what we believe (that we shouldn’t)

It’s a fascinating Google search: “things people believe that are untrue.”

As compiled by BestLifeOnline, Reader’s Digest, and Treehugger, the following are things we the people tend to believe that aren’t actually true:

  • “All Your Fingernails Grow at the Same Rate”
  • “Bagpipes Are Scottish”
  • “Bananas Grow on Trees”
  • “Bats Are Blind”
  • “Bulls Hate Red”
  • “Coffee Stunts Your Growth”
  • “Cracking Knuckles Leads to Arthritis”
  • “Dogs Sweat by Salivating”
  • “Don’t Eat and Swim”
  • “Don’t Touch Baby Birds”
  • “Dropped Pennies Kill”
  • “Goldfish’s Three-Second Memory”
  • “Milk Increases Mucus”
  • “Most Body Heat Is Lost Through the Head”
  • “Oil Stops Stuck Pasta”
  • “Only 10 Per Cent of the Brain is Used“
  • “Penguins Mate for Life”
  • “Police Require a Waiting Period Before Filing a Missing Person’s Report”
  • “Salty Water Boils Quicker”
  • “Seven Years to Digest Gum”
  • “Shaving Thickens Hair”
  • “Sleepers Swallow Eight Spiders Per Year”
  • “Sugar Makes Kids Hyperactive”
  • “Toads Cause Warts”
  • “Twinkies Last Forever”
  • “We Have Only Five Senses”
  • “You Can Get Sick From Being Cold”
  • “Your Hair and Nails Keep Growing After Death”

We even believe things about people that aren’t true…

  • “Einstein Failed Math”
  • “Napoleon Was Short”
  • “Ninjas Wore Black”
  • “Vikings Wore Horned Helmets”

Or that “Ben Franklin Wanted the Turkey to Represent America.” To be clear, “while designing a national seal,” reports Reader’s Digest, “Franklin proposed an image of Moses, not a wild turkey, to represent America.”

I’ll be the first to admit, even as I write this, there is still much I want to shake my head and say, “Hey, no way!” For example, of course bananas grow on trees! Well, in actuality, they indeed look like a tree, but they’re really massive herbs upon which the bunch grows.

And hair? We all know it grows in darker once puberty’s onslaught of shaving begins! Foiled again. “Regrown hair isn’t thicker, coarser, or darker; it just appears so because it grows back with a blunt tip.”

So the zillion dollar takeaway of the day is simple but profound… maybe humbling, too…

What else do we wholeheartedly believe that is untrue? That we refuse to see differently?

What have we concluded about another person that is just plain wrong?

For the record, another widely held misconception is that “Toilet Seats Are Full of Germs.” I’m sorry, but that’s going to take major work to get rid of that one, even if a University of Arizona study found them to be relatively clean since they are often routinely cleansed and disinfected.

According to that same study, in fact, toilet seats were found to have “10 times fewer germs than cell phones.”

Time to think about what we actually believe.

Respectfully…

AR

who do you hate?

Wow… thanks for stopping here. Thanks for reading. For realizing I’m not perfect either, but still feel tugged to talk about an undoubtedly tough topic. “Hate” is a word that repels us. We don’t like it. “Hate” is a word associated with other people — not with ‘me.’ Or we so believe.

Hence, before we wrestle with today’s title question — who do you hate — examining what perhaps we conveniently ignore or believe — let’s parse it out a little.

There are two kinds of hate.

Most of us are most familiar with the first one. It’s hot. It’s the one most obviously recognizable. It’s the one we are quickest to call out in other people. It’s thus the one that paves the way to believe that because our contempt is hot, there exists no hate in self.

“Hot hate” is downright disgust.

It’s loud. It’s clearly visible. It’s the disparaging name-calling by our leaders — the rhetorical, insulting shouts emboldened by cheers. It’s the one that flips off the driver who pulled in front of us — the one where we lay on the horn. It’s the kind of hate that rants on social media. It’s the generous offering of insult or argument — always directed at someone else… that person who gets on our nerves… that group of people who drive us crazy… 

If it weren’t for them, I could succeed… we could succeed.

In other words, “I don’t get you, so I don’t like you.”

