Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Martin Luther: “Here I Stand”

download

I have attended over 35 Jesuit retreats at Demontreville Retreat Center.  Every year at the end of each retreat, I have received a Plenary Indulgence bestowed by the Pope on people who complete a retreat.  Unlike in the day of Martin Luther, I do not have to pay for these indulgences.  My understanding is these indulgences will knock some of the time off that I have to spend in purgatory as reparations for my less than mortal sins.  You still cannot get time off for mortal sins without going to confession.

I am not sure how much time will be knocked off and since I am an atheist or sometimes an agnostic, I am not sure whether or not they will be valid.  I once wondered if I could put them up on eBay and maybe get some money from them.  This would be more in line with the uses that were associated with these plenary indulgences in the time of Martin Luther (1483 to 1546).

Reformation.crop_528x396_2,0.preview (1)There are many who would consider Martin Luther the father of the Protestant Reformation.  Growing up Catholic, we regarded Protestants as heretics.  We all knew that the one true religion was Catholic, and Protestants did not know what they really wanted.  What does the name Protestant even mean?  Taking it at face value, it would seem to mean to protest against.  The dictionary defines a Protestant as someone who has broken from the Roman Catholic church.  If you are a Protestant you practice a form of Christianity in protest to the Catholic form.  There are over 200 major Protestant denominations in the USA and over 35,000 independent or non-denominational Christian churches which are ostensibly Protestant.  During the past few decade, we have seen numerous splits in Protestant churches over such issues as gay marriages, gay clergy, women ministers.  Even though I am a non-Catholic myself, I can’t help but be amazed at the dissension and disunity among Protestants.  I wonder what Martin Luther would have thought if he were alive today.

cc-1509034747-1xk2ppowve-snap-image

In any case, Luther protested against the selling of Indulgences by the Catholic Church and the Pope.  He published his famous 95 Theses (which were polemics primarily against the monetary abuses of the Church) by nailing the theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany.  An extremely dramatic way to advance his opposition.  The theses were quickly reprinted and spread like wildfire throughout Europe.  And thus, began what is known as the Protestant Reformation (1517 – 1648).  It actually started even earlier but Luther’s theses were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

00bayfield

Martin Luther’s position and actions were quite bold, even audacious.  Luther’s ecclesiastical superiors had him tried for heresy, which culminated in his excommunication in 1521.  This retaliation on the part of the Catholic Church was quite serious.  Luther risked life and limb with his attack on the Church.  The following is a list of people executed for challenging Catholicism during the period from 1500-1600 CE.

  • Ipswich Martyrs († 1515–1558)
  • Jean Vallière († 1523)
  • Jan de Bakker († 1525), 1st martyr in the Northern Netherland
  • Wendelmoet Claesdochter († 1527), 1st Dutch woman charged and burned for the accusation of heresy
  • Michael Sattler († 1527), Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany
  • Patrick Hamilton († 1528), St Andrews, Scotland
  • Balthasar Hubmaier (1485–1528), Vienna, Austria
  • George Blaurock (1491–1529), Klausen, Tyrol
  • Thomas Hitton († 1530), Maidstone, England
  • Richard Bayfield († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Thomas Benet († 1531), Exeter, England
  • Thomas Bilney († 1531), Norwich, England
  • Joan Bocher († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Solomon Molcho († 1532), Mantua
  • Thomas Harding († 1532), Chesham, England
  • James Bainham († 1532), Smithfield, England
  • John Frith (1503–1533), Smithfield, England
  • William Tyndale (1490–1536), Belgium
  • Jakob Hutter († 1536), Innsbruck, Tyrol
  • Aefgen Listincx († 1538), Münster, Germany
  • John Forest († 1538), Smithfield, England
  • Katarzyna Weiglowa († 1538), Poland
  • Francisco de San Roman († 1540), Spain
  • Étienne Dolet (1509–1546), Paris, France
  • Henry Filmer († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Robert Testwood († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Anthony Pearson († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Maria van Beckum († 1544)
  • Ursula van Beckum († 1544)
  • Colchester Martyrs († 1545 to 1558), 26 people, Colchester, England
  • George Wishart (1513–1546), St Andrews, Scotland
  • John Hooper († 1555), Gloucester, England
  • John Rogers († 1555), London, England
  • Canterbury Martyrs († 1555–1558), c.40 people, Canterbury, England
  • Laurence Saunders, (1519–1555), Coventry, England
  • Rowland Taylor († 1555), Hadleigh, Suffolk, England
  • Cornelius Bongey, († 1555), Coventry, England
  • Dirick Carver, († 1555), Lewes, England
  • Robert Ferrar († 1555), Carmarthen, Wales
  • William Flower († 1555), Westminster, England
  • Patrick Pakingham († 1555), Uxbridge, England
  • Hugh Latimer (1485–1555), Oxford, England
  • Robert Samuel († 1555), Ipswich, England
  • Burning of Latimer and Ridley, Oxford, 1555
  • Nicholas Ridley (1500–1555), Oxford, England
  • John Bradford († 1555), London, England
  • John Cardmaker († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Robert Glover († 1555), Hertford, England
  • Thomas Hawkes († 1555), Coggeshall, England
  • Thomas Tomkins († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), Oxford, England
  • Stratford Martyrs († 1556), 11 men and 2 women, Stratford, London, England
  • Guernsey Martyrs († 1556), 3 women, Guernsey, Channel Islands
  • Joan Waste († 1556), Derby, England
  • Bartlet Green († 1556), Smithfield, London, England
  • John Hullier († 1556), Cambridge, England
  • John Forman († 1556), East Grinstead, England
  • Pomponio Algerio († 1556) Boiled in oil, Rome
  • Alexander Gooch and Alice Driver († 1558), Ipswich, England
  • Augustino de Cazalla († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • Carlos de Seso († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • María de Bohórquez († 1559)
  • Pietro Carnesecchi († 1567) Florence, Italy
  • Leonor de Cisneros († 1568), Valladolid, Spain
  • Dirk Willems († 1569), Netherlands
  • Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Rome, Italy

6542cb86e28310d760047cf9591b8929

The famous scientist Galileo was forced to recant his idea that the earth revolved around the sun.  This was widely known among many scientists, but it was opposed by the Catholic Church which held to the view that the sun revolved around the earth.  Thus, in 1521 Galileo was charged with heresy.  After a rather lengthy trial, Galileo retracted his theory preferring to live rather than to be right.  Nevertheless, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  Publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any future works.

martin luther

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

On 18 April 1521 Luther stood before the presiding officer, Johann von Eck at the ongoing Diet in Worms.  Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the Pope or a council of the Roman Catholic Church.  Eck acting on behalf of the Catholic Church informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic.  Pope Leo X had demanded that Luther retract 41 sentences included in his original 95 Theses.  Luther had been questioned the day before, but he had requested time to think about his response to the charges.  Thus, began Luther’s short but famous speech.   His life depended on his response.

“I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right.  I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.”

Luther begins his speech with humility and with apologies for any lack of etiquette or procedure, but no apologies for his actions.  He is certain that he is right.

“I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God?  Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.”

Luther’s words could not be stronger here.  He accuses the Pope of offense that are scandalous, immoral, and perhaps even criminal.  He softens his words here not one bit.  He is not on the defense but on the offense.  Here is a man not dissembling or hedging his words.  If he is afraid for his life, his words show no fear or caution.  He is doing no political two step or making effort to appease the Pope.  Perhaps Luther knew that he was in little danger of being executed but the fact that he spent the next nine months of his life in hiding would suggest differently.

“In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith.  I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books.  Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.”

Luther does not back down one bit.  He confesses to more passion than might have been required but he will not retract anything he has written.  I am no saint he says but I will not be a hypocrite.  Just think of the people surrounding President Trump and contrast their lies, obfuscations, and baffling oratory with the quite clear words of Martin Luther: “What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings?”  “What if I said my president was lying?  What if I said my president was engaging in double speak?  What if I admitted that my president actually said the words which he claimed that he did not say?  Would I be subject to trial by fire or would I be burned at the stake?”

What makes someone lie on behalf of someone else?

The ending of Luther’s defense was epic.  Perhaps no more forceful words have ever been spoken in history.

“I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!  Amen.”

Emperor Charles V passed the Edict of Worms, which banned Luther’s writings and declared him a heretic and an enemy of the state.  Luther fled and although the Edict mandated that Luther should be captured and turned over to the emperor, it was never enforced.  Bear in mind the list of heretics who came after Luther and was executed.

Luther was a German professor of theology a composer and a priest.  He was no warrior or fighter.  In many ways, he was average, except in one especially important way that mattered and would make him a hero for all time.  He was not afraid to stand up to tyranny and to stand up for his beliefs and to speak out on behalf of what he believed.

Martin-Luther-on-Trial-1300x740-81e5a3c51e

Imagine if more citizens were courageous enough to stand up for what they believed and to speak out forcefully and not meekly on behalf of these same beliefs.  It has been said that “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”  Doing nothing or saying nothing are one of the same cloth.  If you want to allow a dictator, bully, or tyrant to take power, simply stay quiet and bemoan the fact that you can do nothing.  Or you can write, speak, march, protest and organize against injustice wherever it can be found.  Any less makes us guilty of a conspiracy of silence.

“A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people of some size, as large as an entire national group or profession or as small as a group of colleagues, that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject.  The practice may be motivated by positive interest in group solidarity or by such negative impulses as fear of political repercussion or social ostracism.”  —  Wikipedia

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Socrates: “The Defense Speech”

socrates-now-900x600

It was said that Socrates was the “Wisest Man” in the world.  Actually, Socrates was not that smart.  If he had been smart, he would have realized that teaching people to question authority was not such a good idea.  Socrates was the epitome of Greek philosophy.  He was born in 470 BCE and died in 399 BCE at the age of 71.  He died or rather was executed by taking the poison hemlock after being found guilty of “corrupting” the youth of Athens.  Corrupting should be thought of as a euphemism for actually getting the youth to “think for themselves.”  A characteristic no more desired two thousand and five hundred years ago than it is today.  (See my blog “Are Americans Brainwashed.”)

