Lots of people argue as if they know what they are talking about. They repeat lines they have heard from sources they believe are telling them the truth. With all of the information at our fingertips, we choose to repeat these talking points without curiosity, without skepticism, and without investigation. The problem with this is that most people get things wrong and worse, they cannot stand to admit it.
Today, I gently steered a man in the direction of the actual science regarding climate change after he responded to a post with the myth that climate is always changing and we have nothing to do with it. I led him to a site, one that was science only and free from politics. He then went on about how there was all of this money in research and people were getting rich off from studying it. I led him to a site, one that gave the raw numbers of the top ten schools that receive the 40 billion dollars of science funds from the federal government and pointed out that they were all medical research grants and that climate research did not make the cut when we are talking the larger sums of money distributed. I explained that researchers make less than I do in a year. He concurred and then went on about how there is nothing that can be done about climate change because Russia and China “and all the other third world countries” would not fall in line. Somebody else pointed out that Russia and China were not third world countries. I was not going to bring up the fact that it has been the United States that continuously refuses to enter into global climate agreements.
He ended his part of the exchange with a link that shows the average researcher makes $70,000 a year and he noted how that is outrageous given the fact that these universities get $40 billion. I did not have it in me to further the conversation by explaining the amount of schools amongst which that paltry sum is divided and the amount of work and the cost of the work that goes into a rigorous study. I also did not have the energy to show my shock that this man was not appalled at the ridiculous sum of money that is set aside in the United States budget for SCIENCE. We have 3.77 trillion dollars in expenditures in a year and we give 40 billion to science? Could you imagine a company investing that little into research and development? I let it all go with a simple message. Not everything is political, so maybe we should stop getting all of our information from political sources and maybe we should quit treating our friends and family as if they are our arch-enemies because they simply disagree with our conclusions.
I used to argue with people. Now, I just drop in with a few facts and slowly fade back into the background. My hope is that this approach will foster some curiosity and will result in someone learning just one real piece of information that is politics-free. Maybe that little piece of information freedom will spawn a desire for more. It is a dream, but I keep it. The thing about information is that it is not inherently political, it is what is done with information that is political. Just because it happens that some publication that you believe to be liberal or believe to be conservative is giving you the information, it does not make that information any less or any more true. The Dow’s closing number remains the same. The actor killed in a car accident is still the same. The number of jobs lost when the plant closes down the street is the same. The facts, they are the same, it is only how they are presented that is different. I don’t care much about presentation and frankly, neither should you.
I am not a politician. I have no political agenda. I have a personal agenda. That personal agenda does not involve duping my friends or family. My personal agenda has to do with paying off my car and picking up a few extra shifts so that I can go to Costa Rica and scuba dive. So, my personal agenda also includes scuba lessons in the near future. My personal agenda is learning new things and sharing my knowledge. My personal agenda is to do my part to make this world better, to make the people in my life better, and to make myself better. My personal agenda is not political because I am not a politician. I have some personal issues that are political. I am a homosexual and I would like to live in a society that does not discriminate against me. That does not make me a liberal. It makes me a human and that, my friends, is not political.
People fling terms around that they do not understand. Liberal/Conservative – do any of you who hate the other side of this coin have any idea of what these terms actually mean? George W. Bush, was he a conservative? If he was, he was one of the worst of all time. The federal government and debt ballooned under his presidency. He intervened in the market with the bail outs. Barack Obama, is he the most liberal politician today? He is hawkish militarily, he has been the least transparent with the press of any previous president, and he has done very little in big government intervention into the growing class crisis here in the US, no matter what your talking head on TV says. Neither of these men are traditional representations of their party or the leanings of their respective parties. Dubya is a terrible example of a conservative republican and Barack is equally ill-fitting to the liberal democrat role. The problem is, the average American that is spouting off about politics today has absolutely no idea that this is the case because they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Worse, they do not know or do not care that they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
Another guy was blowing off about Benghazi a few weeks ago. I asked him if he knew where Benghazi was. He said the Middle East. I asked if it was a country or city. He did not know. I asked if he understood the significance of Benghazi and he went on to talk about how the president did not call the attack a terrorist attack. I asked him if he knew what the US was doing in Libya in the region including the city of Benghazi. He had no clue. “Do you even know when this occurred?” He thought it was last year. If you are this ignorant of the subject of which you are speaking, shut the fuck up, please. Your opinion of the matter means nothing because you know nothing. I’m saying that not because I am a liberal, but because I want to get smarter by conversing with others, no get more stupid.
