A Tribute to Dr. King

I have just been listening to a couple of African American guests on a talk show. Both, as far as I could tell were perhaps in their 30’s and roughly comparably educated.
The first identified many ways that our U.S. society has been structured to maintain an inequitable and unjust system that uses race as a lever for applying power. He suggested that we must change the culture, and suggested some broad ways this might be done. Our culture – a complex cultural milieu, I would say, as there is no uniform cultural state for all the people – is the ultimate driver of any systemic or institutional change. Changing culture, under the best of circumstances, is a challenge.
The second speaker spoke about the inequities, largely in access to realizing aspirations, and generally economically expressed. Her general message seemed to be that things were worse now than they had been in her past – presumably the 90’s, and that it felt very defeating. Whether she got to what should be done to change things, to stop and perhaps reverse the decline, I don’t know. I was frankly unimpressed by what sounded like a complaint against not having gotten the fortune she deserved from life. This was a seemingly healthy, educated young woman who had recently had a book published, but the closest she came to speaking out for those very oppressed by conditions was her use of the first person plural pronouns.
When I was teaching, roughly half of my students were African American, many from low income or homeless/highly mobile situations. I sought readings by writers whose backgrounds were not unlike my students. I once asked if, in their experience, the students thought things were getting better, worse or staying the same for people of color. I didn’t ask this question again, however. Most of the students said nothing, but a couple took angry exception to having such a conversation.
I didn’t pursuing the topic. It was moving farther from our academic goals, but I wonder now about the reticence. Was I out of bounds for opening this discussion? I enjoy (albeit ashamedly) white male privilege. There are many accidents of birth that burden us with guilt. Or was their reluctance from a sense of pointlessness, bitter resignation to society’s chains? Or was it something else? A fear that it could become an avouchment of the guilt of their “accident of birth?” Was it that, as a representative of the system, I held power, not to be relinquished, and therefore not of any benefit to the African American case, and possibly a harm. Yet I was really, perhaps selfishly seeking affirmation of my observations from outside the situation that things really were, or seemed to be in decline.
Open forums are of course necessary, complex and difficult. But recognizing that a problem exists certainly is a good first step. Better still is envisioning a goal – one that is rewarding, but realistically achievable, generally legitimate and challenging enough to engage thought and energy. Then the problem becomes more clearly definable as what is keeping us from that goal. After that, developing and carrying out a plan to resolve the problem and achieve the goal become the hard work of positive change.
These are ancient algorithms, and on this day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2019, it seems a blind miss not to point to the great leaders of our Civil Rights Movement were by whatever avenue informed on moving against the problems that kept people from that mountain top. It was an historic period of our history as well and a significant and powerful action. Where has it left us though?
Perhaps we should stop worrying about whether things are better or worse; they’re not there yet. Perhaps it’s not so important that life isn’t fair or that the tangibles of injustice spring from the ephemerals of culture. Perhaps having a plan isn’t enough if we haven’t defined and generally agreed to a clear destination. Dr. King moved the plan forward toward a destiny. Yet that plan lost steam when the destination became increasingly unclear, fragmented and divergent. We make our own destinies, but when those are unaligned, we’re on the way to destiny in a bumper car ride.
Right now, it seems like more than anything, we need to get our destiny, which is not just the destiny of Black people but of all people, back to a rewarding, achievable, legitimate, challenging and defined destination. If it holds all of these conditions, its attainment will be so empowering that it could spark the further march to solving some of the even more daunting problems, such as saving the planet. The hardest part will be effectively redefining and agreeing upon our destiny, our mountain top. This will probably require another charismatic leader. When has this not been the case?

When You Make Your Voting Choice, Consider

Many folks will be trying to convince you to vote one way or another. Here are some ideas about what to listen and ask for, and how to react to what you hear. Persuasion works from three platforms, each a little lower than the least accessible, and each more accessible, but subject to misleading claims. Supporters and candidates will drop a mass of statements in your lap about truth, proof, evidence and facts in their attempt to persuade you to vote in their favor. Be ready.

  1. Rational arguments require the voter to have a broader knowledge base and be more willing to follow a line of reasoning. “This is how it would work.” (critical thinking)
  2. The voice of authority will ask the voter to rely on history and reputation as a matter of trust. “Have I ever lied to you?” (limited thinking)
  3. And the agitator will play on your baser feelings, especially those that lead to physical response. “FIRE!” (no thinking)

None of them however represents truth, though each has a relationship to facts. So let’s talk about that relationship first.

Facts are by definition real and present. They are not proven by evidence; they are evidence. Facts are accessible to anyone with functioning senses. Glass is hard. Water at room temperature is a liquid. These are not disputable. Right?

Fact Evidence

Not all evidence is factual however. If a person’s fingerprint is found on a murder weapon (fact) that indicates that that person held the (otherwise determined) murder weapon (evidence), but that does not make indisputable that that person actually committed the murder; it’s not proof.

Evidence Fact

A proof is an evidentially sustained conclusion. Proofs are reached by logically arranging factual and circumstantial evidence to a conclusion. Such an arrangement is called a “logic,” and when there are different possible logics, leading to different possible conclusions, any one conclusion cannot be considered an indisputable proof. Furthermore, one might reasonably guess that the more pieces of evidence needed to x_Jay's Oakreach a conclusion would suggest more possible arrangements of that evidence with more possible conclusions. And one would be correct. So does a proof lead to a truth?