Hundreds of years later and schools are still not able to teach critical thinking skills to students.  I have been in education for over 45 years and I can testify to fact that rote learning is valued ten times more than critical thinking in any school in America.  True, there are many educators who will tell you how important critical thinking skills are.  However, when push comes to shove standardized tests, SAT tests, ACT tests, GRE tests, GMAT tests, LSAT tests, MCAT tests, diploma requirements and graduation exams all demand facts and data.  The quest for the holy grail of critical thinking goes down the toilet.

Socrates might not have actually been the smartest man or even the smartest philosopher, but he certainly knew the value of critical thinking.  The Socratic Method is still widely revered as perhaps the best method for teaching critical thinking.  Socrates did not leave a large body of writings or principles or admonitions for success and greatness.  Socrates simply left us the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions, also known as a dialectic.  The Socratic method accomplished this by questioning everything.  Wikipedia defines the method as follows:

“The Socratic method (also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” —- Wikipedia

If I am sounding critical of Socrates, this is not my intent.  If any man in history was my hero, it would be Socrates.  Not only did Socrates value critical thinking and actually practice it with his pupils, but he had the audacity and courage to stick to his guns right up to the end.  To understand the integrity of the man, you must read and understand his Defense Speech given at his trial.

p01128tw

The Trial of Socrates and His Defense Speech:

The fathers of Athens and the Athenian leaders had finally had enough of Socrates.  Socrates had created many enemies along the way.  Other philosophers resented his methods and his denigration of their supposed wisdom.  Prominent leaders thought he challenged democracy because Socrates believed that democratic decision making did not always result in the best decisions.  When it came to their children questioning them and their authority, this was the final straw.

Socrates was hauled into an Athenian court and charged with two counts.  Corrupting the youth of Athens and impious acts.  His impious acts involved questioning the Greek gods.  The Athenians did not have a strict separation of church and state.  Socrates really pissed them off by failing to respect their gods.  Even today, such disrespect will get you killed in many countries across the globe.

Now of course, no one has an exact transcript of Socrates trial.  It has also been generally acknowledged that despite Socrates being found guilty by five hundred Athenian jurors of both charges and sentenced to death, they were willing to let him escape to another country or face a voluntary exile.  This is where it gets really interesting and where you see the courage and integrity of Socrates.  His speech is a defense of everything Socrates finds important in life including his self-respect.

Most of what we know about Socrates and his Defense Speech is found in the following documents:

download“Primary-source accounts of the trial and execution of Socrates are the Apology of Socrates by Plato and the Apology of Socrates to the Jury by Xenophon of Athens, who had been his student; contemporary interpretations include The Trial of Socrates (1988) by the journalist I. F. Stone, and Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009) by the Classics scholar Robin Waterfield.”  —- Wikipedia

I highly recommend the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato and “The Trial of Socrates” by I.F. Stone.  The following speech excerpts are taken from “The Apology” by Plato.  The Translation is by Benjamin Jowett.

“Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

Socrates is declaring that virtue in life comes not from living or dying but from doing what you think is right or wrong.  Virtue does not come from living a long life but from living a good life.  If you suffer ill consequences from doing the right thing, it should not matter.  Your conscience is more important than your body.  Imagine for a second if the US Congress was full of men and women who adhered to this belief.

“They in their fear (of death) apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, – that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.”

Years before Caesar noted that “Cowards die many deaths and heroes die only once”, Socrates was admonishing the Athenians to not fear death but to fear ignorance and to fear a hubris that was overly proud of knowledge and wisdom.  Socrates asserted that if he was wise, it was because he did not try to act as though the knew everything.  He was humble in the face of his own ignorance of the world.

download

Consider today the experts that surround us and try to act like they are miniature gods.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers, military planners, intelligence experts and of course academicians all like to parade their wisdom and knowledge that in actuality is far surpassed by what they do not know.  Nevertheless, advice is rendered, fees collected and the sheep among us march passively towards a perhaps ignominious fate buoyed by a firm belief in whatever nostrum has been sold to them.

i-know-everything-5c3124

“O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?”

Socrates knew that money, honor, and fame often had little to do with wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul.  Several centuries later, and we have a populace that has elected a leader because many of the voters believed that “A rich man was a wise man.”  Socrates knew this was false and so has every major prophet quoted in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every holy book every written in history from the Hindu Vedas to the writings of   Abdu’l-Bahá.

“He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life.”  — Abdu’l-Bahá

It is amazing to me that the greatest works in history all tell us the same thing.  We must seek out the truth.  We must live a virtuous and moral life.  We must take success with a grain of salt.  We must not be seduced by greed and fame.  We must not judge others by how much they own or do not own.  Jesus said we must feed the hungry and take care of the sick.  Major religions all over the world are predicated on these basic ideas.  Yet, everywhere we look, we see adherents to these same religions practicing the very opposite of what their prophets have espoused.

“If this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”

3c322ae00edbe9ae0eb038072a9821c1

Socrates was more afraid of being a hypocrite than he was of dying.  He would not forfeit his integrity for his life.  Contrast that with the cowards and sycophants we see every day in the news, on TV, in the Congress and in the White House willing to forfeit their soul and anything they say they believe in to support lies, misinformation, disinformation and immoral intrigues that surpass anything imaginable.  People with more money than they can ever spend but still willing to accept bribes for power and position and more money rather than look for the truth or support a goal of knowledge driven leadership.

Socrates did not leave Athens even when his supporters offered to spirit him away.  Socrates saw such flight as cowardice and a repudiation of everything he believed in. Socrates was a martyr to integrity.  Fame for Socrates was not a fifteen-minute exercise in tweeting or attacking someone with less power than he had.  Socrates attacked the very heart and soul of all evil.  He attacked ignorance and offered a search for truth instead.

My Four Best of Everything:  – Part 3         

what_a_great_idea1

This is Part 3 of my four best of everything.  In this final part, I would like to share with you my four favorite ideas.

For those of you who missed Part 1 and Part 2, this was my introduction.

This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything that I admire in the literary world because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more ideas you have the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Ideas:

internal-coverIf you think about the ideas or premises or nostrums that guide your life, you will soon notice that we have many ideas that along our journey we have adopted.  The sources of these ideas are vast.  Fairy tales and children’s stories give us ideas such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or the “The race does not always go to the swift” or “Those who do not plan ahead may starve in the winter.”  Many of our ideas about living no come from our parents and family.  My mother used to say such things as “Ignorance is bliss” and “If you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves.”  My father was fond of saying “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  He also used to like to say, “You have nothing to fear from the dead, only the living.”  These two later beliefs have guided a great deal of my life.

As we grow up and go to school, leave home and get a job, we no doubt pick up more ideas that we will covertly and sometimes overtly use to guide our lives.  By guiding, I mean we will use these ideas to make choices that impact the direction of our lives.  One of the many ideas that I carry in my brain came from Dr. George Box of the University of Wisconsin.  He said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.”  This premise has guided much of my working life.  I have used this Box’s thought when consulting to find a more productive way of addressing organizational changes that are needed in a client’s business.

However, since this blog is about the best or at least my favorites, I need to start discussing my four favorite ideas.  There is no particular relevance to the following order.

There is No Truth:

your-truth-and-my-truth

Obviously, if you accept my truth, then it poses a paradox.  How can this be true if there is no truth?  But in many ways, that is the nature of most truths.  They are paradoxical.  If they are relative, they are not always true which is a contradiction.  If they are absolute, there are usually exceptions that can be found which makes them false.  What a dilemma!  From the time we are born we are taught to say the truth, speak the truth, search for the truth, but we are all liars.  We don’t know what the truth is and there are many times we would not say it if we did.

If someone came to your front door and said, “Is your mother home, I want to kill her”, what would you tell them?  Would you admit that she was home, if she was?  I doubt it.  We all say we want the truth, but the fact is that many of us will never find the truth because (As our leaders believe) and as Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.”

A friend of mine explained his version of the truth to me several years ago.  He said “Imagine a bookshelf with five shelves.  On the bottom shelf, I put things that people tell me that are opinions and unsubstantiated or uncorroborated pieces of information.  As time goes by and I find more evidence in support of this so called “truth”, I will move the bit of information to the 4th shelf.  Each time I get more evidence it goes up a shelf.  On the top shelf, I have things that I believe are true beyond a ‘reasonable’ but not absolute doubt.  For the time being, I accept the top shelf ideas as true, but I hold out the possibility that I will later find some bit of evidence that invalidates even this Top Shelf truth.”  I like this model of truth.  Let me give you an example of how it plays out for me.

About two months ago, I came across an article that said “In 30 years, all beef and diary farms will be dead.  Things of the past.”  Living in Wisconsin, I was astonished by this bit of information.  I did not put much credibility into the idea.  Given my predilection for cheese, steak and butter I could not reasonably accept any truth to this idea.  Nevertheless, I put it on the bottom shelf of my “Truth Bookcase.”  A few weeks later, I was attending the Annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota. This past year it dealt with the environment and global changes to it.  I was surprised when one of the speakers echoed the same idea that I had heard a few weeks ago.  Namely that diary and beef farms would in twenty or thirty years mostly be a thing of the past.  I moved this thought up a shelf.  Two days ago, I was reading the local newspaper and they had an article about diary farms in Wisconsin.  According to this article, ten percent or 800 diary farms in Wisconsin went out of business this past year and there was no sign that the trend would not continue.  I was astounded. I had no idea that the diary industry was so shaky.  I moved the original idea that at least diary if not the beef industry would be gone in thirty years up another shelf.  Two shelves to go.

Thus, truth becomes a process. It is not a final goal.  There is no final absolute truth.  It is a nominal, like in quality improvement that we can never reach.  We can only get closer and closer, but we can never reach a truth that is God like.  The truth that humans can know will never be infallible.

Everything Will Change:

unnamed

This idea seems so obvious that I almost ashamed to list it as one of my favorites.  Nevertheless, I keep having to remind myself that “This too will pass.”  Life is a stream of events and even if Santayana was right in that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, there is still nothing in the past that will ever be recreated exactly as it happened one hundred or one thousand years ago.  Heraclitus was also right when he said, “You never step in the same river twice.”

