Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Save Yourself the Trouble

When it comes to politics, you can keep the sanctimonious ramblings to yourself because I'm not buying it. That doesn't mean you're wrong, but just because you can enthusiastically talk about a subject matter doesn't mean I'm going to believe you. Anyone can be passionate about anything and with the 'correct' information in the 'correct' manner, present something that seemingly supports their argument to the 't'.

Only one problem, I learned from the best. My Grandfather was a Air Force Sergeant for 20 years before becomming a school teacher for another 20 and retiring. These days, now ate the ripe old age of 81, he can tell you stories that would pry the envy from even some of the most hardened souls (just ask him about his time as a mechanic on the SR71 Blackbird). It's safe to say I admire the man greatly. Particularly one aspect of his life that I've often heard about - the encylopedias.

You see, my Grandfather had a great approach to any debate going on around him. He only formed an opinion about an issue if he learned about himself. If you came up to him with a thought on something and he wasn't familiar with the subject he'd go home, whip out his encyclopedias, and read up on the key points. Once he felt like he understood the material at hand, then - and only then - would he partake in the debate. It's a state of mind I sincerely wish more people would take up.

Of course, that style may not work quite so well in this day and age. After all, I'm sure given the time and effort you could prove or disprove anything with the vast resources of the internet at your disposal. The problem I find is that people just lack the drive to do the research themselves. They'd much rather watch a game of football, go out drinking at the club, or spend their time downloading apps for their phone than learning the information.

Research? Isn't that something that weird 'geeks' do? Yes, and even they can be guilty of pandering the research to meet the consumer. How else do you explain the shocking number of advocacy and lobbying groups, each with convincing sounding numbers to back up their widely conflicting claims on various issues? In an age where information travels at the speed of light, misinformation still manages to travel at twice that.

Why? Because the internet is often guilty of being one world-wide scale game of telephone. What starts out as "Scientists discover new particle" in the original form is taken, read, rewritten, referenced, opinionated, and eventually comes out "Scientists discover new death ray particle capable of annihilating a planet" on the other side. Even though near on all of those words have no respective foundation in the original article. Yet by the time it's reached that level hundreds of other websites, chain mails, and social media postings have followed and that's the story we all believe.

So here are some basic tips for getting the most truth for your buck:
  1. Check the references of the sites you read. If it's an advocacy/lobbying group study, or an opinion article, turn on your skeptical radar immediately. Try and trace the story back to its original source.
  2. If they're saying "in history" or any variation there of, odds are they're just wrong. It's a big go to phrase for saying something (or someone) is the worst/best in history, but history is a long time and if you're going that big, you're probably reaching.
  3. Hyperbole isn't just restricted to numbers. Be careful of the way articles are written, and people speak, because grossly exaggerated claims and 'worse than they really are' power words are the benchmark of politics.
  4. It's what the founding fathers would have done. I'm not saying the founding fathers aren't important, but you must remember that not only did they live long lives, but they also said lots of things, vehemently disagreed on an assortment of issues, had to maintain the peace between some violently different political viewpoints, and were - in many instances - politicians themselves. Any quote which isn't immediately backed up by the context in which it was said (year, timing, point in life) should immediately put you on alert.
  5. Read more than one article. Perhaps the facet of society we're most often guilty of is reading only the articles which reinforce our own political bias. There is no greater power than the repression of information, and by only focusing on one very particular view, you're giving that power to them.
Above all though, I plead that you take an active interest in politics. We as a society are often guilty of only caring about things once they begin directly affecting us, and unfortunately that generally comes too late. But if we began to care beforehand. To worry about what would occur to us twenty or thirty years from now, then - and perhaps only then - can we begin pushing the political discourse into a proactive stance.

Note: While I respect the viewpoint of each and every one of you, please keep your comments respectful, helpful, and on the topic at hand. Non-constructive liberal and/or conservative bashing comments will be subject to moderation.

2 better thoughts:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd add don't trust Wikipedia. There's a reason teachers won't allow students to quote it as a research source.
And sorry if I used 'naked' wrong in my blog title. I just knew one of my followers (Hart, who has a thing about naked world combination) would get a kick out of it.

Scott Lawlor said...

Some great advice there my friend.

I always learn a thing or two here.

I want to hear more about your Granddad

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