I’m going to venture into waters that could get a person censored these days. And no, it has nothing to do with v*xinations or C*v19. That’s all back burner now. 

The topic that could get me censored is one that goes against every narrative out there. And isn’t that the real reason for censorship these days? The subject I’m talking about is: Logic.

You see, I taught Logic for many years. To eighth graders of all people. Let me tell something about eighth graders: they love to argue. And they are extraordinarily good at catching fallacies.  Especially if they are detailing arguments involving them and their parents. Spoiler: the fallacies were never on their end.

But really, they were really good at this class. For half the year, we dove into deductive arguments in the form of syllogisms. They learned what constituted a valid argument.  They looked at inductive arguments and what constituted a sound argument. The point was to look at how the premises were logically connected to the conclusions.

Wait, what?  Premises are supposed to be supported and lead to conclusions? It’s really stupid to argue a conclusion. A more important strategy is to either 1) show that the form of the argument cannot be valid, as in a deductive argument, or 2) show that the premises lack backing, grounds or support, as in an inductive argument.

Does that sound confusing? These were eighth graders, and they got this quickly.  They loved the section on fallacies and easily picked these out of examples given them from the news at that time. 

Obviously, there is not enough space for in-depth discussion of logic.  But perhaps we can all be aware how we analyze information and reach conclusions. One of the most important steps we can take is not accepting information at face value. Every day there are charts, graphs, and memes which support our opinions and demonize people who oppose our beliefs. 

Maybe we don’t just repost, retweet, or repeat opinions that support our own. Maybe we challenge the sources. At the very least, let’s identify the sources. Is there a vested interest in that opinion? Is the opinion thoughtful and respectfully presented? Are any of the premises supported in significant ways? 

If all we are doing is “supporting” our own opinions, we are not moving towards understanding. The nature and scale of our problems today require that things change. Tech platforms have become entrenched with narratives that just keep adding chapters to existing stories. If we can respectfully say, let’s look at the “argument” in the narrative, perhaps we can get to the heart of the issues. 

I am certain that teaching geometry helps develop reasoning. But with all that we face today, maybe we need a more direct approach. Maybe we should be focusing on logic and rhetoric: how to think critically and present ideas that are well thought out.  We teach the art of the persuasive essay and how to build an argument.

Anyway, I am hoping that every 8th grader that took Logic (and every 12th grader that took Rhetoric) remembers some of what they learned.  And that they are willing to challenge narratives and stories that lack any semblance of logic. It matters what we think and how we reach our conclusions.

We can all learn basic logic. At the very least, we can agree to not post one thing that is not well documented. We actually read the studies, the bills, and the essays from real journalists. They are out there,  just not on CNN, FOX, MSNBC or any of the larger media organizations .  

I fully agree with another brilliant Lewis Carroll quote,  “People who don’t think shouldn’t talk.” 

Being Right or Getting it Right?

Brene Brown recently asked if we are more interested in being right than getting it right. The answer is, in most cases, obvious. From mainstream to social media, being right is the goal. The only goal.

Rolling Stone magazine just ran a story about a hospital that treated so many ivermectin overdoses that gunshot victims had to wait untreated. It was a horrifying story except for one problem: it wasn’t true. They hadn’t treated ivermectin overdoses and no one went untreated. Woops. The magazine had to issue a “correction.”

For many years, I taught Rhetoric to high school juniors and seniors. If any of them had made that claim without backing it up, they would have seen a lot of red ink. And a grade that reflected lack of critical thinking. I don’t understand how we can teach courses like calculus, but not logic, in our schools. No one looks at the media and observes a lack of math skills.

The truth is that most don’t even notice the lack of logic. I’m not sure what class teaches our kids how to think, reason, build arguments, or critically analyze them. If we want to give an opinion, we simply state it and lump all dissenters into some name-calling category. It’s the same on both sides.

Oh that we could collectively stop, take a deep breath, and agree to some ground rules: One, acknowledge two sides to every issue. Second, every claim must have supporting reasons. The degree to which one’s argument is strong is the degree in which the reasons—and supporting backing–are strong. Third, apply the assumption of good will to others and don’t use vitriol.

And no matter the issue, we focus on getting it right. This most often involves recognizing that information is continually changing, “facts” take time to verify, and everyone has a different ground level of belief. Perhaps we could stop judging people as good or bad based on how their beliefs line up with our own.

Processing life can take a minute. At the core, we are all living, breathing, problem-swaddled people trying to do the best we can. The only way “being right” can work is if we surround ourselves with other “right” people. Ah, the love we feel for people just like us.

But feeling good isn’t love. It’s ego. To truly love another, we accept their value as a fellow human. To accept the vaxxer and anti-vaxxer, the one who is boycotting Texas and the one supporting the state’s ruling, the mask wearers and those who stand against.

I know people in all the various groups. And while the rhetoric on unsocial media is upsetting, the people behind it are likely trying to make sense of life. Perhaps fearful. Likely overwhelmed with it all. Human.

Being right is a quick process. We take a stand and practice name calling and finger pointing. Getting it right, however, is anything but quick. It’s a life-long process of learning to let go of our ego and learning to love those not like us. It doesn’t exclude arguing; it excludes name calling and bad words as substitutes for critical thinking. It excludes hatred.

For those that want to argue their way through issues, perhaps learning how to argue would be a first step. Put a conclusion on a piece of paper. List three reasons why you believe that to be true. Then find two or three pieces of support for those reasons.

I have no idea how to get it right these days. I just want to stop caring about being right. It’s time we examine our motives and decide where we stand on this. Do we care more about being right or getting it right? That question should make us all think.

Prismatic Perspectives

One of my greatest joys as a teacher was teaching a Logic course to 8th graders. That age group just loves to argue. They are quick to find fallacies and invalid conclusions, especially when they are someone else’s!

If I were teaching today, I would introduce a new fallacy called the “I don’t understand how” fallacy. The more you are aware of it, the more you hear it.
I was listening to an interview with a public figure who was talking about one of the presidential candidates. “I don’t understand how anyone could have voted for someone who…(a number of reasons). I have friends who voted for him and I don’t understand how that’s possible.”

It’s as if our lack of understanding is proof that someone is wrong. If something is beyond our ability to believe, then anyone who believes that is wrong. 

Most fallacies oversimplify another’s point of view by assigning it the worst possible motive. Instead of saying “I don’t understand how” and leaving it there, maybe we should be saying “I want to understand how.” The public figure who couldn’t understand how his friends voted for a candidate could have asked. I have kind, thoughtful, and compassionate friends who voted both parties.

Their reasons are as complex as they are. They are standing in different places, and they see different “colors.” We have prismatic perspectives. The light we see is reflected differently and our perspectives will be different as well. 

I really don’t care about opinions on facebook and twitter. But if people I care about have different perspectives, I want to be able to understand them. I don’t want to ever assume the worst possible motive. It’s really ridiculous to argue a conclusion. It is important to understand how people reach conclusions, and often, it takes time to peel back emotions and get to reasons.

It would be nice to actually argue the issues involved, which would involve supported premises and conclusions that follow. But until then, maybe we could at least remember that even if we can only see one color of the prism, there are at least six others that may just as “true.” 

Maybe it’s easier just to say, “I don’t understand how…”