All is change.  If we could see the atoms of time that surround us, I am sure that we would see a stream of “time” atoms that are flowing like a river with swift currents and eddies and backwaters.  This is the flow of time and the river of change.  Sometimes going backwards but inevitably surging forward and sweeping everything out of its way.

We poor humans are caught up in this river and we must do our best to keep from drowning.  We are swept along like so much flotsam.  The river of time that we are in is invisible to the naked eye, but this does not stop it from changing the lives of those swept along by its currents.  Every day, we deal with new events while the old events keep playing out.  A continuous series of changes.  New wars, new disasters, new diseases, new horrors all mixed in with new ideas, new joys, new births, new technologies, new celebrations.

There are those who we say are “stuck in the past.”  The good old days never die for many.  We see the sad efforts that many have to hold onto the past or to “Make America Great Again.”  Why, can’t things just be like the were when I was a kid?  Movies were twenty-five cents and a bag of popcorn was ten cents.  The good guys were good guys and the bad guys were bad.  Police officers walked the streets and helped people in need.  It was happy days.

African Americans were denied voting rights and the basic liberties as stated in the constitution.  A women’s place was in the kitchen and a man was the undisputed king of home.  White people won all the wars they started, and Indians stayed on the reservation.  Mexicans came over to pick tomatoes and then went back home.  A child’s place was to be seen and not heard and the World Series was the greatest sporting event in the world that only White Americans played.  Oh my!  What ever happened to the good old days.

You Can’t Take It with You:

1101978090_univ_lsr_xl

Who says I can’t take it with me?  I sure as hell am going to try.  Like Pharaoh, I am going to build a big mausoleum and I am going to put my house, motorcycles, cars, rings, watches, shoes, clothes, wife, kids and anything else I own right beside me when I die.  I am going to collect the biggest batch of things that the world has ever seen, and I am going to have it all buried with me.  Isn’t that what life is all about?  Collecting stuff, collecting things.  Shopping for more stuff and more things until we drop dead.

Maybe I am getting carried away here a bit.  Of course, I can’t take it with me.  Pharaoh might have had it buried with him, but it did not take the tomb raiders long to take it back.  Maybe you can get something that can’t be taken away?  A building named after you.  An airport or street named after you.  A testimonial placed somewhere in your honor.

Alas, people are fickle.   Buildings get torn down.  Name places change with the whims of those in power.  There are only so many airports and streets and there are millions of people clamoring to have their names in places that they think will insure their posterity.   You can’t even take fame with you.  In a hundred years or so no one will remember who you were.

One of the famous tropes among baby boomers is remembering where they were when JFK died. I once asked one of my freshmen college classes this same question and to my astonishment got blank looks.  I could not believe it when one of them said, “Who was JFK?”  Who will remember you when you die?  Maybe your wife and a few friends assuming they outlive you.  So what can you take with you?  Fame, fortune, power, money?  What did Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say: “The Evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  There is nothing on this earth that you can take with you.  There is nothing that will outlive the entropy and erosion that will destroy all the mightiest monuments that have ever been built.  Everything else is an illusion that you take with your to your grave but that is as far as it will go.

Love is the Only Real Purpose in Life:

nLQMZk

You can spend your life looking for its meaning or you can spend your life trying to find its purpose.  Your search will uncover many ideas but none of them will ever suffice.  Nothing will satisfy your quest until you realize that love is the only purpose a human life exists for.  Every prophet who ever existed recognized this simple truth.  Love is the only thing that gives life meaning and purpose.  It is so simple that it escapes many of us.

We look for purpose and meaning in our work, our jobs, our acquisitions, our accomplishments, our credentials and our status, but none of these give us happiness.  The only satisfaction we get in life is from loving others.  The individual who does not know love for others lives a lonely unhappy life.  Love is the power that makes life worth living.  As Jackie Wilson sang in his song Higher and Higher: “You know your love, keeps on lifting me higher and higher.”

I sometimes think love is one of life’s great mysteries.  I have spent a great deal of my life asking the question “What is love?”  I am 73 years old and I am still puzzled as to what love really is.  Is love the same as passion?  Is love good sex?  Is love caring for someone else?  Is love simply wishing no harm for anyone else?  Does love need reciprocity?

People use the term love for many things.  I love my car.  I love my dog.  I love my Nikes.  I love you.  I love him.  I love her.  I love everybody!  Jesus said that love was more than just words.  Love exists in the doing.  How do I show my love for others?  “Greater love has no one than this, that they will lay down their life for another.” – John 15:13.   Do I need to die for someone else to show true love?

I don’t believe that loving things is love.  I don’t think loving my car or my Nikes is true love.  For that matter, I do not think that loving my life is true love or even that loving my wife is true love.  I think true love is a more intangible quality that we can only approximate.  To know true love is to be a lover in a more universal sense.  True love seems most evident during a crisis.  I think that the people who stayed behind on the Titanic to let others have a seat in the lifeboats were true lovers.  I think Harriet Tubman (who ran the underground railroad) was a true lover.  I think Martin Luther King was a true lover.  Lovers are not perfect people by any means, but they know that life is more than just loving oneself or even another single individual.

Let’s be clear here.  I love my wife and I love my sister, but does that make me a true lover?  Not necessarily.  What if I love my wife and sister but I hate immigrants?  What if I love you but I hate Black people or Latino people or people who belong to another religion or another country?  To know true love one cannot hate anyone.  Today we hear a vocal minority decrying “haters.”  However, these same people hate Democrats, liberals, Non-Christians, Gays, immigrants and minorities.  They may love Trump, McConnell, Nunes, Christians and Republicans but they are more haters than lovers.  Jesus did not say “Only love those who are related to you or whom you like.”  He did not say that you can pick and choose who you love.

Love is the most important journey of our lives.  To find true love is to find a love for the world both in concrete and abstract terms.  It is to love globally as well as locally.  It is to love non-kin as well as kin.  It is to love the rich as well as the poor.  It is to love the sick as well as the healthy.  It is to love Democrats as well as Republicans.  Probably no task is more difficult, but no task has more promise for humanity and for our own souls.

Well, this concludes my best of everything series.  In Part 1, I covered some of my book preferences.  In Part 2, I covered more literary ground and in this final Part 3, I have covered some of the ideas that I think are my favorite guides for trying to live a good life.  I am certainly no exemplar of any of these ideas.  I journey down the path and get stuck in some bogs.  On other days, I take a wrong turn.  I often hesitate when I should be charging forward.  On some days, I even go backwards.  My life has regrets, recriminations and misgivings that would fill an NFL stadium.  I know right from wrong and still too often choose the wrong.  But one of my other guides is “do not kill the message because you don’t like the messenger.”  You may need to find your own guides, but you won’t go wrong with any of the four that I have described in this blog.  Try them and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

searching_for_truth_preview00

The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

quotes-by-martin-luther-king-jr6-min

Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

Is Civility Overrated?

be fucking civil

All the talk these days by political pundits, news reporters, columnists, journalists and of course politicians seems directed towards decrying the lack of civility in politics.  It is common knowledge that there is a war between the Democrats and Republicans going on.  Each side sees the other as bent on destroying democracy, mom, god and apple pie.  They have become bitter enemies, and no one is taking prisoners.

To study this problem more, I decided to invoke Santayana’s famous dictum on “those who forget the past.”  I fired up my trusty time machine and selected four eras and events from the past where it seems civility had also been called for.  As you perhaps know, when journeying to the past, you become invisible and there is no way that you can influence any past events.  This is in accord with Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle.  I report on these events in the following four narratives as I witnessed and remembered the discussions.

Moses and Rameses – 1440 BCE

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:   Not on your life

Moses:  Then I will bring numerous plagues to smite you Egyptians

Rameses:  Go ahead.  See if I give a dam

A few weeks later:

Rameses:  Look Moses, can’t we be civil about this

Moses:  Sure, let my people go

Rameses:  Not happening

Moses:  Then I will bring a new plague that will strike all first-born Egyptians dead

Rameses:  I thought we agreed to be civil.  Can’t we discuss this more?

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  The hell with you Israelites

One week later:

Rameses:  Moses, I thought we agreed to be civil.  Look how many of my people you killed

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  To hell with you, get out and don’t come back.  I hope I never see you again

Moses:  Now that is what I call being civil.  Goodbye!

in pursuit of civility

War of Independence – 1776 CE

King George:  You dam colonists.  Who do you think you are?

Benjamin Franklin:  We are your loyal servants my lord, who merely want to be treated with the same rights as Englishmen in your country

King George:  You are low-lifes with no civility.  I can’t believe you dumped all that tea in the harbor?  Furthermore, you don’t even have tea-time each day like we do.

Benjamin Franklin:  My lord, the customs in our country are very different

King George:  Different my ass, you people are nothing but barbarians

Benjamin Franklin:  All we want is to eliminate taxation without representation

King George:  Do I look like I care what you want?  I’m the king

Benjamin Franklin:  I am afraid we are prepared to go to war over this issue my lord

King George:  We want to have a civil discussion and you dare to threaten me?

Benjamin Franklin:  What does civility mean to you my lord?

King George:  Your people stop whining about our taxes and get their asses back to work

Benjamin Franklin:  I will bring your message to my people your lord, but I don’t think they will agree

King George:  Then we will crush them like we crush all the enemies of the empire.  They will be begging for tea and not coffee.  You are dismissed.

12-years-slave

 

Somewhere in Mississippi – 1860 CE

Plantation Overseer:  How many times Moses have I told you that you can’t run away?  You are going to get another whipping boy

Moses:  Yes, master

Plantation Overseer:  How many lashes do you think you should get Moses?

Moses:  I don’t rightly know master

Plantation Overseer:  Look Moses, I want to be civil about this, so I am asking your opinion.  I was thinking that since it was fifty last time, we should add ten making it sixty.  That would be ten for each time you ran away – agree?

Moses:  Go to hell!

Plantation Overseer:  Mind your mouth boy.  I thought we were having a civil and friendly conversation and now you go ahead and insult me with your vile mouth.  I am going to add ten lashes to your whipping.  That will teach you to be more civil!

