If gullibility was indicated by back stripes America would look like a zebra. We are not a particularly skeptical nation. We tend to believe what we’re told by our authority figures. Often we simply believe the illogical because that’s what we want to believe.

My hometown is so obsessed by reports of ghostly sounds and orbs in Town Hall the Board of Selectmen, chaired by a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, recently voted unanimously to permit two paranormal groups to conduct “scientific investigations”. There are 1950 web pages that come up if you search Middleboro “Town Hall” ghosts on Google (HERE)

Nobody has stood up at a selectman’s meeting or written to the paper expressing skepticism. You’d think that at least one of our town’s science teachers would write a letter to our local weekly paper asking residents to exercise more critical analysis and challenge the so-called scientific evidence of ghosts with alternate and more plausible evidence.

If you do a Google search for Obama Muslim there are 4,620,00 pages (HERE). Mixed with websites which tell the truth about Obama’s religious upbringing and current beliefs are many which purport to prove he was and is a Muslim.

If one wants to tease out the truth, whether about the evidence for ghosts in Middleboro or Obama’s faith, you have to lay wishful thinking, preconceived notions and prejudice aside, and study both sides objectively.

What about the notion that McCain, or Republicans in general, are more capable than Democrats when it comes to protecting the nation from its enemies?

Since most voters today don’t remember FDR and Truman and World War II, we can only hope history teachers endeavor to teach students how to draw conclusions from history.

But on the more basic level, all teachers from elementary school up need to effectively teach critical thinking since the culture conspires to undermine it.

From the Tooth Fairy to Santa Claus to movies and television shows about the supernatural, we grow up not merely being asked to suspend disbelief for the fun of it, but to really believe the unlikely.

Fantasy is fine, perhaps psychologically healthy for young children. But as children grow up they should learn how to differentiate fact from fiction.

Back to politics.

Call it the fantasy fear factor. If McCain is going to beat Obama, he will have to rally gullible voters to get to the polls and vote irrationally. Unfortunately there are enough potential voters who believe that Obama is a Muslim who will not protect America every bit as well as McCain to swing a close election.

Applying the tenets of critical thinking (see Wikipedia and article from The Foundation for Critical Thinking) to a comparison between McCain and Obama on protecting the United States from terror attacks should lead to asking questions about whether or not the prolonged war in Iraq has been a great recruiting tool for Al Quada. A critical thinker would ask who would be best suited to deal with the leaders of nations which oppose our policies.

Presidential candidates who come across as too professorial don’t do well, and we already see the McCain forces as trying to cast Obama in this light. The candidate who graduated at the bottom of his college class is finding a ready audience who listen approvingly to him cast aspersions on the candidate who graduated at the top of his class.

I think McCain’s best chances lay in dissuading a segment of voters to avoid critical thinking. I think, again if it’s a close election, Obama’s best chance will be to encourage critical thinking without coming across as Professor Obama the elitist.

Here’s a video of the news today (Fox, of course, but even The Boston Globe has covered our haunt hunters) that led me to feel dismayed at the lack of critical thinking not only in our town, but in America in general.


  1. I must offer Hal Brown my apologies for not commenting sooner on his fine, succinct editorial concerning the electorates’ lack of discernment when it comes to “critical thinking”…!

    Thanks for the “Foundation for Critical Thinking” link. I’m enjoying it thoroughly… : )

    Most of us, including myself fail to realize that we mostly muck about in “cognitive dissonance” for the greater part of our lives which attibutes to the national predicament in which we find ourselves… : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Call me an optimist. I don’t think McCain can win a fair election… he’s too far gone and he can’t win a debate about turtle racing, much less about real issues.
    Yes, the younger generation is indeed steeped in self-indulgence. But we, the generation of the 60s are not dead yet, although many of us seem to be.
    We have to keep the faith. We have to ressurect the spirit of dissent. Instill it in these younguns.
    Just some thoughts on a great post by Hal.

    Chaos is the origin of the universe… Mathematics is its language.


    What a description! All I can say is WOW!

    Then we will truly move from fascism and a so-called 2 party system into communism where the govt takes care of everything and there is a one party system.

    I seem to remember my mom telling me when I was about 6 years old, that the communists predicted they would never have to invade America, that it would fall from within.

    Hmmmmm! What have we become? I find it quite odd, that my generation that shunned conformity, that changed the course of history when it stood up to and said NO to govt, that preached make love, not war and do your own thing, have bred a generation of conformists that can’t think for themselves and are so busy either playing games on playstation, etc or surfing the internet that they don’t give a damn about anyone else but what they want at this very moment.

