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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.