Truth is a thorny issue. Is telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” possible? Putting aside Truth, as in the ultimate, divine truth about everything, truth is very simply a belief. If I feel a piece of glass and it feels hard, then I would believe that the hardness of glass is a truth. Of course, if I melt it down and blow it into a vase, I would find that it isn’t always hard. If I mix gelatin into hot water and cool it to room temperature, I might find it is no longer a liquid, but now a colloid. If I can’t count on facts being factual all the time, however will I be able to reach a proof I can accept as truth?

Evidence Proof

Proof Truth

Truth is a matter of what I believe it to be. I guess I’ll just have to have faith to get to the truth. Faith is accepting the unprovable as true. My faith and therefore my truth is mine alone.

Belief Truth

Undertaking actions then, such as voting, based on someone else’s truth is risky. If someone tells you they have the truth, and she or he wants you to accept that truth, you must remember that that “truth” may be believed but it is not provable, whether it’s really true or not. Even when someone tells you what she or he believes, you must still take his or her word for it or not. You can never really know. All evidence of belief and therefore “truth” must be highly circumstantial. The more “evidence,” necessarily circumstantial, that a person provides in support of a truth, the more you need to question that truth. Could such evidence even lead to a reasonable proof? Has that person really accepted that truth himself or herself, or is she or he really just trying to get you to accept it for some other purpose? If more evidence only makes any conclusion more debatable, what effect does more evidence have on the unprovable validity of someone else’s professed belief? How’s your faith in that? Now to the vote.

In choosing who or what to vote for, immediately dismiss any claims involving the word “truth.” Look for factual information that you can see or hear yourself, arranged in a reasonable logic that you can understand, and to a conclusion that weighs well against values and condition you support – Yes, align it with your truth. That’s still not enough.

You have to decide then if the proposition or candidate you “like” can actually get enough support to make that agreeable conclusion a reality. Beside aligning your vote to the most issues of yours that are supported, you must decide if enough of other voters’ issues are supported to have a hope of election. That will require looking more broadly at the whole campaign, all the candidates and issues, and many other societal factors that will impinge on the election.

In a statewide election, issues in one area may not be well supported in other areas. In any election, are their other candidates that support most or the most important of the issues you support? In rank choice voting, you’re asked for your alternative, compromise choices up front. Are there hot topic issues in the public eye that might influence voters? These can often be completely unrelated to the competencies necessary for the role to be played in governing. Such things as ethnicity, race, gender and religion are particularly common “false” factors in voting choices. Is the best outcome

  1. voting for the best candidate,
  2. getting the best alternative candidate elected or
  3. keeping the worst choice from getting elected?

Most of all, avoid the temptation to vote for something or someone because that’s what or whom you were told to vote for. Be wary. If you haven’t been worked up enough to do something constructive, how will it help you to have someone get you all worked up to do something destructive?

And finally, if you want to vote for someone because that candidate is just like you, then write your own name in. You’re probably just as qualified as he or she is.

 

Ethical Authority

2,500 years ago, Aristotle had it right. There are several ways to make a point and move opinion. At one end of the list is reason. At the other end is passion. And this has been how it has been all this time.

Reason tries to get at the truth, because truth like justice should be the best of all conclusions. To get there, the reasoner puts together all the available facts, the evidence. He then presents these facts that anyone can see for themselves in an order that shows how one fact leads to the next and finally gets us to the truth of the point. However, this process takes time, even a lot of time. We have to sort through all these details to get to a point which, if it’s true, ought to seem right on its own. This is where passion comes in.

Passion tries to get at our feelings, because as good and fair people, our feelings should tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. To get there, the empassioner tries to determine what our strongest feelings are. He then lines up his point with those feelings. That point then looks like what is right because it feels right. However, this process does not show anything about how good the point is; it simply ties the point to our feelings about things. That conclusion we blindly take on faith, and faith is good for what is beyond human knowledge. Most of what we make decisions on however is not beyond our knowledge. So, there needs to be another way.

We need something between the pointy-heads’ information-overload and the snake oil salesmen’s slick talk. There is something. In the middle of the making-a-point list is the voice of authority. When we go to a friend we trust, we are going to a voice of authority. When we go to a butcher or grocer who sells good products, we are going to a voice of authority. When we go to a licensed doctor or pharmacist, we are going to a voice of authority. In each case, we go to these people in good faith, knowing about their history or their credentials, and we accept what they say as right. However, authority is power, and it can be misused to deceive or mislead us. There needs to be some way to tell if a voice of authority is really trustworthy.

There are two keys to deciding if a source of advice, a provider of services or a seller of products is deserving: having a good track record and showing little or no benefit to himself.

If the authority has a proven track record, he is more trust worthy. If we’ve done business with him before and the outcome has been good, that’s a good track record. If he has the regular legal certificate or license, and puts it out where we can see it, that’s a good track record. If he’s been around a long time and not received bad reports in the past, that’s a good track record.

If the authority shows little or no benefit to himself in our decision, he is more trust worthy. If the authority offers to share the sources of his information, that shows little or no benefit to himself. If the authority offers ideas on both sides of a question, that shows little or no benefit to himself. On the other hand, if the voice of authority asks us to join him, that shows some benefit to himself. If the authority tell us what we should do, that shows more benefit to himself.

If the supposed authority talks a lot about why we should believe him, we should doubt him. If the supposed authority talks a lot about us rather than someone or something that is neither us nor himself, he may be trying to play on our feelings. If the supposed authority buries us in an avalanche of details, he may be trying to hide something under all that manure.

The voice of authority should sound calm and clear. If it is not, it may be pulling the wool over our eyes or firing us up to do what he wants. An ethical authority tries to help us figure out for ourselves what’s best, because an ethical authority trusts that we can.

 

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