Moses:  Go to hell!

four-components-of-etiquette-33-638

Hollywood Producers Office – March 15, 2018 CE

Producer:  Look Emily, I would like for you to get on the couch and take your clothes off

Emily (Aspiring actress): I don’t understand what taking my clothes off has to do with an audition

Producer:  Well, you have heard of “quid pro quo” right?  Well, I just want you to do me a little favor and then I will do you a bigger favor

Emily:  And what if I refuse?

Producer:  Can’t we be civil about this?  We are both adults

Emily:  I do not plan to screw my way to a role in your production

Producer:  I am tired of trying to be civil, now get your ass on that couch

Emily:  Unlock the door!  Please let go of me!

Producer:  Just relax, you will enjoy it more

Emily:  Get off me, I will scream!

Producer:  Can’t you be more civil Emily?  I am just doing this for your own good

Emily:  Fuck you, get off me!

Producer:  Not until I finish what we started

Emily:  Crying

Producer:  See it wasn’t so bad was it? Maybe after this we can be more civil to each other

Emily:  Screw you!

trump on civility

Well, that is all the time I had for my time journeys. I report the above narratives to the best of my memory.  I was wondering what messages or meaning I could ascribe to these events in terms of the problem of civility that I mentioned earlier.  I know Trump, McConnell, Graham and many others on both sides of the aisle have all called for more civility in politics.

Somehow though, I question when and where civility is appropriate and where a good “Screw you” is more appropriate.  I have no doubt that civility is of value in some circumstances but like any value, perhaps it can be overdone.

death of civility

Webster’s defines the term Civility as: 

1:  Archaic training in the humanities

2a: Civilized conduct, especially COURTESYPOLITENESS

b: A polite act or expression

If we dismiss the first definition, we are left with courtesy and politeness as being the sine qua non of civility.  But I ask, who and when should we be courteous to?  Should we be courteous to:

  • Someone who is robbing us
  • Someone who is trying to kill us
  • Someone who is obviously lying to us
  • Someone who is preaching hate and fear
  • Someone who is taking money from the poor to give to the rich
  • Someone who will deny others the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

sarahhuckabeesanders1

There is a time for civility.  I have no doubt.  But there is a time for anger and indignation.

It takes more courage to stand up to bullies and wrong doers than to merely stand passively by and acquiesce to calls for civility.  To conclude, I observe this about civility:

  • It is often a call by the more powerful to the weaker to be subdued and humbled
  • It can be used to hide evil of the first order and should be suspect
  • It is of merit only when it is reciprocated

Beware the Trojan horse!  Beware those who want civility without justice, truth and freedom!

Time for Questions:

Are you always civil?  When are you not civil?  Why?  Do you agree that civility is not always a virtue?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“In politics, disagreements between opponents is the sign of a healthy and flourishing democracy. When politicians show too much deference to each other, fundamental ethical questions are likely to get buried and power can go unchecked. Meyer points out that insults are a non-violent way of curbing the excesses of the powerful, and he argues that politics must therefore ‘allow for a boorishness typically at odds with polite society’. Similarly, Kennedy argues: ‘The civility movement is deeply at odds with what an invigorated liberalism requires: intellectual clarity; an insistence upon grappling with the substance of controversies; and a willingness to fight loudly, openly, militantly, even rudely for policies and values….” Meyer, ‘Liberal Civility and the Civility of Etiquette’, 79; Kennedy, ‘The Case against “Civility”’, 85.

The above exercpt is from:  “Six Questions About Civility” by Nicole Billante and Peter Saunders, 2002

 

 

 

Four Things You Should Know About Facebook and the World

I have lost track of how many years I have been using Facebook.  However, I have not lost track of all the times that people say to me “I never use Facebook (FB) because it is etc., etc.”  They then proceed to give me a litany of reasons why they: 1. Have never used Facebook or 2. Why they think Facebook is useless.  I have found the following four beliefs to predominate among the reasons why Facebook has been deemed as either useless or even dangerous.

  1. Facebook is a waste of time. It has too much stupid stuff and trivia.

I would be richer than Mark Zuckerberg if I had a dollar for every time I have heard “What do I care about what people had for breakfast today.”  Great, you don’t want to know where I went, what I did, who I saw and what I eat?  Use your little finger to scroll down or push delete or go to another site.  I have lots of friends who do care and who want to know what I am doing.  I have had many comments on my FB site such as “It was so much fun to follow you on your trip.”  “I love your postings.”  “Thanks for sharing.”

If you think my postings are trivial, meaningless, inane, or asinine, great.  I respect your opinion.  So “Defriend” me.  Go elsewhere for your trivia.  Find your daily dose of bullshit someplace else.  But don’t criticize something you have never tried or condemn others because you find their lives not worth knowing about.

  1. Facebook can’t be trusted. They will sell valuable information about me.

Facebook is a business first and foremost.  How do you think Zuckerberg got so rich?  FB is full of advertising and advertisers want to know everything about you, so they can sell you stuff you don’t think you really need.  They will convince you that you really need it.  This has been going on since Moses convinced Pharaoh to let his people go.

Do I trust FB not to sell my innermost secrets?  Do I trust Zuckerberg not to share information about me with advertisers, political marketers, vendors, pollsters and other information seekers?  No more than I would trust hanging from the Empire State Building with my wife’s sewing thread.  You must either be deaf, dumb or blind if you think you can trust anyone selling you something or giving you something for free not to have some hidden catch or some gimmick to get more money from you.  Did you ever notice that FB is free or has that escaped your attention?  What is free?  Do you really believe it is free?

As far as information privacy goes, observe the following that I tell all my students and you will probably not have much to worry about.  It goes like this: “If you want to protect your privacy, then do not text, tweet, photo, Instagram, email, voicemail or say anything in public that you would not put up on a billboard in downtown New York.”  Period.  That is the only way that you will protect your privacy today and I doubt even this admonition is full proof.

  1. Facebook is full of lies and “false” facts.

So, you want to make decisions based on evidence, data and facts?  Facebook is no doubt full of bullshit, opinions, innuendo, conspiracies, lies and unsubstantiated claims beyond counting.  The lies on FB are more numerous than the stars in the sky or the molecules in the universe.  However, I will tell you a secret. There is no evidence, data or facts that are 100 percent true.  Everything we know about the world is only based on theories buttressed by repetition or replication.  The more our predictions happen, they more confident we are they are accurate.  However, science in like the weather.  You don’t count on the weather forecaster being 100 percent accurate unless you are a fool.

Throughout history, we have seen theories and facts overthrown by newer theories, newer facts and newer evidence that help better match reality with theory.  The world was once flat, then it was round, now it is more elliptical.  Our knowledge of everything keeps evolving and changing.  Some people see it as a search for the TRUTH.  However, the TRUTH does not exist or if it does, it is only like the wind.  It will blow one way today and another way tomorrow.  Facts, data and evidence have a probability of being accurate.  They will never be 100 percent true.  My father used to say, “believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  I have found this to be moderately good advice.  It works very well on FB and on the Internet in general.

  1. Facebook should be a social media and not political.

“John, you are too political.”  “I don’t want to hear your rants and raves.”  “Why can’t you keep your politics out of your Facebook site.”  “Facebook is for family and friends and should not be political.”

The splash page on my FB site now shows a picture of Elie Wiesel and a quote by him that reads “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”  He also said, “We must take sides.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  Before this, my splash page had a picture of Martin Luther King and a quote by him that read, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I believe that living in a society and hence to be social means to be political.  If you live in a society, politics is the coin of the realm that defines the rules and procedures that govern the interactions between human beings.  No one can be apolitical in a society.  To believe so is to lie to yourself.  I put my politics out there.  I don’t care if you like them or if you don’t.  I want others to know that there is someone in the universe who probably feels like they do.

Before Trump was elected, I put up a Hillary sign in my front yard.  My neighbor who was also a Hillary supporter came over to warn me.  She said “John, I would not put that sign up in this town if I were you.  It could be dangerous.”  I decided to talk this over with my wife Karen.  I did not feel that I had the right to jeopardize her safety as well mine.  She said that she supported keeping the sign up.  My decision was sealed by her willingness to risk whatever might happen by putting a sign up in a mostly pro-Trump rural town in Arizona.  A week or so later, one of my good friends who lived nearby saw my sign.  She asked me to if I could get her one.  I did get her a sign and I think we might have had the only two Hillary signs up in our town.

I use FB as a means to share with others who in these rather trying times might have fears of speaking out or who might feel that they are alone.  I want my friends to know that I am political and that I share with some of them the same beliefs, values and ideas that they have.  I firmly believe that we cannot change our present problems or deal with issues by silence.  However, if you don’t like my politics or ideas then you can do as so many others have and simply defriend me.  Frankly, they say we are defined by the company we keep.  I would rather keep company with those who share similar convictions about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Time for Questions:

Do you use Facebook?  Why or why not

Life is just beginning.

“You should protest about the views of people you disagree with over major moral issues, and argue them down, but you should not try to silence them, however repugnant you find them. That is the bitter pill free speech requires us to swallow.” — Julian Baggini

 

 

 

Freedom of Expression

I was walking down the street the other day and I saw three White guys beating the heck out of a Black guy.  The Black guy was down on the ground and the three White guys were taking turns pummeling him.  I rushed up and yelled “Stop, what the heck do you guys think you are doing.”  One of the White guys answered “what does it look like, we are beating the shit out of a Black guy.”  “What did he do”, I asked.   “What do you mean what did he do?  “He was being Black” came back the reply.

“Are you guy’s crazy?  You can’t just beat someone up for being Black.”   I retorted.

i-dont-give-a-fuck

The three guys huddled for a minute and finally one of the three (A guy with bright red hair and lots of tattoos) came out of the huddle and took me by the shoulder.  “Look he said, you look like a fairly intelligent guy.”  Two of my friends over there never went to college.  I went for a few years so they nominated me to talk to you. “

“What is there to talk about?  You have no right no beat up on this poor man”, I answered.

“Aahh, that is where you are wrong” said Tattoo Guy.  “We have every right.  In fact, we have a constitutional right to beat him up.”

“Are you serious or trying to kid me, I ask.”

“No I am not kidding” said Tattoo Guy, “I am very serious. It is our constitutional right.”

“OK,” I say, “I will bite, what is the right you think you have?”