Thus, we immediately think of another as lesser. And so we argue, honk, and sternly rebuke only them. Not us. Them.

Then there’s the cool kind of hate. It’s a little more socially acceptable, especially in organizations believing themselves to be of higher ethical or social standards.

“Cool hate” is softer. More dismissive, maybe mockery. It’s sarcasm and snark. It’s the immediate rolling of the eyes when someone says something we disagree with. It’s the satirical meme posted on social media to which we instinctively offer a gentle “like” or admittance of “oh, that’s funny,” convincing ourselves it’s not really hurting anyone.

But yet it is. It’s a sign of contempt.

Knowing that we oft finds ways to ignore said signs, we would be wise to look a little more inward. My sense is we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we don’t actually hate anyone because we only employ the cool variety. As one who holds the Intramuralist accountable reminded me last weekend, I would respectfully but firmly contend that both kinds are damaging; both qualify as hate. We’re not alone in that thought.

Note the fascinating expert observations of renown therapist John Gottman, as written by Arthur C. Brooks in The New York Times: 

“Cool hate can be every bit as damaging as hot hate. The social psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman was famously able to predict with up to 94 percent accuracy whether couples would divorce just by observing a brief snippet of conversation. The biggest warning signs of all were indications of contempt, such as sarcasm, sneering and hostile humor. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic — which Mr. Gottman has done thousands of times — and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes. Disagreement is normal, but dismissiveness can be deadly.”

The point is that hate expresses itself as both hot and cold. We tend to justify the cooler of the two, but the problem — and what qualifies each to fall into the contempt category — is that both allow for the lesser thinking of another. Both justify believing that it’s only the other guys who need to change — only someone else who has work to do. Or better yet… it’s only somebody else who needs to realize they’re stupid. Or… something worse.

So two more questions… 

First, humbly asking once more, who do you hate?

And second, when will we realize that honor will always be wiser?

Respectfully…

AR

should we be worried about all the spending?

I’ll be the first to stand and say I’m no proponent of worry. Who of us via worry can add a single hour to our life? Let me therefore respectfully rephrase. Is there cause for concern?

President after president, Congress after Congress continue to spend trillions. Let’s put that in numerical form for emphasis; each asserts the dire need to spend additional $1,000,000,000,000’s. Be sure to notice all those zeros. Did I mention a cause for concern?

Fascinatingly — sort of — for the presidents and Congress, their individual party affiliation matters not. When they’re in power, they want to spend more; when they’re not in power, they want to spend less. Then they have creative, gas-lightish ways of pointing figures at the other party. It’s honestly a little crazy. I think they think we the people have incredibly short memories. Perhaps we’re blinded. Maybe we’ll simply forget what they said when their agency was different. The fact is that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a consistent, positive track record of fiscal prudence. When in power, they each justify spending a huge, honking, monstrous, mountainous, gigantic, titanic, astronomical amount of money. Could we be more clear? (If in doubt, please revisit that number of zeros.) 

“Spending like there’s no tomorrow!” says the timeless idiom. And with calls to spend exponentially more — $3.5 unspecified trillions, being the current, fiscally-questionable refrain — sometimes I wonder if our leaders really do think there actually will be no tomorrow. Why would you spend so much now, especially during fragile economic and inflationary times?

Ah, yes… I’ve heard some… it costs “zero,” so they say. Question: did any of those who currently claim such ever take Econ in college? To be clear, the Intramuralist is no expert, but this semi-humble blogger does possess a Bachelors Degree in Business Management complemented by multiple graduate level Econ classes. Claims of “zero cost” are not accurate.

But let me not mistakenly assert myself as an expert. Hear from them more than me…

From David Wessel, the Director of The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and  Senior Fellow in Economic Studies: “Even before the pandemic, the federal deficit was large by historical standards and projected to rise. The sharp recession and the spending increases that Congress and the president approved in response has made the deficit even bigger. Big deficits mean a growing federal debt—the total the government owes—already at its highest point since World War II. Extraordinarily low interest rates allow the U.S. to shoulder a heavier debt burden, but the debt is on an unsustainable course and its size may limit the government’s ability or willingness to continue to fight the economic ill effects of the pandemic or future economic downturns.”

An unsustainable course. In other words, we can’t afford this.

