Conventional wisdom is neither

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Two weeks have passed and wisdom still hasn’t arrived.  My parents’ generation has been called “The Greatest Generation.” Do you suppose wisdom enabled them to produce 30 years’ unparalleled expansion of middle class wealth and opportunity?  I can’t remember my parents being actively engaged in national or global politics, or being expected to.  Did they cause this growth or were they just lucky?

The first 20 years of their marriage were not troubled by the televised intrusion of world news—we got our first television in about 1959.  Fast forward to 2014.  The Internet not only provides live coverage of everything everywhere in the world, but you can choose coverage that reinforces your own bias.  If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing we are deafened by alarm bells.

Isaac Asimov said, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” The modern corollary might be that the world-wide Internet is spreading information faster than we can disprove it.  We as citizens have some serious challenges to face.  We can’t succeed without sharing some beliefs.

As recently as yesterday I have seen posts on Facebook claiming that the killing of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook was a government hoax.  One acquaintance posted a story from somewhere that many scientists believe that climate change as caused by human activities is a hoax.

Most of the beliefs we cling to are wrong.  The morning paper has three of the nation’s recognized experts on the testing of international students debunking some myths.  The slightly below international average test results of American students do not represent a fall from the pinnacle.  They’ve never scored at the top.  Test result differences from state to state fall within margin of error.  There are no great discrepancies.  Those small margins of difference also mean there are no “successful policies” or “best practices” to be divined from test scores.

In that same morning paper America came in 11th out of 11 in quality of health care in the included industrialized nations.  Great Britain ranked first while managing to provide universal coverage at just less than half the cost per citizen.

Wisdom has so utterly failed me that I can’t even know who should fix these problems.  The government is us.  We elected this Congress.  If we are not satisfied with the candidates from whom we had to choose, we have to find better candidates.  There are impending decisions that will affect us for years.

The Middle East is in flames.  We must know whether to intervene and then know what level of intervention is right.  We need to have leadership that can get this right.  It will require knowledge of history, religion, geography, trade, oil politics, and global finance.  Most of us don’t have time to learn this.

“It is certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.” wrote the French writer Anatole France.   Though the fact that I write in this space shows my own arrogance, I am nonetheless surprised every time at Facebook posts from people I otherwise believe reasonable.  Having strong opinions is good.  Believing that differing opinions are based on ignorance is ignorant.  It keeps our Congress from moving any legislation forward and it prevents “we, the people” from insisting that they do.

“A prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions.” – George Eliot.  That might be me.  I’m going to look up “prig,” but I suspect it may be uncomplimentary.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)

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