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Credulousness as a Problem

Credulousness as a Problem

By Dennis Loo (7/8/17)

I have written on several occasions in different ways about the problem of credulousness, both as a phenomenon that I see among undergraduates, and as a problem that we see broadly in society.

For instance:

People are a lot smarter than they’re allowed to be. If we want a better world we need to give them the chance to become sophisticated thinkers, not only our students but people of all ages. You cannot raise and train rigorous thinkers in a hot house. They have to be immersed in the rough and tumble of real contradictions and clashes between varying perspectives. Truth, as we say here, emerges through contention. I’m going to close with this excerpt from a major white paper that I initiated and wrote with a terrific team of California university faculty in 2011 entitled “Cooking the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs: California’s Public Higher Education System in Peril.” The American Association of University Professionals (AAUP)’s Journal of Academic Freedom published it in 2012.

Life does not come with an answer key. The correct and best answers to all questions are not always definitively known in life at any given point before the fact, and incomplete and indirect information is the norm rather than the exception. Primarily due to the influence of the privateers, the educational system is increasingly becoming one in which the main emphasis is memorization and giving back to the teacher what the teacher has dispensed as the answers in order to pass the tests. Students are not being properly and adequately taught how to analyze, weigh information, think holistically, decide between competing claims, and make wise choices based on frequently incomplete information. This grows all the more significant when there is a growing storm of false or misleading information emanating from people and organizations trying to seduce people into buying their wares, whether those wares are commodities or ideas. Should this trend persist it will mean that our society will become increasingly intellectually impoverished, because its citizenry has become vulnerable to being manipulated by hucksters, opportunists, and those who have more ready access to mass media by virtue of their owning media, possessing a lot of money, and/or having friends in high places.

The good news is that something can be done about this with students, since you have them for a while and they receive some training in my classes and some in their other classes on how to pick apart what you are exposed to. Even if you are told something untrue or mostly untrue, you have the means by which you can infer the truth, or at least, a part or even a lot of the truth. You can, in other words, be given malarkey and you can make marmalade with it. The saying that computer experts have of GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out - thus doesn't necessarily apply to humans. It is nevertheless true that part of people's training to do the preceding, however, does require exposing people to a whole lot that is true, so that they realize that a) lots of what they thought before was true, isn't, b) lots of what they learn instead is true, albeit often shocking, and c) that the ways they were thinking before needs to be subject to scrutiny and a good deal of it rejected, or else what they learn from you remains a few inconvenient facts, but they remain convinced that nothing can be done about anything anyway. 

Let me illustrate that last point: if you have been taught repeatedy that it is "human nature" to be greedy, self-centered, and that material incentives (or disincentives) invariably are what is exclusively or primarily true, and you believe it, then you may learn some discrete factoids along the way, and you will treat those facts as maybe even true, but your conviction of what "human nature" is remains unshaken because you have heard it as a truism so many times, from so many sources, that anyone challenging your view is surpassingly odd and out-of-touch with the real world. After all, perhaps you're thinking, how can something I have taken for granted for so long and repeated by everyone I know not be true? It is furthermore the dominant ideology preached by POTUS on down as the truth. Most of my teachers even preach it, so it must be true, right? 

Read more: Credulousness as a Problem

If the Democrats Called People to Take the Streets

If the Democrats Called People to Take the Streets

By Dennis Loo (7/3/17)

Back in 1973 in Chile in the weeks before the fascist Pinochet coup (backed by the US government), everyone could see the coup coming. President Salvador Allende's followers begged and pleaded with him to arm the people to defend against a coup everyone saw was coming. But Allende kept saying that the Chilean military was patriotic and would not participate in the coup and refused to arm the people. Thousands died in the first few days of the coup, including Dr. Salvador Allende. Fascist Pinochet Chile was the place that neoliberal policies - the Chicago Boys led by Milton Friedman - was first implemented. It was a harbinger of what was to come with Thatcher and Reagan, followed by the rest.

So now our POTUS didn't take power through a coup but through an election, the groundwork laid for him by Obama himself. Obama never meant what he said about "hope" and "change," after all, the Democrats like Nancy Pelosi had the majority since the 2006 elections, and then the White House in 2008. A majority or near majority wanted Bush and Cheney impeached, but before even the 2006 midterms, Pelosi ruled impeachment "off the table." Obama had a mandate but instead of doing what so many hoped he would do, he "reached across the aisle" to the discredited and fascist GOP and tried to work with them. He bailed out Wall Street instead of helping mortgagees, standing between those damn bankers and the people. What did he say to the bankers who were ready to cave?

"My administration," the president [Obama] added, "is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." 

Read more: If the Democrats Called People to Take the Streets

Trump, Pence: How to Best Take Them On - Part 5

Trump, Pence: How to Best Take Them On - Part 5

By Dennis Loo (6/30/17)

In no particular order, these are some of the pitfalls that we can avoid:

Setting an Example

When we make mistakes: we correct them and make a sincere public apology. Not everyone will do this, but we need to set an example. At times everyone errs. Many of us are smart enough to realize that we aren't the best at everything, and we can learn from others and from the experience. In fact, humility is a hallmark of being smart, whereas arrogance - e.g., repeating many times that we are the very best in the world at ... - is a sure sign that we aren't smart enough to realize our own human limitations. The smarter you are, in fact, the more humble you are, because you realize that there is so much more to find out. 

When I was eighteen or so, I thought that I knew a lot more than I knew at the time. 

To paraphrase Hemingway here: if you're 18 and think you know more than you do, then you haven't yet lived enough. If you're forty and still think you know everything you need to, then you've got no head. 

Setting an example is especially needed when POTUS is a thug, a hothead, a madman, and wants journalists beaten up or worse.

The Democratic Spirit (small 'd')

Read more: Trump, Pence: How to Best Take Them On - Part 5

Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12