Here are a few things you should not do when discussing issues, life, politics, etc with others:
1. Keep changing your point..
If you started talking about how climate change is just a normal cycle of the earth and humans have no part in it, then have the decency to stick there and learn something, dammit. Don’t change the subject to a new point without first dealing with your original point. If you change your point four times without adequately dealing with each point, you waste everybody’s time. I’m not involved in a discussion to chase a moving target, I’m involved to exchange ideas. Ideas are not a slew of unsubstantiated assertions made to draw attention away from the fact that your first assertion was born from ignorance.
2. Repeat a talking point.
If you know nothing about Benghazi, including where it is on a fucking map, its political significance, or whether or not it is a country or city, then please, shut up about how it was bad to mislabel an attack. How do you know it was bad when you have no idea why they attacked the building in the first place? On another issue, the Washington Redskins were not named so to honor their coach, they began as the Braves, another name for Native Americans and were renamed as a way to distinguish themselves from the baseball team of the same name. There is no historical data to back up this assertion about the coach and it has been repeated by a dozen people in my personal feed and not one of them offered a bit of proof because not one of them bothered to look it up. Some things, even when you hear them over and over, simply are not the facts.
3. Make historical references you have never verified.
The funny thing about history is that it is easy to misrepresent it while pushing a political agenda. Before you invoke the ghosts of presidents past in your quest to justify your latest argument, you had best make sure you know that Jefferson was not a devout Christian, Abraham Lincoln was at the helm during the largest central government power grab in the history of the union, Ben Franklin was never actually president, and everybody cried when JFK died because we used to be a nation of humans and not political operatives.
4. Make it personal.
Politics is not personal. My disagreement with you is not a personal affront. If you take it personally, you are going to think I am a total dick because I am not going to take it personally and it will make me look like I don’t give a damn that I hurt your personal feelings. Equally, don’t say things to make things personal. Don’t say that teenage mothers should have closed their legs. I, or some other kid who was born from a teenage mother, may be in the room and you just turned an issue that doesn’t need to be personal into a personal issue. Insinuating my mother was a slut is a low blow, even if you did not know – insinuating anybody is a slut is a low-blow, you jackass.
5. Make shit up.
Do not talk about how our economy is in the tank because of all of these people who refuse to work. Why? Well, not a single economist agrees with you because it is simply not true. While dealing with fraud and manipulation of the system is important, our economy is not made nor is it broken by poor people. Economics is very complicated, we don’t get to fix what is broken in one-stop, sorry. On the flip side, when a person like myself is telling you a little fact like this, don’t answer with, “I just don’t buy it.” The main reason is that I have nothing to gain or lose by whether or not you “buy it.” I do have something to gain/lose if you choose to keep making shit up on the fly using what you heard on talk radio and what you saw a talking head illustrate in some bad graph on TV and morphing the two into a bunch of hogwash that makes sense only to you. I get to gain living in a society of idiots and I get to lose my fucking mind everyday. I spread information so people will go and look it up and find some real information with sound and verifiable facts. I also have a near photographic memory and have spent the better part of the last twenty years studying economics, history, and politics, so when you are making stuff up, well, I’m the person in the room who knows it and knows where to go to prove it.
6. Assume you know everything.
I know I don’t know everything so I am well aware that everyday I have an opportunity to learn something new. I have a notebook and when somebody says something I did not know or I read some new fact I have not read before, I write things down and read about them when I get home. Sometimes, this new information opens up new doors and may sway my position on something important. Sometimes, it bolsters a view I already hold. Much of the time, it is just a bunch of twisted facts, complete lies, and logical fallacies. When you assume you know everything, you are extremely vulnerable to the dubious claims and assertions made continuously by the so-called press.
7. Make enemies of those with which you disagree.
We have more in common with each other than we do political pundits. You may like someone’s brash approach to telling the world like it is, but that guy makes more money in a week than you do in a year and more in a year than you will in a lifetime, so do not lose sight of who your real friends are. Sometimes we hold political beliefs because that is what we were raised to believe. Sometimes our jobs influence our political leanings. Sometimes, we are placed in a political box because of traits we may have. None of this should influence our personal relationships. Political differences should never be the seeds of enemy lines. We are all trying to pay off a car or make rent. We are all growing weary from the sticker shock at the grocery store and the gas pump. We are all watching someone struggle financially or in a personal crisis. Rather than be angry with me because I think Ted Cruz is an idiot and you think he is the second coming, why not listen to why I think he is an idiot and why don’t you tell me why you think he is so great? Why must a conversation end before it has ever had a chance to start?
