Friday, October 30, 2020

Thinking for a Future

US propaganda poster in 1917

by James Montgomery Flagg, Library of Congress. 

This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

After 1949, the world was under threat of thermonuclear annihilation following the Soviet explosion of an atomic bomb and America's commitment to develop the even more massive hydrogen bomb. 

The playwright Arthur Miller, much later, wrote of this time, "An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted... The whole place was becoming inhuman, not only because an unaccustomed fear was spreading so fast, but more because nobody would admit to being afraid."

Unsurprisingly, with eyes opened and emotion keyed to the significance of our time, Americans are voting in unprecedented numbers. Time will tell how bumpy a ride the next weeks will be.

For the years beyond to be better, I believe some changes are needed to offset the virus of pseudo-populism, which also will NOT "just disappear." And, no nation is immune. As if there's not enough to deal with in the challenges imposed through COVID and the irresponsible neglect of wannabe leaders! 

A sad lesson from the current era is that norms and the rule of law are no bulwarks against rogue actors who specialize in word-salad and obstruction that exploit the legal system for personal advantage.

With the United States now showing, more than ever before, that we can come together with family, friends, and neighbors to vote, surely to climb the next rocky mountain we need to find paths to the future.

Central now for civil society to operate are workable ways to detect and counteract propaganda, along the lines outlined in earlier blog posts on this site. As Dorothy L. Sayers noted after the tyranny of World War II, each of us needs to be better able to disentangle "fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible." 

Today, we see largely that part of the political process that politicians allow us to see. Learning what we do from politicians, illusion is imbibed by describing it to others. Worse still is when voters ignore entirely what's happening, in some mistaken belief that nothing changes whoever you vote for, as some non-voters just shared with a television reporter. With such people searching for information as a way to reduce uncertainty, so begins the cycle toward the cult. 

Every society has its own illusions. Best to truly understand how public figures shape their words and actions to relate to us. We clearly need a better basis for learning how to learn. So, some starter thoughts:

1. Education programs require strengthening of critical thinking as core to being a good citizen (and a graduate from any level of education); 

2. Virtues of justice, prudence, courage, and wisdom require more effective nurture in public figures, teachers, librarians, students, parents, family, friends, neighbors, and all of us;

3. Improved civics knowledge and practical understanding of what democracy prevents are urgent needs.

Hopefully, we can agree this much at least with the warning from Dorothy L. Sayers in 1947 in The Lost Tools of Learning that "the sole true end of education is simply this : to teach [wo/]men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

This is not about any kind of rivalry among disciplines of learning or in the teaching staff-room. By analogy, it is about the future to be found in past successsuch as for the years since 2018 the sustained efforts of students from Parkland High School in Floridalest we forget!