From George P. Shultz, John F. Cogan, and John B. Taylor — public servants and an economic trio of experts — warning before Shultz’s death this past spring: “Many in Washington now seem to think that the federal government can spend a limitless amount of money without any harmful economic consequences. They are wrong. Excessive federal spending is creating grave economic and national-security risks. America’s fiscal recklessness must stop. The COVID-19 crisis has provided the latest impetus for government spending, even to the point of steering the American mind-set toward socialism—a doctrine that has always harmed people’s well-being. But some say there is no need to worry about excessive spending. After all, they argue, record-low interest rates apparently show no sign of increasing. The economy was humming along just fine until the pandemic hit, and will no doubt rebound strongly when it ends. And is there even a whiff of inflation in the air? This thinking is dangerously shortsighted. The fundamental laws of economics have not been repealed. As one of us demonstrated in his book ‘The High Cost of Good Intentions,’ profligate government spending invariably has damaging consequences.”

And one more expert, because again, this is sobering to say the least, from Adam A. Milsap in Forbes recently: “America is engaging in an unprecedented spending spree. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the infrastructure proposal and the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation spending plan will result in $2.9 trillion (about $8,900 per person) of additional government borrowing over the next decade. This debt will not solve our problems. America needs more private sector innovation to solve our biggest challenges—uplifting the poor, healing the sick, and protecting the planet—not more government spending and top-down regulation. If all this proposed spending occurs, the federal debt is likely to hit 109% of GDP by 2031 but could get as high as 125%. This would surpass the debt-to-GDP ratio in the years immediately following World War II.”

Something is wrong, friends. With both parties.

Prudence says we allow no more partisans, presidents, or parties to kick the can down the road. They need to stop spending. Until they do, we all have serious cause to be concerned.

Respectfully…

AR

telling the truth about our opponents

With trusted, wise, respectful voices in seemingly rare supply, who we listen to matters. With massive amounts of media sharing misinformation and amplifying hosts who encourage rage and/or fear — because rage and fear maximize response and minimize critical thinking — when you find a source you actually can trust, what a refreshing find indeed. One such voice the Intramuralist trusts is David French. He’s fair, logical, and respects all people. His weekend column was excellent. Sobering. And worth sharing. It’s entitled “A Whiff of Civil War in the Air: Malice and misinformation are driving national division.” An excerpt from French…

* * * * *

“On Thursday the University of Virginia released pollingresults that should shock exactly no one who closely follows American politics and culture. A majority of Trump voters (52%) and a strong minority of Biden voters (41%) strongly or somewhat agree that it’s ‘time to split the country.’

Why would they even contemplate taking such a drastic step? Well, the poll provides the answers, and they’re not surprising. Competing partisans loathe each other and view the opposition as an existential threat. This also isn’t new. It’s been tracked in poll after poll for year after year. This one found that a ‘strong majority’ of Trump supporters falsely believe there is no real difference between Democrats and socialists. A majority of Biden voters falsely see no real difference between Republicans and fascists. What this poll tracked better than many others is that the mutual loathing is based more on emotion than policy…

We’ve seen it time and again. The combination of malice and misinformation is driving American polarization to a fever pitch. While there are real differences between the political parties, a fundamental reality of American politics is that voters hate or fear the opposing side in part because they have mistaken beliefs about their opponents. They think the divide is greater than it is.

For example, other polls have found that Americans ‘substantially exaggerate the extent to which members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with them.’ In addition, ‘Democrats and Republicans imagine almost twice as many of their political opponents as reality hold views they consider ‘extreme.’’ Moreover, this ‘perception gap’ gets worse with increased education and media consumption. 

Last week the Washington Post’s Robert Kagan published one of the most important essays of the year. Called ‘Our constitutional crisis is already here,’ Kagan persuasively argued that America was set for an electoral confrontation (especially if Trump runs again) that could lead to the ‘greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves’…

He understands what few people grasp—that American radicalism has now filtered down into the ranks of the ‘normal’ folks, the solid citizens who are often the pillars of their communities… The cycle works a bit like this. Malice and disdain makes a person vulnerable to misinformation. Misinformation then builds more malice and disdain and enhances the commercial demand for, you guessed it, more misinformation. Rinse and repeat until entire media empires exist to supply that demand…

It’s important to understand that there is no policy fix for malice and misinformation. There is no five-point plan for national harmony. Popular policies (like the Biden policies supported by Trump voters) don’t unite us, and there are always differences and failures to help renew our rage. 

