Would You Rather…

I’ve been retired from professional life for almost seven years, and occasionally the time weighs heavy on my hands.  I volunteer for several Parkinson’s organizations including The SA Moves Foundation and The Davis Phinney Foundation, and I have a number of pastimes and hobbies that keep me both in and out of trouble. None of this prevents me from occasionally causing trouble on Facebook, however.

As I often remind myself, Facebook and other social media outlets are a way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances by long distance, but it’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.  As Parkinson’s disease progresses for me, though, personal interaction is more difficult.  I still have good days and they still outnumber my bad days, but the future is rapidly becoming the present.

I’ve made a personal choice not to moan and complain excessively, though.  I have had a good life, full of love, happiness, wonders and challenges, and I will continue to do so for as long as God allows.  I do occasionally like to throw a stink bomb into the proceedings.

I am full of opinions, and I think I’m entitled to every one of them. I don’t have the arrogance or hubris to pretend that they are anything but opinions, though.  I’ve lived a fascinating life, and I’ve seen a lot.  That fact makes me less sure that I’m right about anything rather than more sure, though.

We live in interesting times. There is sound and fury o’plenty, but much of it signifies less than nothing. Expressing strong viewpoints publicly is the fashion of the day, and it doesn’t require any real knowledge of the topic at hand – after all, in the egalitarian culture we’ve created for ourselves, stupidity and ignorance are just as good as wisdom and knowledge.  Just as everyone gets a trophy, every opinion is of the same value as every other opinion.  The rub is that not every topic is amenable to opinion – troublesome facts get in the way.  That’s just my opinion, though.

I happen to be of the opinion that the President is doing a rather poor job.  My opinion is based on my personal interpretation of the facts that I observe – the facts are not up for discussion, but my interpretation of those facts might well be.

My opinion that President Trump is rude and boorish didn’t just fly out of my ass – it’s based on my observation of his behavior.  You’re free to interpret his actions differently, if you choose, but you are not free to claim that he didn’t say the things he has said or didn’t do the things he has done.

Likewise, my opinion that he is failing as chief executive didn’t come from nowhere. You and I can look at the same facts and come to different conclusions about their meaning, but “alternative facts” is a screwed-up concept.

Let’s look at it this way – the speed of light in a vacuum is approximately 2.9979 X 10^8 meters per second.  Your opinion about that fact doesn’t change a damn thing. You’re free to think as an “alternative” that it’s 66 feet per second, but that doesn’t make it so. Some things are objectively true.

Unfortunately, many things are not.  Our collective problem, in my opinion (see how that works?) is that we are failing to make a distinction between fact and opinion, and instead going down the path of thinking that everything is opinion, and even worse, that everything is subject to political ideology.

Just for the hell of it, let’s consider global climate change (erstwhile known as global warming).  It is either true that the climate is changing as a result of human activity, or it isn’t. It’s possible that the climate is changing in entirely natural ways we don’t understand; it’s possible that we are headed for catastrophic changes that have nothing to do with human activity; it’s possible that we are destroying the planet and it’s too late to do any thing about it. Other things are possible, too, but opinion about what’s true doesn’t enter into the discussion – this is a scientific issue, not a political one.  The time for opinion and politics is after the facts are in. Unless we’re qualified to have them (that means both educated and trained in the field) our opinion about scientific facts associated with climatology, chaos mathematics, and predictive simulation is about as important as our opinion about whether the Sun exists (it does, by the way).

We used to teach critical thinking in school.  I remember learning about logical fallacies in junior high, and I also remember an assignment to send a letter to a company demanding an explanation for logical fallacies in their product advertising. I sent my letter to the American Tobacco Company, accusing them of a false dilemma for claiming “Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.” Are there no other alternatives, I asked? They sent me a carton of cigarettes.  I was thirteen years old.

Today, the false dichotomy runs rampant.  I mentioned I am not a Trump fan.  To be blunt, I think he’s a dangerous idiot.  I wrote about this in a couple of Facebook posts recently (foolish, I know), and I was flabbergasted at how many people believe this means I must be one of those “other people” – you know, commie pinko Democrats.  I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but I didn’t want ANYONE to win the last election.  I damn near voted for Kinky Friedman, and only because Lincoln and Reagan are dead. I think our choices sucked, and we deserve what we ended up with.  I would have been no happier with another Clinton in the White House, but if these are the only choices, I’m going with the 25th Amendment and Pence.  At least he can construct a sentence.

We need to think these things through, and stop this “my tribe is better than your tribe” crap.  We’re better than that, and if we’re not we don’t have much of a future. I hope we as a culture are not losing our ability to think critically.  I’m slowly losing mine; it ain’t my fault, and I’m relying on the rest of you to step up when I need you. Don’t let me down.


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