The Sovereign Mind

Free thought on politics and real life

Posts Tagged ‘blogging

The Death of Skepticism?

with one comment

…or is it just seriously ill?

A few days ago, the video of President Bush entering the stage at the G20 conference became viral. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The media and bloggers fell over themselves to comment on how sad it was that Bush has lost so much credibility, or how arrogant the other leaders were.

I knew my position would be unpopular, but I went on record urging caution. I felt 10 seconds of video taken out of context were not enough to come to such sweeping conclusions about what was going on the minds of the word leaders or Bush. As I expected, the response to my comment was that it was “nonsense”.

My point is not to toot my own horn (OK, maybe it is partially. I’m not right all that often, so I need to milk it while I have the chance), but it turns out I was right to be skeptical:

I’m glad at least CNN had the integrity to correct their error, although I don’t think it will undo the damage and they should be ashamed of their previous coverage. And also kudos to Donklephant for actually posting a follow-up when it became clear the previous story was not accurate.

Now that that’s straightened out, we can get back to business as usual, right? Wrong. This is just a symptom of the problem. The media, bloggers, and even the public in general is forgetting the virtue of skepticism. And I believe this is a real problem. This is not the first time this has happened, although it can take on different forms.

The most glaring examples come from the latest presidential election. Why is it that politicians are so willing to make obviously false statements in order to promote their own candidacy? It’s because the public, including media, bloggers, and everyone else, won’t question them. This is why Obama got away (relatively) with accusing McCain of wanting to continue to war in Iraq for 100 years. Sure, there was some critique, but in my opinion this sort of misrepresentation is inexcusable. On the other hand, McCain got away, for the most part, with confusing Obama’s tax policy proposal. They had some grounds to criticize Obama on past votes or on the wisdom of raising taxes on the rich, but they implied that Obama was proposing to increase taxes on the middle class, which was false and inexcusable.

In my perfect world, these sorts of purposeful distortions of truth should cause a campaign to go down in flames. Instead, we give them a slap on the wrist and look the other way, and so they continue to use these tactics, knowing that 90% of the people that hear their words will not have the skepticism to do the research for themselves to find out that what they are saying is not exactly true. Is it because we think politicians are always truthful? Of course not, we all know politicians lie and distort. I think what it means is that we’ve become so accustomed to it that we are content to be lied to, as long as our political ideologies are in agreement. So I don’t only blame the politicians for the mud-slinging that happens. I also blame the media and the people for letting it happen and not holding them accountable.

But election coverage is only one example of the lack of skepticism. I’m also troubled by the assurance that people seem to have that they are right. Toward the end of the election, I heard numerous people say that they couldn’t see how anyone could be undecided unless they were uninformed. But there was another reason to be undecided other than ignorance: humility. I see many examples of people who are persuaded by one point of view and then fail to ever consider any counter-arguments. For example, I am generally a free-market advocate, but I see in other free-market advocates a sort of cult-like following. They refuse to see any down-sides to the free market, a few of which I’ve outlined before. Before we stake out a position on an issue, few people take the time to step back and say “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”

Saying “I don’t know” is seen as a sign of ignorance, but in reality it is the first step to wisdom.

So, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far, make it worth your time. Next time you hear a story, whether it supports your world-view or not, remember the virtue of skepticism. There might come a time for you to take a stand, but take the time to think and maybe do a little research. To those in the media, or those who have taken upon yourself to blog in the public sphere, this is a lesson I shouldn’t have to be teaching you.

Written by Mike

November 23, 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in politics, society

Tagged with , ,