Instead, we are dealing with a spiritual and moral sickness. Malice and disdain are conditions of the soul. Misinformation and deception are sinful symptoms of fearful and/or hateful hearts…

I do not pretend for one moment that there aren’t significant differences between left and right. But our system was built from the ground up to channel political differences through a Constitution that is designed to protect the fundamental human rights of both winners and losers, majorities and minorities, including minorities of one. 

So long as those constitutional guarantees last, the stakes of our political disputes should never grow so high as to necessitate the rupture of our national union. And if we want social peace in a time when false accusations of ‘socialism’ or ‘fascism’ echo across the land, then telling the truth about our opponents is the most fundamental and necessary start.”

* * * * *

Did I mention sobering?

Respectfully…

AR

misreading the mandate

Unity often spirals with the perception of some kind of mandate…

I remember in 2004, when Pres. George W. Bush won the election by a 286 to 251 Electoral College count — a 31 to 19 state count — but only received a narrow 50.7% of the popular vote. He then asserted that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security. “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” Except he didn’t seem to realize such a narrow victory did not result in said mandate.

The 2020 victory of Joe Biden had an eerily similar feel. Biden was inaugurated on a 306 to 232 electoral count — a 25 to 25 state count — but also received only a narrow popular vote victory, at 51.3%. Making it increasingly more politically complicated, the President’s party saw their House of Representatives majority decrease to a mere 8 votes out of 435 (a majority of 1.8%), and the Senate outcome resulted in a 50/50 tie of sitting U.S. Senators. With that as the current legislative backdrop, the President is attempting to spend unprecedented trillions in a precarious inflationary time, with all sorts of partisan policy initiatives creatively now called “infrastructure.” Dare we go out on a less precarious limb here and suggest Pres. Biden has not yet learned from Pres. Bush.

Maybe it’s just me. Always possible. Each of us can be a little foggy-brained at times. But I’m not sure how majorities formed by unequivocal razor-thin margins ever equate to a so-called mandate. If a mandate is a license to enact any policy of choice, far more than 50/50 needs to be in play. Far more than less than 2%. Otherwise the elect is not really representing all of “we the people.”

Let us figuratively think out loud for a moment…

What’s it like to be on the receiving end of a mandate? No harshness, but rather, simply, sincerely, when we disagree with what a leader believes to be wise, what’s it like?

What does it feel like to be on the other end of the opinion, knowing that regardless of what you believe, those in elected authority are determined, come hell or high water, so-to-speak, to jam their desired means and methods through no matter what? 

This could apply to our government, our neighborhood HOA, or other organizations and institutions to which we belong. What’s it like to be on the other end of another’s authority when you respectfully but sincerely disagree?

Do you feel important?

Do you feel like your opinion matters?

Do you feel like you matter?

Do you feel like the leaders actually speak for you and represent you?

Do you feel like they care if they represent you well?

Do you feel like they keep acting as if only they know best?

Do you feel like they think you’re stupid?

Wrong?

Completely misguided?

And do you feel like others presume that unity only arrives if you change your mind?

I’ve been thinking more of this not “treading on me” concept. Let me be honest. I’m not a huge fan of the brash, in-your-face, shouting display, no matter its association with historic American patriotism. The Intramuralist is also not a fan of the arguably less brash, but still disrespectful, your-perspective-doesn’t-matter approach. Each seems to feel it’s ok to still tread on someone.

There’s no humility in those approaches. And I feel like so many of us, while we believe that humility is good thing, we also behave as if we believe it starts with “you.”

Humility never starts with somebody else, friends. Humility always starts with “me.”

What would it change if we realized how people on the other side of “me” feel? What would it change if we realized when we declare a mandate, how we’re making other people feel? What would it change if we realized that we are actually misreading the mandate? … that maybe, just maybe, we’re not called to enact mandates but to model humility instead?