“Well” says Tattoo Guy, “have you ever heard of ‘Freedom of Expression.’  The constitution struthays every American citizen has Freedom of Expression.  Thus, we are just expressing our free rights as American citizens to beat up on people we don’t like.”

“I am not sure that is what the Founding Fathers meant by Freedom of Expression”, I answer.

“Well, frankly we don’t give a fuck what you think.  Furthermore, if you keep interfering we might just sue you for violating our constitutional rights.”

“Hold on now.  I thought we were having a friendly conversation here.  Now you are threatening to sue me.  On what grounds?” I ask.

I could see Tattoo Guy thinking about my question for a while and then he answered “Well, since you are being so polite about it, we won’t sue you, at least not for now.”

“Wow, thanks” said I.

trump-and-pc“Look, said Tattoo Guy, we voted for Donald Trump and he respects our Freedom of Expression rights.  We are sick and tired of the PC shit you pussies and commies have been spreading in this country for years.  We are tired of watching what we say and do because we might be called rednecks or bigots or even racists.  It’s a new day for America.  We are going to make our country great again.”

“With Donald Trump as president, I can call anyone I want a nigger, kike, frog, wop, dago, spook, wetback, cunt, fag, pussy, greaser, Jap, slope.  It’s my Freedom of Expression” says Tattoo Guy.

“So basically you were sick and tired of having your Freedom of Expression curtailed by anti-hate laws and people who are sick of being insulted because of their color or sex” I asked?

freedom-of-expression“You are more or less on the right track” says Tattoo Guy.  “Used to be you could tell some nigger jokes, put up pinups of nude girls, even grab a few pussies once in a while and no one bothered you.  Then, all this PC stuff started and before you knew it, you had to watch what you said and did.  A White person’s Freedom of Expression went down the drain.  Well, no more PC now.  So can we please get back to beating the shit out of this nigger?”

“What about this man’s Freedom of Expression” I ask.  “Don’t you think he also has some rights?”

“Sure” says Tattoo Guy, “He can say whatever he thinks.  We don’t care.  Just as long as he doesn’t call us rednecks or bigots or racists.”

“That sounds like a double standard” I answer.

“I don’t think so.  You intellectuals think too much.  You need to do more and think less” says Tattoo Guy.

einstein“Well, what if I told you that I had a Glock Model 40 10mm in my pocket and that if you hit this man one more time, I will take it and blow your fucking brains out.  What would you think of that” I replied indignantly.

“That changes the entire nature of our issue here” says Tattoo Guy.  “We respect your Second Amendment rights to own and bear arms and use them in defense of your country and family.  May I ask if this Black Guy is part of your family?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of John Donne” I asks?  “Donne says”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

“So you are sort of saying that this Black guy here is part of your extended family?” asks Tattoo Guy.

“Exactly,” I reply.

freedom-of-thought

“Well, that’s a horse of a different color then.  If you are related to us because you are White and we are White and he is related to you, even if he is Black, then he is also related to us, which means he is part of our family too.  That’s great, now we have a new brother.  How about if we all go get a beer together?” says Tattoo Guy.

“Sounds like a better idea than beating each other up or my blowing your brains out.  Do you know any good brew pubs?  First round on me” I reply.

Time for Questions:

 Do you think all such stories as mine have a “happy” ending?  What rights do people have not to be insulted or harassed because of their color or sex?  Do you think some rights might supersede other rights?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Freedom of speech does not include the right:

  • To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[Shouting] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”).
    Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
  • To make or distribute obscene materials.
    Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).
  • To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
    United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).
  • To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration. 
    Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
  • Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
    Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
  • Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
    Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).

Freedom of speech does includes the right:

  • Not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
    West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
  • Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
    Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
  • To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
    Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
  • To contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
    Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).
  • To advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
    Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976); Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).
  • To engage in symbolic speech, (e.g., burning the flag in protest).
    Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990).

 

 

 

Facts, Data, Evidence and the Search for Truth – Part 5 – Roadblocks to the Truth

in-search-truth-title

If you have been following my series on searching for the Truth, you will now understand the role of Facts, Data and Evidence in Truth seeking.  Unfortunately, understanding these concepts is not enough.  Regardless of how many Facts or how much Data and Evidence you collect, it is no guarantee that you will find the Truth.  The problem is that there are some substantial roadblocks that often blind us to the Truth.  In the final part of my series on Truth Searching, I will review some of the major roadblocks that hinders or obscures our search for the Truth.

Overview:

A further constraint to Truth searching is that we almost always rely on one of four ways of knowing before we accept the Truth.  I have discussed these in previous blogs, but will briefly touch on them again to demonstrate how they both help and hinder our search for the Truth.

There are four general ways that have been identified which could be called methods or strategies for seeking and accepting the Truth.  Collecting Facts, Data and Evidence are generally indicative of rational thinking, but that strategy is not the only pathway to the Truth.  Many people rely on one or more of these other methods.  The four stratagems to Truth searching are:

  • By Authority (Someone in authority tells you what to believe)
  • By Experience ( Some life experience you had conditioned your thoughts)
  • By Rational Thinking (You have some Facts, Data or Evidence you trust)
  • By Tradition (Your tribe, family, culture etc., has always done it this way)

For a more detailed discussion of these four strategies, please see my blog “How Do I Know What to Believe”

There are strengths and weaknesses to each of these strategies.  By themselves, they are not roadblocks to the Truth but they carry the potential for obscuring the Truth.  These strategies become barriers to the Truth when they are distorted by the numerous biases and roadblocks.  The majority of the ones that I will discuss fall under the following headings:

  1. Denial
  2. Delusion
  3. Heuristics/Cognitive Biases
  4. Fallacies
  5. Ideology
  6. Emotional Biases

Denial:

andre-gide-novelist-quote-believe-those-who-are-seeking-the-truthDenial generally means that we refuse to accept any logic, evidence, experience, data, facts, authority or any other means of Truth finding.  It is an outright refusal to accept anything that will change the deniers mind.  One example of this is the current debate (at least among some) as to the issue of global warming.  Climate deniers argue that there is no change in the overall earth’s temperatures and that the warming is simply consistent with overall weather patterns in the earth’s history.  Those opposed to this view point to a considerable stockpile of evidence, facts and data to show that the weather changes are not part of a historical pattern but are indeed a change in past weather patterns.  Nevertheless, climate deniers refuse to change their minds.

Two questions arise from this issue.  First, why do they so consistently refuse to accept any logic?  Second, how can we change their minds?

The answer to the first question is simple.  People who deny the obvious are protecting their self-image.  For these people to change their minds is to admit that they are wrong.  This is not easy for many people.  An article by The Mojo Company identifies the following five reasons why people will not admit that they are wrong:  “Why is it so hard for people to admit they’re wrong?”

  • Defensiveness
  • Equating identity and actions
  • Pride
  • Experiencing shame instead of guilt
  • Believing apologizing equals absolution for everyone else

 Some other reasons that could be added to this list include:

  • Avoidance of negative emotions
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lifestyle protection

 This brings us to the second question:  “How can we change their minds.”  It should be quite obvious that no amount of rational or cognitive argument is going to be persuasive with such people.  Research into this question has been ongoing.  Here is one answer to the question:

“A comprehensive study published in 2015 in Nature surveyed 6,000 people across 24 countries and found that emphasizing the shared benefits of climate change was an effective way of motivating people to take action—even if they initially identified as deniers. For example, people were more likely to take steps to mitigate climate change if they believe that it will produce economic and scientific development. Most importantly, these results were true across political ideology, age, and gender.”  —- You need to get inside the mind of a climate change denier if you want to change it — Neha Thirani Bagri

What is our “take away” then in terms of dealing with someone who is engaged in Denial?  I think some points might be helpful to remember:

  1. You cannot argue them out of their positions.
  2. Facts, evidence and data are useless.
  3. Empathy for others may be impossible or fruitless.

My final answer to the second question based on recent research as well as years of fruitless arguments, is that the primary path to change for someone engaged in Denial is what might be called “Enlightened Self-Interest.”  Self-interest may be the only path to a productive solution.  Meaning that if you want to change someone’s mind, you might as well forget about it.  However, if you want to change someone’s behavior, then the solution is to find a path for them to change based on their own self-interest.  E.g. lower their taxes, create jobs for their children, raise their income levels, or improve their lifestyle.  Sad but true, much change in the world is not based on logic or facts or even empathy.

Delusion:

When we say that someone is delusional, it usually means that we think they are out of their mind or that they are engaging in some fantasy.  We ignore what they are saying because it is too remote from reality to even consider.  It is drastically over the top thinking.  The Google dictionary definition of Delusion is:

“An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.”

truth-and-liesThus, we typically ignore or give a pass to someone who is “delusional” because we think either they are sick or that they are not in a good state to make decisions.  No sane person would try to talk or argue a person who is delusional out of their Delusions.  However, what if the person is sane and they engage in Delusions?  This seems impossible but it happens all the time.  One example will suffice:  Anderson Cooper was interviewing some Trump supporters on his show.  He asked one young woman what it was she liked about Trump.  Her response was “He is just like us, except he is a billionaire.”  Millions of Americans seemed (if voting was any indication) to agree with this statement.  To any logical person looking at the background, upbringing and behavior of Trump, this statement would seem ludicrous.  It would seem to indicate an extreme case of delusional thinking.  But, by all standards of psychiatric analysis, this woman and her supporters are not insane.

I use the above example to show that delusional thinking is not only the property of insane people, but it is actually a common state for millions of people all over the world.  Here are some other examples:

  • Lottery ticket buyers
  • Gamblers
  • People who think that places like heaven and hell exist
  • People who believe in ghosts and spirits
  • People who love to believe in conspiracy theories
  • People who automatically accept every urban myth on the Internet
  • People who believe implicitly in horoscopes or astrology
  • People who believe implicitly in the power of science to save the world

Looking at my list, you have probably found yourself in one of the above groups.  In fact, most of the human race fits in one or more of the above examples.  But, you answer: “I am not delusional. Your system and concept is all wrong.  Everyone else does the same thing.  The casinos and churches are full of people who think just like I do.”  Yes, you are right.  Millions of people engage in delusions every day.  Delusions are often what helps us get through the day.  Delusions are fed by hope that some reality is going to change.  But if we consider a belief in a horoscope as a fact, we are delusional.  Facts, Evidence and Data all show that Horoscopes are phony, bogus, irrelevant superstitions that have no basis in reality.  My mother loved to read her horoscope and also to occasionally go to a fortune teller.  My mother was convinced that she would be rich some day and leave all her children a million dollars each.  When my mother died, all she left us were bills for her funeral.

