Pre-election thoughts

Consider the popular notion that men hate asking for directions or reading instructional manuals that accompany a recently-purchased product.

Whether myth or reality the idea gets at the workings of a man’s mind. Physically, men are generally more powerful than women. Men also have evolved or been socialized to be protectors. Power and protector then translate into control. Hence, Chief-of-Staff Alexander Haig’s incredulous proclamation after John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan: “I’m in charge here.” He wasn’t. Vice-President George Bush was.

Haig’s expression was outward, but men often insist on having inner control, the reason why “real men” don’t cry.

French philosopher Rene Descartes famously declared, “Cognito, ergo sum,” which translated from Latin means, “I think, therefore I am.” Immediately, critics took Descartes to task for formulating a simplistic reduction to explain the complexity of human consciousness.

For our—citizens of a democracy—purpose though, let’s operate on the principle that Descartes has a point and use a syllogism, which is “a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion” (Merriam-Webster), to deepen it:

For a democracy to remain vibrant, it’s essential citizens vote. Voting should be a thoughtful process. Therefore, it’s every citizen’s duty to think before voting.

“But I do think,” I can hear you declare. To which I reply, “Oh, really?”

Another syllogism: I am a columnist for a mainstream newspaper. A columnist’s job is to offer thoughtful commentary. Therefore, my job is to write pieces that make readers think.

That seems simple enough, except that it isn’t all that simple. Studies show that we don’t like to be discomfited by having our thinking challenged, preferring for it and our feelings to be validated. Thus, we resist reading pieces that challenge our comfort zone. If you’re like that, it’s likely you took umbrage at my contention regarding the level of thought you put into marking your ballot.

In one study, a professor formed teams of seven to nine college students who were assigned a simple task: Identify which of three line-lengths was the one they had been shown previously. The complication was that of the team, all but the one who was always last in the row, were confederates of the professor, so, “conspiring” against the individual at the end.

Initially, the confederates correctly identified the correct line-length with which the test subject agreed. Then after several rounds, the group-in-the-know conspired to identify an incorrect answer as the correct one. That, of course, caused confusion for the test subject. He was faced with either agreeing with what he knew to be a false answer or to hold his ground, speak what he knew to be true, and resist the group pressure. The outcome: Thirty-seven percent of the test-persons set their conclusion aside and concurred with the group.

Thirty-seven percent. Consider that number in context of national polling.

Every election, we’re told, is the most consequential to date. While seemingly an overused, hyper declaration, there’s truth in it because each election either affirms or overthrows the previous one. In 1956, Americans liked Ike so much, they gave him a mandate for four more years. Four years later, not so much, electing John F. Kennedy rather than Eisenhower’s heir-apparent Richard Nixon.

Labor Day marks the traditional beginning of the fall campaign. Leading up to the election, in conjunction with my six-part series on post-truth, I will be presenting reflective pieces that hopefully will challenge assumptions. Which might mean creating discomfort for you.

One topic is the notion of free will, which implies personal power. (Re-read the opening paragraphs for context.) Related to free will are predicted behavior, scams, and dog-whistles.

Other topics to be considered:

  • the American Dream, death or myth of;
  • revolutions, separating political upheavals from social, economic, and cultural ones;
  • the expanding generation gap powered by ever-accelerating technological advances
  • guilt by association and invalid conclusions

One of the toughest things to think about is one’s thinking process. That will be my goal: To encourage self-reflection about what you choose to believe, what you “know” is true, and how you reach your conclusions.

It might cause you to lose some sleep. Now, there’s something to think about.

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