8. Belittle a person’s personal story.
I know that I said earlier that you should not take things personally. However, sometimes a person’s story may be relevant to a conversation. They may have a personal anecdote to add that will put a human face to an issue, whether it is someone who has a ridiculous health insurance bill, or someone who has an autistic child, or someone who is gay, or someone who loves Jesus. This perspective may be enlightening, if not to the issue at hand, maybe just personally. If you feel you have to belittle a person’s personal story to make your point, then your point is not very strong. This does not include people making shit up and generally spreading bullshit, those people need to be told what’s up.
9. Dismiss facts because you don’t like the source.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Facts are not political. One of the more frustrating things I encounter whilst engaging in political discussion is the politicization of information. Combat bias with reason, not more bias. If there is something in the information you believe to be biased, address that bias, but do not dismiss something on its face because of the newspaper from which it is referenced. Most news sources today do not do their own reporting anyway. Most use Reuters, the AP, or other newswires for the bulk of their news reports. They are just passing on information that somebody else already compiled. This is why if you type in a headline into Google, twenty publications with the same headline will pop up in the search results. Dismissing information because of a news source shows your ignorance of how news is disseminated in this day and age. If you want to talk about sources, look at the referenced sources of information and make sure they are proper authorities. Is the quoted expert an expert on the topic or just a correspondent/pundit/generalist? Is the study referenced from a peer reviewed journal? Those are questions to assess validity, but asking if it was the Times or the Journal? That tells you nothing.
10. Yell at someone for responding to your politically charged social media.
I put many things on my social media that are politically, socially, and emotionally charged. I have never done this expecting those with opposing views to quietly leave me alone. In fact, my hope is that they engage so that I can get involved in an interesting exchange. In turn, I respond to others who post similar things with the same intention – I want to talk with, learn about, and get to understand you. Most of the time, people just yell at me and tell me that I am a jerk. It is interesting because in real life when I talk with people, I never get that response. Either people automatically assume social media responses are challenging and baiting or people misread the intent because something is lost in translation. Either way, after twenty years of discussing politics and life with friends and complete strangers, I am never met with as much anger and vitriol as I encounter on Facebook after I respond to something socially or politically charged. It almost always happens with people whom I do not really know in real life, either distant family members or old friends I have not seen in twenty years. Whatever your intent of posting charged memes or stories on your social media, do not forget that it is social and people will interact. This is actually a positive thing. We get exposed to ideas that differ from our own so we do not become stagnant in our knowledge and thinking. We get to learn invaluable things about the people in our lives. All of that is stifled with snarky responses followed by blocking a person on your facebook – the new world equivalent of “fuck you.” If your argument is so weak that you meet any contrary response with, “fuck you” then maybe you should just keep that shit to yourself.
The bottom line is that if we continue to scream at each other with facts we have not verified through independent sources, then we are never going to solve the very real, very distressing problems that are brewing and marinating in this country. We cannot talk about how to deal with problems when we cannot agree that the problem exists and how it exists. We cannot agree on these things because everybody is coming to the table with a bunch of half-truths, outright lies, and manipulated data. Nobody sees it because we have been led to believe that these people in their red shirts or blue shirts are there for us, fighting for us, and taking our issues to Washington. Nothing could be further from the truth and everybody seems fine with ignoring that little morsel of reality so long as they have a team to rally behind.
There you have it, a list of rules to ensure you do not get duped, to assist you in not becoming an aggressive maniac, and to lead you in the direction of real learning and wisdom. The first installment of this series set up the problem of the growing number of know-it-all, know nothings permeating every aspect of society. The second installment went over the actual rights that are enumerated in the bill of rights and how most people have no idea what the document actually says. The third installment discussed a list of responsibilities we have that go along with those rights. The last installment will address some issues that people get wrong, so wrong that they sound like blithering idiots to anybody with some base knowledge on the subject. That will be posted next week. Until then,
That is all.