My sense is that such an approach would be totally good and right and true… healthy and positive… solution-oriented… progress making…

… unifying, too…

Respectfully…

AR

losing my religion

I don’t agree with everything in this. However, the point of the Intramuralist has never been to all agree; in fact, whoever assumes that unity only comes when everyone all agrees — or, colloquially, “all agree with me,” so-to-speak — most likely has a false sense of unity. We see that a lot these days. We also see a lot of angry people.

I’ve never associated angry people with being happier or healthier — in fact, quite the opposite. But where do we learn to surrender anger? To embrace goodness, kindness, and justice? …humility, compassion and more? I can think of nothing better, timeless and noncontradictory than Judeo-Christian values.

But we have a problem. We are increasingly forgoing the wisdom of said values. We are more untethered to religion and faith and Christianity than ever before. The “nones” are growing — not those cute, respected women in homogenous habits, but rather, those who don’t identify with any faith in particular. It’s as if it’s become ok for those once accepted values to matter less. It’s as if we think we can learn virtue elsewhere. It’s also as if politics has become our religion.

Hear from the words of author and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, Shadi Hamid, in an insightful piece from March of this year. Remember I don’t share all of his entire opinion. We also learn from those opinions we fail to share…

“The United States had long been a holdout among Western democracies, uniquely and perhaps even suspiciously devout. From 1937 to 1998, church membership remained relatively constant, hovering at about 70 percent. Then something happened. Over the past two decades, that number has dropped to less than 50 percent, the sharpest recorded decline in American history…

But if secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, drained of faith’s inflaming passions, they are likely disappointed. As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief. Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations. This is what religion without religion looks like…”

Religion is an organized system or a pursuit to which someone ascribes supreme importance. Hence, one can be religious absent any reputable, proven faith. 

Hamid offers further, undoubtedly divisive but poignant examples…

“… On the left, the ‘woke’ take religious notions such as original sin, atonement, ritual, and excommunication and repurpose them for secular ends. Adherents of wokeism see themselves as challenging the long-dominant narrative that emphasized the exceptionalism of the nation’s founding. Whereas religion sees the promised land as being above, in God’s kingdom, the utopian left sees it as being ahead, in the realization of a just society here on Earth. After Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September, droves of mourners gathered outside the Supreme Court—some kneeling, some holding candles—as though they were at the Western Wall.

On the right, adherents of a Trump-centric ethno-nationalism still drape themselves in some of the trappings of organized religion, but the result is a movement that often looks like a tent revival stripped of Christian witness. Donald Trump’s boisterous rallies were more focused on blood and soil than on the son of God. Trump himself played both savior and martyr, and it is easy to marvel at the hold that a man so imperfect can have on his soldiers…”

The hard place we’re in, as Hamid — not a Christian — suggests, is that “Christianity was always intertwined with America’s self-definition. Without it, Americans—conservatives and liberals alike—no longer have a common culture upon which to fall back.”

We didn’t just fall back upon that common culture; we also practiced and learned to rely upon it. We not only learned but knew that kindness, goodness, peace, patience, justice, self-control, and respect for our brother/sister/neighbor — whoever they are — are good. They are values to be vigorously sought after and held in high esteem. This is thus perhaps the only means capable of unifying us now. Politics pales woefully in comparison.

Hence, let us continue to seek humility over any pride — potentially veiled as anger, remembering what will always be wisest to fall back upon.

Respectfully…

AR

tell me: do we really value accountability?

Hang around me for only a small while and you’ll quickly know there’s about 37 things I love passionately. For brevity sakes, I’ll mention a mere 7 today:

(1) Jesus, (2) football season, (3) my gifted sons, (4) respectful dialogue, (5) “Friends,” (6) authenticity, and (7) accountability.

Not in any certain order, of course. 🙂

I’ll admit… it wasn’t until later in life that I realized the joy, benefit, and sagacity of accountability. When you’re younger — and let me throw only myself under the proverbial bus — I didn’t really see the need… Sure, I made my share of mistakes — no doubt I still do — but I’ve got time to grow in that area. And while I may be wrong sometimes — having some inaccurate, maybe even unhealthy perspectives or behavior I accept or engage in, it’s only sometimes, not often and certainly not all the time…

Accountability didn’t seem like a necessary thing. Note: I’ve since changed my mind. I’m not certain, however, that the change in my opinion is a popular one.