“A delusion is a belief that is held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.”Wikipedia

Based on the above definition, I could argue that anyone who thinks they will win the Lottery is delusional.  If the evidence is a 100,000,000 million to one against you winning and you still buy a ticket, are you being logical or delusional?  If you believe in heaven and hell, but no one in the history of the human race has been there and back, are you being logical or delusional?  I state these points to demonstrate the utter impossibility of changing anyone’s mind who is delusional or who subscribes to some Delusion.  Whether it is you who are sane or your crazy cousin, anyone who is subscribes to some delusion is beyond rational experience and logic.  No amount of arguing will change your mind or your cousin’s mind.

“There is some wisdom in the adage not to attempt to argue a delusion away. By definition, delusions are tenaciously held despite presentation of contrary evidence. How certain are we of anything? How might you respond if someone told you, you are not who you believe yourself to be? Most people are likely to defend their belief about who they are and this is also true for delusions.”  — Responding therapeutically to disturbing beliefs, By Richard Lakeman © 2003

What is the take away then here?  Can we find a way to the Truth through a Delusion?  The simple answer is that we are all going to face people who have one or more delusions in their lives.  Whatever the Delusion they hold, it is the absolute Truth to them.  I do not believe there is any way you are going to talk or argue them out of it.  If anyone can find an antidote to delusional thinking, I hope you will share your solution in my blog comments area.

Heuristics:

In 1984, while I was in my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, I discovered the book Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases by D. Kahneman and A. Tversky.  It was one of the most influential and important books I have ever read.  In 2002, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on decision making.  Kahneman was one of the pioneers in the emerging discipline of Behavioral Economics.  This discipline would go on to show that the concept of rationality in economic decision making was severely flawed.

thomas-edisonThe basic premise of the work by Kahneman and others in his field is that while most of us try to be logical and rational, our decision making is often flawed by biases and heuristics that influence our decisions.  The book Judgment Under Uncertainty catalogs the major types of cognitive errors that we make and gives many examples of each.  One of the most common ones that many people recognize has been called the “Gamblers Fallacy.”  Let us say that you are rolling a dice.  The odds of any one number being rolled are 6 to 1.  So let us say that you roll four three times in a row.  What are the odds that you will roll a 4 on your next toss?  Higher or lower than 6 to 1?  Many if not most people would now assume the odds against rolling another four might be 30 or even 40 to one.  In fact, the odds for rolling a four on the next toss are still 6-1.  This fact would surprise many people.  Mentally, we confuse the odds of an individual toss with the odds of running a series.  The odds of rolling four in a row on a dice are much greater than the odds of rolling any particular number.  What are the odds of rolling a number four times in a row on a dice?  We can calculate it as follows:

There are 6 possible outcomes where the dice are all the same:

1-1-1-1
2-2-2-2
3-3-3-3
4-4-4-4
5-5-5-5
6-6-6-6

There are a total of 1296 outcomes for any four dice –> 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 = 1296.   So the probability is 6/1296 or 1/216.  In other words, the probability is over 200 to 1 against rolling any number four times in a row.  The probability of rolling a number on any particular throw though does not change.  It is still and always will be 6 to 1.

There are too many biases to list in this blog, in fact over a hundred different biases exist and more are being found on a regular basis.  Wikipedia has a list at:  “List of Cognitive Biases.”  This list is broken down into the following three categories of cognitive biases:

1  Decision-making, belief, and behavioral biases

2  Social biases

3  Memory errors and biases

There is a great deal of information on these biases but the key issues and thus questions that concerns us is how do these biases affect our search for the Truth and what can we do to overcome these biases?

The answer to the first question is simple.  They hide and distort the Truth from us.  If we misperceive the possibility or likelihood of anything happening, we fail to make accurate judgements.

The answer to the second question, whether or not we can overcome their biases can be summed up by the following reply: Yes and No.

Yes, we can provide information and education that can help to show the bias or error in their thinking.  Keep in mind that it will be hard for some people to accept what you are telling them.  For instance, in explaining the Gambler’s Fallacy, the more number oriented a person is the easier it will be for them to understand the fallacy.

No, you cannot change anyone’s bias with new information when you are talking about things that are outside their belief system.  They must have a framework in which to incorporate the Data, Evidence and Facts that you try to provide them.  Such frameworks vary in complexity but they can be taught.

Fallacies:

A fallacy is an error in reasoning.  However, so is a faulty heuristic; so how can we tell them apart?  In fact, I don’t know if you always can and I am not sure it really is important.  Looking at the online Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it states that:

“Researchers disagree about how to define the very term “fallacy.” Focusing just on fallacies in sense (a) above, namely fallacies of argumentation, some researchers define a fallacy as an argument that is deductively invalid or that has very little inductive strength.” 

No doubt many biases can fall in either category as a heuristic or a fallacy.  An error in reasoning or a bias can be due to many causes.  The common denominator to both categories is that we are talking about errors in cognition or cognitive biases rather than emotional biases.  You would think that would make these types of biases more subject to rationale argument but as I have noted above, that does not seem to be the case.  People hold on to their biases whether cognitive or emotional with an iron fisted tenacity.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists approximately 218 different fallacies.  Many of these, I confess to never having heard of.  It would probably take another Encyclopedia to catalog all of the reasons for the different fallacies.  I am surprised there are no Ph.D. degrees for Fallacy Finding.

quote-finding-the-occasional-straw-of-truth-awash-in-a-great-ocean-of-confusion-and-bamboozle-requires-carl-sagan-293275After even a slight perusal of these fallacies, you might be thinking: “Why bother, we can never find the Truth, there are too many roadblocks out there.”  It probably seems like a hopeless task, something akin to finding the Holy Grail or the Ten Commandments.  I admit that the recent Presidential election and its results would seem to support the invincible nature of stupidity and ignorance.  The world seems overwhelmed with those who would dwell in biases, bigotry and hypocrisy and have little interest in finding the Truth.  The Truth becomes whatever they are told or choose to believe.  The media parrots disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.  How can anyone find the Truth amidst this forest of propaganda and distortion?

Nevertheless, if I succumbed to total despair, I would not be writing this.  As the line goes:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”  — Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

So, I have hopes that if even one person out there reading my blog has a second thought or an insight garnered by my somewhat tedious prose, I will be blest and perhaps have made a slight difference.

Ideology:

An ideology is something you believe in.  Dictionary.com defines an ideology as:

  1. The body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
  2. Such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

truth-next-exitOne of the most unnerving but interesting books I have ever read was the book “True Believer” by Eric Hoffer.  This book explains the thinking or lack of thinking behind zealots, fanatics and what Hoffer calls “True Believers.”  After reading this book, it was clear to me that ideologies, whether left wing, right wing, fascist or even liberal could be dangerous.  The Greek Golden Mean “All things in moderation” kept coming to my mind.  A “True Believer” will not tolerate or listen to dissent or argument.  They are so convinced that their way is the only way that dialogue and discussion with them is fruitless.  In fact, many “True Believers” will happily kill you for their ideology.

Most ideologies seem to revolve around either religion or politics.  Probably one reason why people always say not to discuss these subjects with strangers.  The strong feelings that these subjects evoke have been the cause of much violence throughout history.  Many blame religious ideologies as the main cause for wars in history.  However, there is a dissenting view that says non-religious ideologies bear the blame for the most wars and the most deaths throughout history.

 “The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars.  Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government.”  — The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War

People steeped in an ideology have natural blinders on to the Truth.  They are convinced that they already have the Truth and they have no interest in Truth seeking.  In the history of wars in the USA, we can see the impact of American ideology on the world.  We seem to be constantly involved in wars to spread Democracy and Free Enterprise.  We are blinded to the downsides of both these ideologies.  In fact, most Americans do not see them as ideologies but as virtues that they want to share with the rest of the world.

dont-keep-searching-for-the-truth-just-let-go-of-your-opinions-quote-1Furthermore, because our ideologies are so good, we cannot believe that anyone has the right to reject them.  We do not care if the rest of the world does not want to share them, we will bomb and kill you until you see how good our ideologies are.  We are totally closed minded in our belief that Democracy and Free Enterprise are truly universal virtues that the rest of the world must adopt.  We have become a nation of True Believers in the “American Dream.”

What is the antidote to Ideological Thinking?  Can we talk someone into seeing a new gestalt or world view?  I would never want to say it is impossible, but it is damn difficult.  Nevertheless, examples abound throughout history of people who have changed their mind.  Some examples in America include:

  • Abraham Lincoln (Believed that slavery was evil but changed his mind about what to do about it)
  • Malcolm X (Who once believed that all White people were devils)
  • George Wallace (Who believed in racial segregation)
  • Robert McNamara (Who believed in the value of the Vietnam War)
  • Barack Obama (Changed his position on Gay marriage

Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon believes that consistency of thought is not particularly a positive trait. It is better, even healthier in fact, to have an idea that contradicts one you had before.  Smart people constantly revise their understandings of a matter. They reconsider problems they thought they had solved. They are open to new points of view, new information, and challenges to their own ways of thinking.  — The Smart People Change Their Minds

Emotional Biases:

We have come to the last category in my list of obstacles to Truth seeking.  In many respects, this is the largest category in terms of biases and also encompasses the biases that are the most difficult to change.  Someone who has an emotional bias is usually beyond the pall of argument and rational dialogue.  To understand this, let us take the following example.  We have Chloe who is in love with Michael.  Chloe plans to marry Michael and her parents are dead against it.  Michael in their view is unreliable, untrustworthy and prone to anger and unpredictable acts.  They can see no reason why Chloe loves Michael.  Question:  What arguments or logic, or Facts, or Data or Evidence do you think they could bring forth to change Chloe’s mind?   If you answered NONE, you are in sync with my thoughts.  You have all heard themes similar to this:  “Love is blind despite the world’s attempt to give it eyes.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo

marcus-quoteEmotional biases are formed by experiences or ideas derived from each of the four categories of knowing and believing that I briefly discussed earlier. We can derive an emotional bias from a strong attachment to anything and it does not matter whether we have Facts, Data, and Evidence.  An emotional bias comes from the heart as opposed to a cognitive bias which comes from the brain.  Of course, in practice both sets of biases tend to overlap and support each other. Someone with a strong cognitive bias can become very emotional about their beliefs and someone with a strong emotional bias may tend to only accept Facts which support their bias.  In either case, we face the same difficulties with trying to get the individual to seek the Truth.  Notice, I did not say see the Truth.  Perhaps, some or more of what they already believe is the Truth or at least part of the Truth.

