what the world needs now is logic, sweet logic

Democracy gives all a voice, but what if the majority follows a voice that is heavy on volume but light on reason? How can we inject basic reason into dialogue, whether the everyday or on the national and global stage?

Hubby and I recently spent an enjoyable evening with my nephew and some of his late-twenty-something friends. It was an energizing back and forth of ideas and experiences. At one point, while discussing a certain Republican Presidential Nominee to the south of us, I made a proposal.

If more people were educated in the basic fundamentals of logic, then fewer people would be sucked in to support irrational leaders. My suggestion? Make Introductory Logic a compulsory course in high schools, colleges and universities. This basic, practical and immensely valuable field of study should not longer be an option.

I loved the intellectual challenge of mind-stretching academic courses, but the most practical course I took in high school was Typing 101. It was a class usually taken by those on the vocational track, future secretaries and clerks. I can’t remember why I took it, but I loved it. Sr. Edith Clare was a friendly drill master, determined to teach us speed and accuracy. I embraced the challenge and developed both.

When I began university, term papers were still hand-written. Few intellectuals wasted their time on type-writing skills. I banged out my work on a manual Underwood, proud of the professional look of my very mediocre papers.

With the coming of computers, typing skills proved even more valuable. No Mavis Beacon for me. Typing morphed into key-boarding, and my flying fingers still ruled.

I didn’t finish my degree until after the birth of my fifth child. My first courses as a distance student were Intro to Philosophy and Intro to Logic. Again, I don’t know why I took them, but they ended up being my most valuable and practical courses in all further studies.

When heady philosophical theories tied my brain in knots (a frequent occurrence), I picked up my Logic text-book and began solving Boolean equations, or spotting the fallacies in sample arguments. I loved the beauty of balancing values, proving them true or false.

Learning basic logic became an invaluable tool in my reading and writing. Whether for course work or blogging, I’m constantly nagged by a voice in my head that questions and challenges the words on the paper or screen; whether mine or others.

Philosophical reasoning and logic joined my high school Typing class in practicality. What some people consider light-weight “artsy fartsy” studies, actually teach the most basic, the most practical skill needed in today’s society.

How do you use reason to think clearly, judge wisely, and speak as truthfully as possible? Truth is not truth because you think or feel that it is. Truth must be proved.

When basic rules of discourse are ignored, dialogue becomes impossible. For example…

Instead of responding to a statement, one attacks the person. Trump is the master of the ad hominem argument. In primary debates and now in the presidential race, his preferred mode of response is to hurl names at his opponents. Dare to question or criticize him? Be prepared for the slings and arrows of his outrageous bullying. But, don’t expect any solid evidence for his outrageous statements.

Today’s media inundates us with news stories around the clock. Having a basic grasp of logical reasoning can help to filter through the morass of biased or unsubstantiated resources. Do the premises presented in an article or news report support the conclusion stated in the headlines? Where is the proof for the truth claims? Is the article presented as an objective reporting of facts, or an opinion piece?

Knowing the difference between fact and opinion is crucial in discerning the truth value of a statement or argument.

Discussion boards and letters to the editor are great exercises in honing reasoning skills. The next time you see an online discussion dissolve into a fight fest, try to spot the moment when dialogue ended. Was it a mean-spirited comment attacking the person? Was it an assumption that if the writer believes A, then he or she also believes B, C, D and more? Was it simply a statement that had nothing at all to do with the issue at hand, trying to high-jack the discussion to focus on one’s own agenda?

Promoting an understanding of basic concepts of logical reasoning can provide the tools necessary for wise discernment in a democratic society, making it much harder for irrational fools to gain or maintain power.

 

when silence is not golden

Dialogue respects diversity and never demands uniformity of thought. At it’s best, dialogue is a lively interchange of ideas, opening our minds and hearts to new thoughts. Our ideological perspective is tested, perhaps nudging us to tentatively turn a few degrees to the right or left of long-held assumptions.

Silence is an important part of dialogue. Silence is a gift of conversational space, given to the other so thoughts may be shared without interruption. Silence also allows us to listen well, in order to speak well.

For me, a good dialogue is energizing. Aggressive, verbal sparring, on the other hand, leaves me drained and depressed. My modus operandi in the face of confrontation is to shut up and shut down.

