Practice Thinking [on KS Friday]

“The capacity to think astutely is often undervalued in the world of action. But philosopher Hannah Arendt identified the capacity to think as the foundation of a healthy and resilient democracy. Having experienced totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, then having fled it, she devoted much of her life to studying it and its opposite, democracy. She believed that thinking thoughtfully in public deliberations and acting democratically were intertwined and that totalitarianism is built upon and sustained by deceit and thought control. In order to resist efforts by the powerful to deceive and control thinking, Arendt believed that people needed to practice thinking.” Westley, Zimmerman, Patton, Getting To Maybe: How The World Is Changed

If thinking clearly is the hard line between democracy and totalitarianism, then we in these once-united-states are in a world of trouble.

For evidence, look no further than this past week. I begin with a single word: debate. Full stop. To assume thought is to assume too much. It was painful to watch conservative pundits attempt to spin sense and justification into 90 minutes of lie-vomit and fact-abuse. It was even more painful to watch thinking people, already exhausted by years of gaslighting, grasp for some sense of what they had just witnessed. The transience of the American experiment.

I shook my head during a post-debate-news segment when a woman cloaked in MAGA swag said that there shouldn’t be fact checkers at the debates because, “People should be able to say their truth.” Where-oh-where has our thought-practice gone?

Beneath the noise of the debate was a ruling in a slander case brought against Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame. The court ruled in Fox’s favor citing,”… that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, that any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.” It has not been my experience that watchers of Fox News are necessarily awash in reason or any amount of skepticism. They believe the spin they hear in that big bubble of fantasy. The judge wrote, “The “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ “

O accountability, where is thy sting? O thought, where is thy champion?

Democracy is dependent upon our capacity to discern between exaggeration and fact, lie and truth. We are now a nation that cannot grasp the simplicity of science in a pandemic. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Those two actions could have saved thousands of lives. They still could save thousands of lives. I shook my head in despair when people I love repeated with gusto the claim that our numbers of infection are so high because we do so many tests. I thought but did not say, “Think! For god’s sake, just think about what you are saying!” It is too much to ask.

Kerri and I have met walls of angry criticism when we ask folks to check their media sources. How dare we suggest that propaganda isn’t news! It’s easy to check whether or not you are being led by the nose if you care to do it. And that, I fear, is where the line between democracy and totalitarianism dissolves. The care to do it. We would rather be comfy and fixed in our news bubbles, gloating in our mutual agreement, than practice thinking.

Without that hard line, the foundation of our healthy and resilient democracy can only crumble.

TRANSIENCE on the album RIGHT NOW is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSIENCE

transience/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

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