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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dissonance or Ignorance?

 My post on "Iran's "Route" to the Sea" generated some interesting food for thought.

How intelligent and/or how "up on foreign policy" do you need to be in order to gain meaningful insight from the debate?

From my posts "By The Way..." and "The Ignorance of One..." makes it quite clear that far and way people know very little about politics - not even, for example, that debates have actually happened much less what they were about.

So how responsible is the "electorate" for understanding what a debate or election is really about?

Back in the 1960's its pretty clear that, at least from the perspective of John Kennedy no ignorance was the "gold standard" for the electorate.

As a kid and young adult during the 60's and 70's I clearly saw this.  There was a push for "empowerment" which involved education.  There was the notion of you, the peon, gaining knowledge because knowledge was power.

As a young adult coming of age in the 1970's this was present everywhere.  Particularly in the college I attended.

However, it was taught far differently than today.

In those days you, the student (literally or figuratively) sat listening to someone who spoke directly and non-stop about some topic.  It was your job to "fill in the gaps."  A professor or lecturer might mention a name or event in passing - so-and-so said "X" about "Y" - and then move on.

If you didn't know about "X" or "Y" is was your job to find out via research.

We called this the notion "learning to think" because you might also apply it based on a filter - did I believe what so-and-so was telling me or did I think it was false, misleading, or somehow otherwise untrue?  If so it was my job to research the topic until I was satisfied one way or the other.

We also called this "critical thinking."  The idea that just because an "authority" claimed something was true it was.

Nixon was probably the quintessential example of this - Nixon lied, Watergate, and so on.

The entire nation heard the Watergate hearings, discussion of what people said and did, and so on to an incredible level of detail.  Similarly for the Vietnam war - every news report processed and kicked about to determine the direction of the war and the country.

And all this parsed for understanding by the "electorate" to be used as fodder in the next election.

What I and I assume many others learned was that the world did not stop to explain itself to me.

I was nobody and it was up to me to figure out what was going on.

This was reenforced in various classes - ancient Greek in particular.  The professor did not stop for you to catch up - you had to keep up.

As an older adult today I assume I am responsible to be at least as informed as any candidate in a debate because, after I, based on what they say I need to ascertain whether or not they are telling the truth.  If I don't know I need to catch up.

I chose to keep up.

And clearly, at least in 1960, the rest of the US was on board with this as well vis a vi the quote from Kennedy.

But today, as I have written extensively here, the vast majority of people, particularly college graduates, seem not to posses critical thinking skills - mostly as I have mused - because they are today taught what to think and not how to think.

We can liken this a debate to live music performance - in this case Jazz comes to mind.

The musician is like the debater.  On the stage, under hot lights, people watching, no one wanting to hear a mistake, video recording, the rhythm section pounding away at 200 beats per minute.

At this speed you have only milliseconds (.001 seconds or 1/1000th of a second) to decide what note to play next.

Now depending on the song, the instrumentation, and so on there maybe be more than one choice.

And some choices may be better than others.

I can choose basically between a note which is dissonant or consonant.  (A dissonant note might sound "bad" or "out of place" while a consonant note sounds like it "goes along" with the rest.)

Everyone expects, particularly if unfamiliar with certain types of Jazz, consonant notes.  Virtually all popular music outside Jazz uses consonance over dissonance because the music flows much more smoothly to the musically uneducated ear.

But as I wrote in "Monk: The Birth of Be Bop" dissonant notes are not necessarily wrong or out of place - particularly in Monk's form of Jazz.

So from a musical perspective, on stage and under pressure, I chose a note.

To an untrained ear the note may sound "wrong."

So do I, as an audience member, rush the stage to criticize the Jazz musician?

Publish rude humor indicating that the musician cannot play?

Or is it my job to think about what I am hearing using critical thinking (maybe I like the dissonance or maybe not).  In any case the point of Jazz is that its intellectual in this regard.

But like modern political debate today's audience is no longer able to grasp the underlying meaning because they lack the critical thinking skills required or, worse, simply don't care or are too lazy.

So today, presumably a much more modern age than, say 1950, I can listen to Katy Perry or rap songs with three or fewer chords and perhaps a dozen (mostly not foul) words instead of this:

The reason, of course, is that it requires effort to listen to Monk play this.  You must think about what's going on musically.  How it fits together.  How the "big picture" is being painted.

With Katy Perry you merely need to jump around to a beat (not that there is nothing wrong with this but the musical direction from 1950 to today to me simply going the wrong way).

So similarly with political debate today - the audience no longer has the skill or ability to listen critically.

Dissonance today is always interpreted as ignorance.

And, of course, sometimes it is - but without a "critical ear" how would you really know?

So the question is simple.

Given that the vast majority watching the debate are "intellectually deficient" with regard to whose running for office much less the nuance of horses (used in Afghanistan today by US Marines) and bayonets (also used today) what can we expect?

I think we can expect dissonance to be portrayed as ignorance.

One reason I don't directly post political content here is exactly this reason.  This blog is intended to evoke thought.  To require critical think skills to process.

(Fortunately the bar is low for deceiving the "intellectually deficient" in this regard.)

Politics today is simply about simple emotion - like a Katy Perry song.

There's grandma going over the cliff in her wheel chair - there's small minority children starving in their rural hovel - crude jokes mocking dissonance - emotional pictures for sure.

But these are designed, like the wordless books in Fahrenheit 451 to keep people from thinking and asking their own questions.

Quite honestly I think we live in Ray Bradbury's dystopian future.  A future ironically manufactured by the very intellectual elite who are the silent heroes in the novel.

Today we are without the tools as a society to even watch a political debate much less a foreign policy debate.  There simply is not enough horsepower left in society for meaningful critical analysis.  The world is a complex place and does not stop or slow down for the ignorant.

The "factoids" Bradbury chose to condemn Fahrenheit 451 today rule instead.

Simply listen to the voters in the linked videos who cannot identify major congressional figures, parties or people running in opposing parties in the election they are voting for deride Sarah Palin.

A world and society ruled by "factoids..."

Yet somehow today I am expected to "slowdown" so the society which, outside of my control, has somehow slowed to a crawl as I pass by.

I think not.

Instead I think society and academia must be held accountable for the products they have produced.

Fortunately for me I am old and I am not going to hold my breath.

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