For instance, to return to Chloe and Michael.  Michael may indeed be all the things that Chloe’s parents believe about him but he may also be all the things that Chloe loves about him.  He may often be kind, thoughtful, generous and fun loving.  The Truth is seldom single faceted and is much more analogous to a multi-faceted diamond.  Think of Truth as having hundreds of shimmering glittering surfaces.  You turn it one way and you see some facets.  You turn it another way and you see other facets.  Some facets shine more than others.  Some are larger and more apparent than others.  You cannot see the Truth without seeing all of the facets.  That is what makes Truth seeking so challenging.  The number of facets in a diamond may be difficult to count but the number of facets in the Truth may be close to infinite.  Furthermore, unlike a diamond, the Truth keeps changing.  The Truth you may be seeking now will be a great deal different then the Truth you might find ten or twenty years from now.

In Conclusion:  Some final thoughts to share:

“A desire to know the truth does not endow one with the ability to understand or accept the truth.”  — Joseph Crosby Mecham

“Walk with those seeking truth… Run from those who think they have found it.” — Deepak Chopra

This has been a very long blog. Thank you for reading it.  I hope it has helped you to think about ways to seek and search for the Truth.  I was more certain when I started this blog that I could help describe a concrete definitive path to the Truth.  Writing this blog has made me realize how difficult the search is and the near impossibility of ever finding an absolute Truth about anything much less a concrete path to the Truth.

I have found one Truth for now though that I can accept and that is that we must try our best to keep an open mind and an open heart in our search for the Truth.  Perhaps I will change my mind about this in ten or twenty years. 🙂

Time for Questions:

When was the last time you searched for the Truth?  Did you find it?  If so, what helped you to find the Truth?  What roadblocks did you have to overcome?  What do you think would help more people to find the Truth?

Life is just beginning.

“We awaken by asking the right questions. We awaken when we see knowledge being spread that goes against our own personal experiences. We awaken when we see popular opinion being wrong but accepted as being right, and what is right being pushed as being wrong. We awaken by seeking answers in corners that are not popular.  And we awaken by turning on the light inside when everything outside feels dark.” — Suzy KassemRise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.” — Abraham LincolnSpeeches and Writings, 1832-1858

 

Facts, Data, Evidence and the Search for Truth – Part 4 – What is Evidence?

In Part 3, I tried to explain the second pillar of Truth finding and look at what Data is and what it is not.  We also looked at the difficulties with collecting objective and valid Data.

In Part 4, I want to discuss the role of the third pillar (Evidence) in Truth finding.  Let us start with a standard definition of Evidence from Dictionary.com.

  1. That which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
  2. Something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible Evidence of his fever.
  3. Data presented to a court or jury in proof of the Facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.

If your look at the third definition, you might be excused for finding it somewhat circular.  Evidence is data in support of facts?  I don’t think I have a clue what this means.  The first definition can be easily mistaken for what we called Data in Part 2 and possibly even hard to distinguish from a Fact.  The second definition is so subjective that I am amazed they even listed it.  So what is Evidence then?  Here is my definition.

Evidence is relevant Facts and Data.  There are lots of Facts and Data out there but not all are relevant to our proposition, case, theory, hypothesis or concepts.  Evidence must have relevance to the issue we are studying.  What do I mean by relevance?  Let me give you an example.

crime-scene-evidenceI am working to prepare for a chess match with my neighbor.  I happen to note in the paper the Fact that tomorrow will be a quarter moon.   Does this Fact have any relevance to my playing chess?  I don’t think so.  Thus, I don’t really care that there will be a quarter moon.  As far as my limited cognition or perception, I can see no relevance between the Fact of a quarter moon and my preparing for my chess match.  I could be wrong. We can always mis-perceive the relevance of some information to an issue. This is often done in science and in police work.  We don’t see the connection between two issues and we misjudge the outcomes.  This provides one good reason for diversity and numbers in problem solving.  You have less chance of being blindsided if you have a variety of opinions rather than just your own.

listen-to-all-the-evidenceLet us look at another example where the issue of relevance is more salient.  I am planning to go on a trip to England in 2017.  I want to plan my trip for the best possible time of the year.  I hypothesize that two Facts or Data points are very important to my planning.  The first is the temperatures at various times of the year in England.  The second is the rain fall.  I found the ranges for this data on a weather site and used the information to plan my trip.  Of course, some of the decisions anyone makes will depend on their own weather preferences.  I wanted to minimize rainfall and also keep the temperature in a moderate range.  What I call sweater weather.  Thus, both these set of factors were relevant and important to my planning.  I would call them Evidence to support the time of year that I decided to go.

science-does-not-give-a-shit-what-you-believeOn the other hand, if you like rain, you might have picked a different time of the year than I did.  There were other mitigating factors which played a role in my decision making.  These factors included costs for lodging during the year and transportation costs during the year.  In general, off season times have better rates but are somewhat the worse for weather.  Another factor was the value of the pound to the dollar.  I considered the value of the dollar to the pound post Brexit but concluded that I did not have enough information to effectively evaluate the impact of this data on my decision.  I am assuming that with the volatility involved in the situation, the value of the dollar might go either way against the pound.  My best guess is that I will benefit if I go as soon as possible.  The news has recently noted that after Brexit the value of the pound fell 14 percent against the dollar.  This would mean I could get a significant cost advantage if I purchase anything in England.  I am hoping this situation will continue until after my trip but there are too many variables at play here for me to use this information.  I can only hope.

chain-of-custodyA more common example of relevance can be found by looking at police work.  We are all familiar these days with what is called Forensic science.  I am sure most of you reading this have watched some police show.  As soon as a crime is discovered, the Crime Scene Unit (CSI) is brought in to collect Evidence.  Keep in mind that everything at a crime scene is not Evidence.  Only what may have a possible relationship to the crime.  This can be a real problem.  The CSI unit is going to be limited by their assumptions concerning what might be relevant.  For instance, I doubt any Crime Scene Investigator will care whether or not the light bulbs are “bright” or “soft white” in the kitchen or bathroom.  It is impossible to collect all the “Evidence” of stuff that might be related to the crime.  Thus, relying on experience and training, the police investigators do their best to collect Facts and Data that appear to be relevant to the crime.  The relevant Data and Facts are not just interesting, they are Evidence.  The more they relate to the crime, the stronger the Evidence will be.

bag-labeled-evidence-with-gun-and-handcuffsAn eyewitness can provide Evidence via his/her testimony as to the events of a crime.  The relevance of any eyewitness is high but the reliability of an eyewitness can be much lower.  Second hand testimony is not as relevant as first hand testimony and is thus weaker Evidence.  Testimony that might be compromised by some factors such as police record, bias, discrimination, physical disabilities might be relevant but will be weaker Evidence because the validity of the Evidence is suspect.  That is why lab procedures and chain of custody is so important to police work.  They may have the most relevant Evidence imaginable but if the validity of the Evidence can be comprimised because of sloppy police work, the Evidence will be useless.

The same is true of scientific Evidence.  It must be valid and reliable.  One example of how a Fact was exposed as a lie was in the work on so called “cold fusion.”  Here is an excerpt from a paper on the dubious development of cold fusion in a laboratory:

“One year after the press conference that had garnered Pons and Fleischmann so much attention, the scientific process had finally been able to sort through the evidence regarding cold fusion.  Few groups had found support for the hypothesis, and those few had inconsistent results and could not reliably reproduce their findings.  This lack of replicable evidence was a major blow for cold fusion. The laws of nature don’t play favorites.  If cold fusion works in one laboratory under a certain set of conditions, we’d expect it to work in other laboratories at other times under the same conditions. Hence, lack of reproducibility is a serious problem for any scientific finding, casting doubt on the validity of the original result and suggesting that there’s been a misinterpretation of what’s going on.”  — http://undsci.berkeley.edu/lessons/pdfs/cold_fusion.pdf

evidence-root-cause-acneIt is seldom that findings of Evidence in police work or business are subjected to as much scrutiny as occurred in the so called development of cold fusion.  Perhaps, since this was a finding of great scientific importance, it was held to a more rigorous standard than would occur in many other scientific studies.  I am thinking in particular of findings in the health field, nutrition field and drug field.  In each of these fields we often have much less rigor before results are posted or accepted.   Business is even worse with advertisers spouting outright lies and fabrications.  Little known phenomenon are routinely heralded as being highly reliable Evidence of the benefit of some product or service that someone wants to sell you.   All kinds of spurious Facts and Data are then marshaled as Evidence to support the phony claims by Madison Avenue advertisers.

Next week in Part 5, the final part of this series on Truth, we will look at how one can put the three pillars of Facts, Data and Evidence together to find the Truth.    

Time for Questions:

Can you tell me how you know a true Fact from a false Fact?  How do you decide what to believe?  How much credibility do you put in the news that you hear?  How do you choose the news that you want to hear?  How do you decide who is telling the Truth?

Life is just beginning.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the Truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real Facts.”  —  Abraham Lincoln

Facts, Data, Evidence and the Search for Truth – Part 3 – What is Data?

In Part 1, I discussed the difficulty with finding the Truth.  It is a quest complicated by the amount of information that we are inundated with on a daily basis.  It is further complicated in that much of the information we find is either erroneous or outright lies.  The average person has never studied information theory in school and is ill equipped to sort through the morass of Data, Evidence and Facts that are presented to them.  In Part 2, I tried to break down the concept of what a Fact is to help people better understand its role in truth finding.  In Part 3, I will try to break down the second pillar of truth finding and look at what Data is and is not and the difficulties with collecting objective and valid Data.

data

What is Data?