I’ve learned to stay clear from online bullies and trolls. (Ok, it’s easy to avoid both when you haven’t been writing much!) We can’t always avoid the everyday, conversational bullies. What if we aren’t given an opportunity to speak? What if we are so overwhelmed by an aggressive tone that we simply “clam up”? Is it better to be silent than to jump into what seems to be a useless argument? Is it better to simply tune out and let the person go on. And on. And on?

Silence is not always golden. Silence in the face of verbal aggression can feed the aggressor, leaving them free to boost their own ego by bullying and belittling others.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

For Trump, it seems, silence is a useless vacuum. An empty space begging to be filled with his unique brand of stream of consciousness rants. One gets the sense that he never stops to think before he speaks, or bothers to listen to anyone but himself. He got away with it, in large part, due to the silence handed to him on a silver platter by Republican leaders scared of the consequences of not endorsing a legitimately chosen nominee.

Sr. Joan Chittister, in an article for the National Catholic Reporter titled Leadership is Lacking in this Election Cycle, addresses the dangers of this silence,

The election caravan of crude and crushing comments moved merrily along while Republican after Republican climbed meekly aboard, most of them eyes down, and, most of all, silent…Instead of “I cannot endorse that statement of Donald Trump, this kind of name-calling, that kind of ignorance,” what the country has gotten is silence from the very leaders who are supposed to be safeguarding the level of democracy in this country. There is not an elementary school teacher in this country who would have tolerated this kind of talk on the school playground, not a high-school debate coach who would have allowed such abuse from any of their teams to go on uncorrected, uncensored.

Silence, in order to ponder or listen, is golden. Silence, for a bully, is a golden opportunity.

dialogue tips from scripture

2Peter1

The first reading in today’s liturgy could be a mission statement for online dialogue.

My two recent posts were on the topic of radical Catholic blog sites, and the harm and division that is caused when impassioned apologetics morph into hateful attacks. The disintegration of dialogue in our church and in the world cannot be blamed solely on the far-right. Liberals, too, can be just as guilty of hasty judgments and harsh words for those sitting on the other side of the ideological fence. (Mea culpa!)

The reading above is worth pondering…

faith with virtue

Be vocal in your beliefs, and you automatically open yourself up to accusations of hypocrisy. (I feel the sting myself.  Hubby often gently nudges me to live the nice words I write….sigh…) No one is perfect, but our faith is best expressed not through passionate evangelizing, but through our actions.

virtue with knowledge

Knowledge IS important in a dialogue. We might feel strongly for or against a specific issue, but if we want to engage in an effective discussion we must do the necessary head-work to understand the back-ground and roots of the issue we are discussing. (See an informed conscience…please!)

knowledge with self control

Ah, self control. Knowledge is never meant to be used as a battering ram or a means to inflate our egos. Dialogue is about effective listening and effective speaking. Speaking effectively allows others to understand what we are trying to say. This doesn’t mean that we need to “dumb down” our discourse, but some of the smartest and most educated people I know are also the most humble. They have an economy of words that draws you to listen and ponder what they have said. Pope Francis is a perfect example of this.

self control with endurance

For dialogue to succeed, we need to “stay at the table” when the going gets tough. I struggle with this, especially if faced with a bully. I hate confrontation, and usually respond with silence instead of sharing my views. We all have a right to be heard, and need to exercise that right.

endurance with devotion

Being committed to dialogue requires a passion for the process itself. We enter into dialogue not to change another’s mind, but with the hope to seek common ground. Each dialogue is a small step to mutual understanding. It’s not always easy and seldom gives you the satisfaction of having “won”.  We do it because we believe it is worthwhile.

devotion with mutual affection

Now here’s the crunch. Dialogue is almost impossible when the parties are divided by deep seated hatred. Think of the fragility of peace processes around the world. We need to let go of our own, personal bigotry against the “other” if we want to commit to dialogue. (I can already hear Hubby challenging me again!)

mutual affection with love

Ok…it’s one thing to ask me to “like” the person in a difficult dialogue…but, love? Yet, we all know that love is at the root of Christianity. Blog writers, columnists, and discussion board commentators that call themselves Catholic while spewing vitriol and venom are far from shining examples of Christian love.

Love. So Simple. So hard. So necessary.