Why Johnny Can’t Speak
While reading a book on the degradation of education in society, I came across the following passage:
Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?
Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspaper or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them?
I actually had to get up and walk around after reading that bit. This is what happens when you’ve read something so profound or enlightening you have to pause. Such writing conjures up strong emotions that are normally dormant.
It is as accurate a description of our society today as any that can be described. Being younger than thirty years of age, I nevertheless am already a curmudgeon and cynic. It is the only sensible way to comprehend what is happening when you can’t have a reasonable discussion because no one actually addresses the topic or question you bring up.
Why Johnny Can’t Reason
A while back I was working a job in Seattle when another “mass” shooting occurred. A group of coworkers were talking about it next to me, and one of them, being a true Seattleite, blamed all shootings on white men with “assault” rifles. When I tried to point out that the shooter in that recent case was a black man with a shotgun on a Navy base in a gun-free zone, she ignored me.
I finally grabbed the attention of another women, who was around my age, and pointed out that our country’s youth has always had access to guns. In the 1930s, kids didn’t kill one another in school. Shootings are a relatively new phenomenon. Therefore, I concluded, it couldn’t be blamed on the presence of guns.
The girl’s reply: So you think black people shouldn’t be allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as white people?
If you’re waiting for me to tell you I’m making that up, you’re going to be disappointed.
The older I get, the more I notice how utterly inept full-grown adults are at having any sort of discussion on something where heavy emotions are involved. They can’t do it.
Pick your topic. The so-called “rape culture,” domestic violence, gun rights, public education; these are just the political. Try keeping the peace with people who know you don’t think like they do and want to harass you for it. Simply remaining silent is seen as tacit admission to whatever accusation they’ve leveled at you.
Why Johnny Can’t Argue
As a reporter, I can tell you that both sides of the aisle, so to speak, are guilty of this. Reporters write on subjects they know nothing about (some of this can’t be avoided, regrettably). They use words improperly because that’s how their source used it. Columnists employ arguments that run afoul of hackneyed logical fallacies, then ignore or mis-characterize their opponent’s argument. My newspaper gets letters that range from embarrassingly ignorant to shamefully deceitful.
The trite retort, of course, is that we don’t put enough funding into our public schools. The book whose passage I quoted above puts the blame squarely on state-run schools, as their purpose is not to educate but to indoctrinate.
The product is a nation of emotionally stunted children that do not believe in, or know, the use of rhetoric, logic, or reason in order to change people’s minds. Political ideas are based on raw emotions and emotional reasoning. They are promoted through childish campaigns slogans that insult anyone with an IQ above 100 and engage in per pressure when all else fails. Shouting down your enemies is also an effective strategy, especially in a system where the majority can violate the rights of the minority.
Why Johnny Can’t Debate
In the last few years I can’t recall a single person winning an argument with me, or attempting to do so on the three concepts listed above. If this sounds arrogant, it’s chiefly because I have spent a great deal of time thinking over what I believe and formulating a defense of these beliefs. Most do not. I also tend to avoid battles I know I won’t win, and if I know I’m in the wrong I tend to admit so early on.
What I encountered during these arguments was the type of surreal behavior you’d find peculiarly amusing in a Lewis Carroll story. It didn’t matter how rational my ideas were; they were treated with contempt. My opponents would lob ad hominem attacks to arouse my anger, then cut me off mid-sentence, take my incomplete sentence out of the intended context, and then throw more insults at me. They’d also enlist others around us to win by “majority” vote, i.e. shouting me down. When five or more people are fighting with you, there’s no hope for any kind of stimulating discussion.
And these discussions had nothing to do with politics, per se, but highly personal matters that concerned no one other than myself.
I’m sure you’ve found that profound thoughts require more time to explain than those originating from the simpleminded. When you’ve not permitted to finish without an interruption and your opponent can get out their simpleminded ideas in two seconds (That’s not the way the world works! Deal with it!) you’re forced to decide whether to withdraw or keep at it until you make a breakthrough.
If you’re skeptical of my claims, try asking the following two questions during an ordinary conversation.
- What do you mean by that?
- How did you come to that conclusion?
All you’re asking is for people to define the words they use and elucidate the logic behind that particular conclusion.
You will inevitably find that few can do so. The rest will get angry and throw a temper tantrum for which you, oddly enough, will be blamed for causing because you’re mean-spirited for asking something like that (A few hours after writing this I experienced such a reaction).
One wonders if in reality people actually know all of this, but like blindly obedient soldiers marching to their death on the battlefield, they continue onward, because they’re terrified of what might happen if they stopped and asked questions. They are afraid of just how far down the rabbit hole goes.
What we have today is a Soviet society in which people censor their own speech, irrespective of how factual or truthful their beliefs are, because the rabble run the show. People don’t talk about certain things, no matter how private the company, as they fear a knee-jerk reaction, followed by social ostracizing.
So these people, like myself, turn to the Internet, the only place people can speak their minds and be heard by anyone willing to listen. He who has an ear, let him hear.
It does not bode well for the future when the dumb and ignorant can silence the intelligent and educated by stomping their feet and screaming.
Isn’t democracy amazing?