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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Inmates Are Running The Asylum


…that’s what it feels like to some of us in America these days as Jan. 20th approaches (Presidential inauguration). Given the inauspicious November turn of events two thoughts keep returning to me:
1)  One is how prescient, in some sense, Kurt Gödel was to predict back in 1936 the likelihood of America becoming a dictatorship — i.e., that our Constitution in no way precluded it (…many of us have said this in the last couple decades, but Gödel was noting it 80 years ago!).  No one knows for sure, what “flaw” Gödel perceived in our Constitution, but several scholars believe it was the ‘self-referential’ amending-power given in Article V — basically that since Article V says the Constitution can be amended, then Article V itself can be amended, and could be amended in a manner to say that some section or aspect of the Constitution can no longer be amended, creating certain despotic powers. Ta dahhh, something like this is almost occurring in the state of North Carolina already where the GOP is subverting democracy in unprecedented ways. And other states with gerrymandered voting districts and Republican legislatures may well insidiously do the same, because power (and money) corrupts and absolute... oh, nevermind.
…Somewhere Gödel is nodding his head knowingly.

2)  All of this handwringing comes about as we witness the incredible dwindling of “critical thinking” among both leaders and constituencies, simultaneous with the rise of out-and-out lies and propaganda as a norm… and short-term, there is alarmingly little that can be done about it. Longer term more of the electorate needs to be educated in “critical thinking,” but that requires significant time. I’ve already mentioned one current book that attempts such a job: Daniel Levitin’s “A Field Guide to Lies.”
Some other books I’ve previously blogged about with a statistics or numbers focus on critical thinking are:
Gary Smith’s “Standard Deviations
Charles Wheelan’s “Naked Statistics
Jordan Ellenberg’s “How Not To Be Wrong
…and a related, broader, more academic favorite of mine is:
Noson Yanofsky’s “The Outer Limits of Reason
I also mentioned a bit ago that many popularizations of General Semantics teach critical thinking in regards to language use (which is probably even more important than the way numbers and statistics are ill-used), including some quite old volumes:
S.I. Hayakawa’s “Language In Thought and Action
Stuart Chase’s “The Tyranny of Words
Wendell Johnson’s “People In Quandaries
Or, on Amazon (or similar site) you can simply search “critical thinking” or “logical fallacies” or “propaganda” for many additional pertinent volumes that make similar points.
But truthfully, it's pie-in-the-sky thinking to hope the masses read such books and take them to heart, when they find thin-skinned orange men so much more appealing. Oy veyyyy! (And it will take decades to train new generations in critical thinking). More likely we’ll just muddle forward from bad to worse to worser!, until, as with past situations, something wakes us, shakes us, to the gravity of the situation.
For unfortunately, the fault is not merely with puppet Donald Trump, 'the fault is in ourselves':


Ohhh, and Happy New Year everybody! But seriously, brace yourself. It should be a wonderful year ahead for White Nationalists, anti-semites, the KKK, and fans of Russia (for the rest of us, maybe not-so-much).

Enough of my rant though, I'll leave you with one of Keith Olbermann's:




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