    Not good is an understatement.

  4. McCain plus eight..\

    Pollchecker, you make vital points that need to be considered by every thinking person who believes all they have to do is send their kids off to school and leave the educating to the system. Between teaching to the test in schools and what the next generation is being fed in the pop media the belated advent of 1984 may yet occur in our lifetimes.

    ..\ Fright alert!

    Consider this, it is quite possible that if McCain wins whoever he chooses as vice president could be groomed to run in four years (or eight), and we could have 12 to 16 years of a right wing imperial presidency.

  5. Combine a lack of critical thinking with the needs of children to feel that conformity to peer group norms is more important than individuality, add an inspirational leader telling them how important they are, and you have a recipe for putting together an army that will blindly and eagerly follow orders no matter how immoral.

    Then this is REALLY SCARY, Hal. Because that is where we are at.

    The last couple of generations are substantially lacking in critical thinking skills. This maybe due to the fact that they are being taught how to take a test and what’s on the test. Very little time and/or money for much else.

    Add to that, a very prominent need to conform and we may be in trouble.

    Yes, that is what we — the generation of “do your own thing”—have taught our kids. Today it is more important for our youth to FIT IN than it is to be an individual or frankly a leader.

    In fact we have been seeing this slowly happening since the generation AFTER the Baby Boomers.

    Now add a bit of hopelessness to our youth and all we are missing is a charismatic leader with his own agenda.

    Oh, wait, we’ve already seen what happens there, haven’t we? Wasn’t it George W that persuaded the best of our yonger generations to slap on that badge of patriotism and join up to die, kill or be maimed in Iraq in the name of patriotism and country?

    They thought they were joining up to fight Al Qaeda and keep America safe. They didn’t realize they were being used like pawns for one narcisstic A-holes personal agenda.

    But wasn’t that what Hitler was?

    So, we will know where the state of country lies with this election. If there is any hope left, we will surely see Senator Obama win handily. But if our country remains hopeless, apathetic and cynical about the state of our country’s future and does not participate (the way they have in the past), then we could have 4 MORE YEARS OF BUSH/MCCAIN!

    If that happens, we are either lost or in desparate need of a charismatic leader that will rally those very same youth to a revolution the likes we have not seen in about 250 years. And don’t kid yourself. With the right leader, it could happen.

  6. Godwin’s Law…

    but applicable enough here pollchecker…

    Unsere Fahne flattert uns voran
    (Our banner flutters before us)
    Unsere Fahne ist die neue Zeit
    (Our banner represents the new era)
    Und die Fahne führt uns in die Ewigkeit!
    (And our banner leads us to eternity!)
    Ja, die Fahne ist mehr als der Tod
    (Yes, our banner means more to us than death)

    This was the song of The Hitler Youth.

    You can read more about them here.

    Combine a lack of critical thinking with the needs of children to feel that conformity to peer group norms is more important than individuality, add an inspirational leader telling them how important they are, and you have a recipe for putting together an army that will blindly and eagerly follow orders no matter how immoral.

  7. Re. scytherius’ yawn: You don’t have be be of below average intelligence to be gullible, or suggestible, or be easily led by authority figures, or be persuaded by slickly packaged messages.

    You don’t have to be of above average intelligence to learn to think critically either.

    When pundits lament the “dumbing down of America” and use examples like how may people under the age of thirty don’t know basic facts their elders remember learning in elementary school, they sometimes miss the important point about the lack of ability to reason critically among so many.

  8. New links.

    Thanks Carl. Here are two new articles relevant to this.

    “Your Brain Lies to You” LINK a scientific OpEd by an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, and a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, in The New York Times explains how a lie can become the truth to a person and applies this to politics.

    FALSE beliefs are everywhere. Eighteen percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, one poll has found. Thus it seems slightly less egregious that, according to another poll, 10 percent of us think that Senator Barack Obama, a Christian, is instead a Muslim.

    For another aspect of hard science applied to politics, read long piece from The Washington Post “An Attack That Came Out of the Ether: Scholar Looks for First Link in E-Mail Chain About Obama” LINK

    The e-mail landed in Danielle Allen’s queue one winter morning as she was studying in her office at the Institute for Advanced Study, the renowned haven for some of the nation’s most brilliant minds. The missive began: “THIS DEFINITELY WARRANTS LOOKING INTO.”

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