To be clear, accountability isn’t just taking responsibility. It is also the state of being answerable. When something doesn’t mesh with what we know to be good and right and true, it’s a willingness to be present, still accepting and answering the tough questions; it’s a commitment to communicating honestly even about what’s hard. To avoid the question, therefore, is to refuse accountability. It is to refuse what is wise.

It’s no secret, friends, that the Intramuralist is not a card-carrying member of either of the two most recent Presidents’ fan clubs. I sincerely mean no disrespect to either; I simply believe that neither character nor competency should be in question in the highest office in the land, and regardless of partisan leanings, I am unwilling to minimize or ignore that which I believe to be important.

Not wanting to minimize or ignore, my current concern focuses on our acceptance of a lack of accountability. In other words, why won’t Pres. Biden take questions?

I’m not talking about the questions his team plans ahead, when the reporters and inquiries are scripted. I’m also not attempting to fuel any existing conspiracy theory. I’m simply asking the obvious: why is Joe avoiding the press? Is there a reason he is avoiding the accountability the so-called Fourth Estate provides?

To continue to be clear, I also don’t believe it to be good and wise and true to answer dishonestly. That’s not authentic — my 6th passionate love above. It is also equally inauthentic to punt to the press secretary who — with all due respect to Intramuralist faves, Dana Perino and George Stephanopolous — seems to have evolved to sharing less about an administration’s reaction and more about making an administration look better than they really are.

When Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Pres. Biden in the Oval Office last week,  only Johnson took questions. Conservative and liberal outlets are acknowledging the reluctance. 

On the incident, from the editorial board of the Boston Herald: “Johnson took care of his nation’s media as he should. But when U.S. reporters tried to question their own leader, Biden’s communications team, in this instance better understood as a non-communications team, basically drowned out their own boss and hustled reporters out of the room. At that point, the Biden administration’s lack of transparency and the president’s unwillingness to hold a news conference became too much even for sympathetic reporters. All over New York and Washington, the righteous indignation of a trained journalist trying to do a job crucial to American democracy kicked into gear. The memory of Biden not taking questions after major addresses on Aug. 16, Aug. 18, Aug. 31, and Sept. 9 started to smart, and many reporters took to Twitter to say, in essence, why the heck is this administration so afraid of questions? We’re amplifying those observations here: Why indeed?”

On the bigger issue, from Yahoo!: “Biden, 78, often declines to interact with the press and has suggested that he is not in control of when and from whom he can take questions.”

Where’s the accountability? 

Accountability and authenticity are always good, friends. Also true, no less, is that sometimes it takes a long time to realize that… and to not allow any of our leanings to minimize or ignore.

Respectfully…

AR

the death of expertise

As we near the fourth quarter of the year, I began evaluating last year’s resolutions — how they’re shaping up, noting any ditched long ago, and how I might be motivated with three more months in the year. As noted, my previous, most prominent goal was simply to read more. And what a joy and growth opportunity it’s been. From “Called to Forgive” by Anthony B. Thompson — husband of Myra, who was gunned down by Dylan Roof in the 2015 AME church massacre — to Chad Veach’s “Help! I Work with People” — a fun, light-hearted, relational tool for leaders, learning how to steward influence wisely — to “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore our Nation” by Intramuralist fave, David French. Embracing neither a Democrat or Republican approach, French takes a logical yet sobering look  at how the two competing political narratives are significantly hurting us.

What’s wrong with us? Why has conversation become so hard? Why are we so seemingly, quickly, easily offended? Sometimes it seems we can’t even joke anymore.

Such has lead me to “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters,” by Thomas M. Nichols. Nichols, a professor of national security at U.S. Naval War College, examines our respect (or lack of it) for facts, how uninformed and expert opinions have become entangled with one another… how “policy debates sound increasingly like fights between groups of ill-informed people who all manage to be wrong at the same time”… how universities are part of the problem… how journalism is, too…

Note more of Nichols’ insight that prompts my attention…

“These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything.” 

“While expertise isn’t dead, however, it’s in trouble. Something is going terribly wrong. The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance.” 

“Learning new things requires patience and the ability to listen to other people. The Internet and social media, however, are making us less social and more confrontational. Online, as in life, people are clustering into small echo chambers, preferring only to talk to those with whom they already agree.”

“We are supposed to ‘agree to disagree,’ a phrase now used indiscriminately as little more than a conversational fire extinguisher. And if we insist that not everything is a matter of opinion, that some things are right and others are wrong … well, then we’re just being jerks, apparently.”

“Journalism is now sometimes as much a contributor to the death of expertise as it is a defense against it… This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed…This morphing of news into entertainment stretches across every demographic.”

“The modern media, with so many options tailored to particular views, is a huge exercise in confirmation bias. This means that Americans are not just poorly informed, they’re misinformed.” 

“One of the most common errors experts make is to assume that because they are smarter than most people about certain things, they are smarter than everyone about everything… Entertainers are the worst offenders here… This creates bizarre situations in which experts in one field—entertainment—end up giving disquisitions on important questions in other fields…” 

“What is different today, and especially worrisome when it comes to the creation of educated citizens, is how the protective, swaddling environment of the modern university infantilizes students and thus dissolves their ability to conduct a logical and informed argument. When feelings matter more than rationality or facts, education is a doomed enterprise.” 

“College is supposed to be an uncomfortable experience.”

“At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like.”

“Americans no longer distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’

Looks like we have a little more to read this year…

Respectfully…

AR

the current COVID crisis… sort of…

Many of our posts here have a definitive beginning, end, and bottom line point — sort of as if, when complete, it’s all wrapped up in a nice, neat, figurative bow. This will be no such post.

I want to talk about COVID-19… the vaccine, masks, mandates, our individual and collective response. Let’s face it; it’s messy. It’s also hard for the masses to talk about respectfully. 

One thing I know for certain is that Covid is still a thing. It is still affecting us… what we do, how we act, how we interact. There are so many questions that continue to swirl…

What stage are we in? … are we still in a pandemic? … or in an endemic now?

What’s our end game? … complete annihilation of the virus? … or reducing it to an endemic?

And what’s with the messaging? … why do the words/behavior of the administrations (current and past), the CDC, and FDA not always agree? … are there political motivations in play?

Part of the problem, it seems, is that we can’t agree on even the questions above. So let’s attempt to approach this from a different angle… We have a crisis.

Let me be more specific: we have an empathy crisis. We’re selective in whom we choose to actually extend empathy — to those arguably most often associated with Covid…

… to those who are sick… The U.S. has experienced almost 43 million cases of Covid. Near 700,000 have died. I can only imagine. A dear friend who wrestled with it called it nothing short of a “literal hell”; she said it was like an elephant sitting on her chest for three weeks. True, the fatality rate is less than 2%, but every person has a story, and every story matters to God. How heartbreaking indeed.

… to our friends in the healthcare industry… Many hospitals are overloaded. There’s a shortage of workers. More continue to quit. As a trusted professional shared with me, some quit because they’re downright exhausted. Some quit because they’re exhausted and frustrated; they’ve lost faith in the system; they’ve lost faith in humanity — in people trusting the science, doing what they believe is proven to be wise. “We all want to do good,” she said. “We want the healthcare system to be able to flex and be able to deal with this. But it’s not.”

Then there’s the friend who is routinely called in for extra nursing shifts in the nearby, very full NICU, and at the end of those long, draining shifts, is often confronted by protestors… Caution: soapbox comment coming… Why is it protestors always go after the wrong people? Protestors/activists seem to go after who’s easiest to attack — not necessarily who’s most responsible.

… to the vaccinated who are high risk… For those for whom the virus would be immediately life-threatening including friends and family for most all this is really hard. It’s scary… don’t other people see how their choice affects me?…. We don’t all have the same fears, but wisdom doesn’t make the unlike fears of another any less valid. So I’ll say it again: this is really hard.

… to the unvaccinated… (Remember: we said this was messy.) I listened to another intelligent friend share his family’s choice not to receive the vaccine. It’s not that they don’t believe in immunity. It’s not that they don’t love and care for their community. They are pained by the thought that countless times they’ve been told they are a “threat” to society — that because of them “millions are going to die.” That’s the farthest thought from their mind. They don’t question the efficacy of the vaccine; rather, they question the speed at which this was produced and thus its safety. They want immunity, too; they simply, genuinely believe that natural immunity is safer than manufactured immunity. They are also confused at why the conversation is so focused on the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated, omitting the believed even greater effectiveness of natural immunity.

Let’s be honest; it’s easier to give empathy to some people more than others. Have you noticed the number who have offered mockery instead? Or anger instead of empathy? But what if solution actually began with empathy? What if truth trumping conspiracy was jumpstarted by empathy? What if we recognized that relationship and conversation are healthier and more productive when we choose empathy? Empathy doesn’t mean agreement, friends; empathy means we work to understand.

Writes columnist and Intramuralist favorite, David French: “… Becoming empathetic does not mean that we forsake the search for truth. In fact, it can often empower us and motivate us to seek greater knowledge and insight. It means, however, that we shouldn’t prioritize our fallible and frequently-mistaken perception of the truth over the humanity and experience of the person before us.

Even if we’re dealing with something as simple as ‘vaccines work,’ or ‘a vaccine likely would have saved his life,’ the person who lacks empathy is often stunningly ignorant of another person’s heart or motivations or the full context of their lives. There is so much they don’t know.”

There’s so much we don’t know, friends. What if we got that? What if we were less selective? 

Hence, no nice, neat, figurative bow.

Respectfully…

AR

what are we unaware of?

Follow me here. It was crazy scary…  

It started mildly; it was first observed to be only a tropical depression. A tropical depression is a tropical cyclone that has maximum sustained surface winds of 38 mph or less. But within 48 hours, there was an unexpected, rapid intensification. Sustained winds began to exceed 180 mph. It was a Category 5 hurricane.

To be labeled a Category 5, that means forecasters don’t suspect there will be damage; it means that “catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”1

Note that to reach such a severe, sobering categorization, sustained winds need “only” reach 157 mph or higher. We are talking at least 20 mph more.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only five storms on record have jumped from a depression to a Category 5 in such a short time period. It then was expected to make a direct hit in a heavily populated area. Not only was it expected to hit, its path was so unusual — one that would seemingly maximize the time spent over the affected land area — that maximum damage potential was also feared. Hundreds of thousands of persons were thus evacuated prior to landfall.

From those who were aware when it was happening…

… absolutely stunning…

… nothing short of explosive…

… very impressive imagery of this beast…

Friends, I continue to conclude that while we think we’re knowledgeable and well-informed, we are often only well-informed about that which is closest to us. Things that aren’t on our radar — meteorological or otherwise — are totally capable of instead being the object of our ignorance.

The storm identified above — one of the strongest storms ever recorded on Earth, with gusts approaching 200 mph — didn’t happen years ago; it happened at the end of last week.

Were we aware?

Maybe we are paying tons of attention to Afghanistan. What’s going on there is awful, whether people want us to pay attention to it or not.

Maybe we are paying tons of attention to Covid, the masks and the mandates — also an awful situation — infusing a whole new energy into the emotionally-charged “my body/my choice” debate.

My point is that we pick and choose what we pay attention to. The media picks and chooses what they — hopefully for them, we — pay attention to. And there are so many serious things happening on this planet of which most of us aren’t even aware.

What are we missing, friends? 

We’re in the middle of the 2021 Pacific typhoon season. There are no set seasonal boundaries, though most tropical cyclones develop between May and October. Super typhoon Chanthu (same as a hurricane) developed off the coast of the Philippines on Sunday, Sept. 5th. It quickly intensified in the Philippine Sea area of the Pacific. Having family in that area, noting the thunderous, dangerous winds, we were very aware.

But the storm was over 9,000 miles away. And even though it was predicted to be “catastrophic,” I didn’t hear or read a single word about it from any lead news host nor post. I had to Google what to know. I was thus only aware because the issue was near and dear to me. That tells me there is undoubtedly far more of which we are unaware.

What are we unaware of? What don’t we know?

And what — as we’re distracted by other, even valid passions and objects of attention — are we simply ignorant about? What other stunning, serious “storms”?

It’s scary, friends… crazy scary. And I’m not talking about a hurricane.

Respectfully…

AR

1National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center, NOAA, Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale