnight, we must be patient yet diligent, persuasive, yet gentle. A century and a half before FDR, even Thomas Paine knew he had to speak the language of his audience.

Thanks to The Bad Astronomer, WhatsTheHarm.net and orDover for writing what they write, fighting what they fight and inspiring so much in me. And of course, to Dr G.

She did win her High School Student Council Election, BTW.

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Hello, world indeed!

August 18, 2008

daunt·ing [ dáwnting ]

disheartening: likely to discourage, intimidate, or frighten somebody

That pretty much sums up how I feel at the moment.  As in creating this blog is daunting.  I’m staring at an empty page with no idea what to write, uncertain if I can summon up the ideas, let alone the wordsmithing required to place them down on…uhh…my keyboard.

Hmmmm…

Still staring back at me. It’s not gonna go away.

I read a great comment by Wil Wheaton on his blog that essentially said “Just start writing!” and fix it later.  His point being that it is much easier to fix problems on a full page than it is to fill up a blank page.  But Wil, what if my whole page turns out to be crap?  What if I turn out pages of crap?  Ahh. There goes that nasty fear, that intimidation, that daunting-ness.  Hearing Dr G say “you’re writing in passive voice”!

But what is fear?  In this case, I guess it would be that I get horrible comments criticizing my writing, my style or my facts.  Worse yet, what if no one even reads this?  Ok, ok, I have a little writer’s anxiety.  So where do these fears come from?

The unknown.

I’ve never written for an audience before, so I have no idea what to expect.  A bit of fear is natural, I suppose.  That’s kinda of why I wanted to write to begin with – to take away people’s fear.  Provide people with facts and hopefully they won’t be afraid.  But providing information alone isn’t enough.  Each of us should carry around with us what the late Carl Sagan called a “baloney detection kit“.   What does it mean?  I’m not going to begin a discussion on critical thinking, partly because it is late, but mostly because there are lots of good sources on it.

Am I being naive?  Probably.  Can I make a difference?  I hope so.  Look, I have no idea where this is going to lead except hopefully, to the truth.  At least the truth as we can know it.  Whether it be print media, television, radio, the internet or even <shudder> at school, the public is fed a lot of wrong information.  Information on everything from global warming to stem cell research.  From alternative energy to alternative medicine.

Knowing what to listen to and more importantly HOW to listen certainly can be a daunting task.

Thanks for reading TheBIOT.

Joe