News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Communicating What's True and Good

Monday, March 20, 2006

Communicating What's True and Good

How do you persuade others to confront their illusions and self-deception. As many thinkers note, the major obstacle to changing someone's mind is the fact that most people listen to what they want to hear or--when they actually have to listen to someone with a different opinion--hear what they want to hear.

The idea that information alone changes people's minds--besides the epistemological problems--misses the need for actually getting someone to listen or want to listen to that information. Socrates overcame this problem by going out into the marketplace and cornering people. He then set about undermining their preconceptions. In the modern world, the public sphere--the agora of Socrates' world, where people congregated and made themselves available for discourse--has shrunk to the enclosed, insular world of private rumination. Most people in the blogosphere simply have more chances to select sources of info they already believe in and edit out anything that does not. ...

Times when people do seek out new ways of looking at the world come during crises. These include personal, social, or cultural crises. The present situation in America presents the crisis in terms of the failure of the Iraq war to live up to the prognostications of Bush et al.

If there is any willingness to listen to an argument like Feingold's, it's because the prudential debacle created by this admin is finally affecting people where they live: friends and loved ones killed or crippled in the war, national treasure gutted and frittered away in a dubious overseas military adventure, failure to confront natural catastrophes and their aftermath.

I suggest that a reason why people respond positively to Feingold's censure is because they want Bush to be held accountable for these missteps. They are not opposed to wiretapping and executive power so much as they are his ineptitude. I believe that were another terrorist attack to occur in the US, most of those who are against the NSA eavesdropping would quickly support it and blame all of us who oppose it for the attack.

All of these comments, of course, suppose that the real audience of any critique and persuasive strategy must be aimed at the electorate per se. As I have suggested earlier, it's not they who make the decisions. It's the insiders of both parties. Until they can be convinced that a censure serves their purposes, they will simply play opossum or, at best, pay some lip-service to it while they position themselves to exploit it for their own agendas.

The threat posed by Bush's version of executive power and the use of technology to expand that power will not be seen by many in power, the insiders, as dire enough. No doubt, many in power will want to keep that possibility in reserve for the time when they eventually gain power. Many Dems see what the President has done as a possibility that they want to have at their disposal in times of crisis.

How far-reaching that debate is, though, will depend on how deeply people see that the legal issues you address are the surface phenomena of a much larger problem. These include the culture of fear and distrust that the Bushites have shown is so easily manipulated and exploited for an agenda that is truly much darker and insidious than most are willing to acknowledge.

It is this culture of a post-industrial, postmodern world wherein people seek certainty and meaning in a world of massive uncertainty that rules people’s natural disposition to the truth and the good. It is this world where the natural disposition to the good is obscured and stunted to such an extent that they can’t even recognize that bombing innocent men and women is wrong, that torture is always wrong, and that an emperor with absolute power threatens their freedom.

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