I hope to dispel some of the confusion over the concept of Data and make it easier for people to see the pros and cons of using Data.  We have too many people in business, religion, government and the military who do not understand what Data is and who misuse it by quoting statistics and numerical information incorrectly.  One negative result is to confuse people over what is true and what is not true.  An even more insidious result of the misuse of Data is incorrect decision making.  During the Vietnam War, the inflated enemy kills and deflated enemy troop levels led to a total lack of ability to plan strategically for the war.  Thousands of people were killed on both sides by the negligent and criminal misuse of Data and statistics on the part of the military and defense department.

“Former CIA analyst Sam Adams told a federal jury here Monday that Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland caused a “massive falsification” of intelligence during the Vietnam War by imposing a ceiling upon the numbers of enemy troops.”  — Westmoreland Blamed for Faulty Troop Reports : Witness for CBS Testifies General’s Policy Caused ‘Massive Falsification’ — January 15, 1985, RUDY ABRAMSON 

fast_data_brain_treeWhen I started working with Process Management International in 1986 after completing my doctorate degree at the University of Minnesota, I met the famous quality improvement expert and renowned statistician, Dr. W. E. Deming.  Over the next seven years, he had the most profound influence on my life in terms of helping me to understand process improvement, statistics, quality and the use of Data to improve everything from widgets to health care.  Under the influence of Dr. Deming, our company adopted his motto “In God we trust, all others bring Data.”  Dr. Deming also said “Without Data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” So what is Data?  Merriam Webster dictionary defines Data as:  “Facts or information used usually to calculate, analyze, or plan something.”  This definition is very misleading and inaccurate.

In the first place, Data is not necessarily a Fact.  Data is unorganized bits of numbers and calculations which by themselves do not add up to a Fact.  For instance, here is some Data:  3, 4, 7, 15 and 12.  Individually, these numbers do not mean a thing.  As an example, take the English alphabet, which is composed of 26 letters.  Each letter by itself means little or nothing.  Data by itself usually has no meaning or significance.  It must be organized before it will have any meaning or usefulness.

Secondly, Data is not information.  A letter by itself does not provide information of anything nor does a single display of numbers or statistics provide any information.  You must put them together to mean something.  When they are put together in some form of a relationship, they can then be called information.  For example, 2+2= 4 constitutes bits of Data put into an equation that gives me the sum of the individual bits of Data.  Data aggregated in some type of meaningful form becomes information.

“Look beyond the numbers you see to what they mean and understand how the numbers presented may not fully capture the important details you need to consider.”Statistics Abuse and Me by Jay Mathews:

man-data-analytics-chalkboard-ss-1920If we understand what Data is, you have now entered the deep forest.  However, we have a long way to go before we can get out of the forest.  There are numerous obstacles along the way.  Referring again to the concepts of validity and reliability, we must ask ourselves the same questions we asked about our Facts. Is our Data reliable and valid?  How did we collect the Data?  What method did we use to collect the Data?  Are we taking a few samples each day for several weeks or are we taking a few samples for only a few days?  Are we using a random sample or a stratified random sample?  Different methods of collecting Data will lead to different results.  And we are not even talking about interpreting the Data yet.  For instance, when I worked at W.T. Grants cutting shades back in the late 60’s, I was told to make sure I took my measurements with a metal tape measure and not a cloth or plastic measure.  The reason given was that it was easier to stretch a cloth tape measure and get a false result.  This would lead to cutting a shade that was too large and would not fit.

The process of measuring something must also match the purpose or objective.  Dr. Deming frequently used the example of cleaning a table to discuss measurement problems.  Dr. Deming emphasized the need to know “why” something was needed to be done.  If a person is asked to clean a table, how can the person understand the level of cleanliness required without first understanding why they are performing the job in the first place?  If the table is to be used as a workbench, it would require a different level of cleanliness then if it were to be used as a lunch table.  Even more different if it was to be used as an operating room table.  Understanding why we are doing something is critical to determining the appropriate measurement process.   The measurement process will influence the Data we obtain.

Here are several other problems that are commonly encountered when collecting Data:

  • Irrelevant or duplicate Data collected
  • Pertinent Data omitted
  • Different measures of the same object by those collecting the data
  • Erroneous collected
  • Too little Data acquired
  • Insufficient time to collect the Data properly
  • Poor methods of storing or archiving Data
  • Lack of a systematic method for collecting Data

If we have addressed all of the above problems, we are still not out of the forest, in fact, we are probably only about one half way through the forest.  We now face the most daunting and difficult task of all.  We must attempt to interpret the Data and catalog the Data without bias.  A number of movies have been made which illustrate the difficulty of presenting Data or information without bias.  They are all based on what has been labeled as the Rashomon Effect. roshomon-effect

“This is a term used to describe the circumstance when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved. The term derives from Akira Kurosawa‘s 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder involving four individuals (suspects, witnesses, and surviving victims) is described in four mutually contradictory ways. More broadly, the term addresses the motivations, mechanism, and occurrences of the reporting on the circumstance, and so addresses contested interpretations of events, the existence of disagreements regarding the Evidence of events, and the subjects of subjectivity versus objectivity in human perception, memory, and reporting.”Wikipedia

It is inevitable that any observations we make in life are biased by the prior experiences we have.  Our senses are not infallible measures of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.  Each of our senses is infused with the Data that they have already been exposed to.  The prior Data that each of us has already experienced will influence our future perceptions.  Similarly, our brains are also biased by prior ideas and experiences.  We cannot get away from bias.  Sadly, extreme bias leads to a lack of credibility and objectivity.  (We will discuss the concepts of objectivity and credibility in more depth when we discuss Truth in Part 5 of this article.)

I noted earlier that there is no solution or at least I have not found one to our central problem in terms of searching for the truth.  It is no easy matter to find Data, organize Data and interpret Data in such a way that we eliminate bias and insure objectivity.  The scientific method is one system for collecting and organizing Data to test a theory or hypothesis that is invaluable.  The method can be summarized as follows:

  1. Make an observation
  2. Propose a theory or hypothesis
  3. Design and perform experiments to test the hypothesis
  4. Collect Data from the experiments
  5. Determine if the Data, Facts and Evidence support the hypothesis

There are millions of scientific experiments that have been conducted since the founding of the scientific method.  The results of these experiments have helped us to develop civilization and many of the modern conveniences we now have.  Science has added to our health, safety and longevity in so many ways that are beyond dispute.  Without science, we would still be living in caves, dying in our twenties and eating cold meat.  The scientific method is the single most important method for identifying the truth that has ever been developed.

screen-shot-2014-11-05-at-11-50-43-pm-820x1024Unfortunately, the scientific method is not infallible.  It is subject to bias and disagreement over Data and interpretations.  Even more problematic is that the scientific method is not a strong method when it comes to testing subjective theories that cannot be verified by Fact.  For instance, “Is the Mona Lisa beautiful?”   As stated, this is a subjective question that each individual will hold a different opinion on.  However, if I asked:  “Is the Mona Lisa the most beautiful painting in the world?”  I could attempt to answer that question with a bit more objectivity.  I could conduct a survey to see what percentage of people think it is the most beautiful.  Subjective studies are not as strong as objective studies since they usually lead to results that follow a bell shaped curve.  Thus, if we conducted the above survey, we would probably find that a certain percentage of people thought it was the most beautiful painting and a certain percentage did not.  As in politics, opinions of beauty would be all over the place.  This is why politics is so much more difficult to “Fact check” than issues like the atomic mass of hydrogen.  Politics is a very subjective field that resists efforts to test and Fact check.  Some examples that would be difficult to test with the scientific method would include:

  1. Who will make the best President or Leader?
  2. What is the best way to deal with ISIS in the Mideast?
  3. Should we support the UN more strongly in its peace keeping role?
  4. What is the best way to create jobs and stimulate the economy?

Each of the above questions could be stated as a theory, but each would be difficult if not impossible to prove due to the difficulty of collecting objective Data.  By objective, I mean Data that is not biased.  In Fact, it would be difficult to even collect accurate Data to prove any of the above questions.

Where does the above discussion leave us?  I fear the outcome of this discussion will not be satisfactory to anyone looking for some full proof means to find, catalog and interpret Data that is 100 percent accurate, reliable, valid and objective.  The closest we will come to such a process is the scientific method.   Alas, even this method is not full proof and as we all know, science is subject to a great deal of bias and distortion, at least in areas where Data is more subjective than objective.  However, even in areas such as Global Warming where one would think the Data could be found that is objective and reliable, we still find a great number of people who argue that Global Warming does not exist.  This raises the final and most difficult problem to solve before we are out of the forest and that is the problem of denial and delusion.  I will defer this discussion to Part 5.

afrobarometer-data-1Finally, if I have left you with some understanding of the difficulty with interpreting Data, I will have felt successful.  The first step to knowledge is awareness of our cognitive limitations.  We also need to be more skeptical when people present us with Facts and Data.  My father used to say “Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see.”  I still consider this good advice.  There are too many fools and charlatans out there trying to convince us of things for a multitude of reasons that will benefit them and not us.  Just as we would not walk down a dark alley in an unknown city by ourselves, we need to exercise caution when presented with Data and Facts.  The more we understand the limits of Data and Facts, the more prepared we will be to make decisions based on Data and Facts that have a higher degree of validity and reliability.  If the Data, Facts and Evidence that you base your knowledge on are not accurate than everything you think you know will be at best a half truth and at worst a total lie.

Next week in Part 4, we will look at the concept of Evidence and the how this concept informs our search for the truth. 

Time for Questions:

Do you understand what Data is?  Do you know what a Bell Shaped Curve is?  Do you trust the Data you see in the news? Do you trust what your local political leaders tell you?  How accurate do you think the news is when reporting information?  What do you think biases your own interpretations of Data and events?  How do you try to be more objective when studying a problem?

Life is just beginning.

“Any time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient Data.  Then we can agree on what kind of Data to get; we get the Data; and the Data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on.  That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: