Exam   (2016Aug30)


Tuesday, August 30, 2016                                                 12:24 PM

A list of key-words, a chart of interconnections, a graph of differences—the idea of Algebra tries to worm its way into life. I used to make myself to-do lists, back when I did things—I’d have Top Priorities (things that needed doing right away), Regular things (a sort of ‘daily chores and maintenance’ list), Non-Work things (commitments I had made to people), Long-Term Projects (often becoming a list of things I never got to), and so on. Late at night, I’d still be scribbling away like John Nash from “A Beautiful Mind”—the list became its own project, keeping me from doing the things on the list.

Analysis can become a rabbit-hole from which there is no escape. Philosophical discussions that devolve into semantics—finding, at the end, that language is more personal than universal—can only be enjoyed so many times before we realize that life is to be lived. There is just as much value to experiential data-gathering as there is to mental wool-gathering, perhaps more—and certainly more stimulation.

Yet ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’—or so philosophers would have us think (no pun intended). So we think about what we’re doing while we do it. Occasionally we’ll find that we need to sit and think, to put down what we’re doing and ponder a question—maybe even draw a diagram or blueprint. My least favorite thing is to realize, in the middle of doing something, that I’m doing it wrong—or, worse yet, that I don’t need to do it.

Life is like a deep wood—we follow the trail without too much care, but where the trail ends, or forks, we have to stop and consider our options. Sometimes we have to trail-blaze where there is no path; sometimes we have to gamble on which fork leads in the best direction. Sometimes we have to micro-manage, such as making camp before the sun goes down; sometimes we have to macro-manage, such as planning where to get provisions over the next month’s travel. All activity involves thought, planning, decision, and judgment—we humans are rarely wholly physical—our actions are the physical complement to our calculations.

Examination, though, is a special case—it has no boundaries. We can examine something forever, if we wish. We can opt not to examine something at all—taking for granted that it is a known quantity or a known object. To walk the ‘tightrope of examination’, to do it well, being aware of the world around us without losing the context of our lives—that’s the trick. Too much or too little are both dangerous ground.

I’ve been speaking, so far, of learned debate—where people try to agree on terms and their usage, where both sides are actively engaged in a search for truth or meaning. Most of our public examinations, unfortunately, are not like that.

When I see a news-show’s panel of commentators about to debate the presidential election, I know I’m in for a heaping helping of snake-oil and tap-dancing. The pretense of fairness and balance becomes a shambles of illogical carping and condemnation—insisting on their opponent’s evil while excusing the same evil in their champion. It’s a virtual ballet of slippery memes, with a dash of shouting and derision. Both sides hold up their ‘true facts’ while we, the voters, recognize neither’s claims as either true or factual—we call them ‘talking’ points, not ‘thinking’ points.

One of the candidates has latched onto the new Media-philosophy and has based his platform on the idea that what he says is more important than whether there is any earthly reason to say it. His constituents are no better—a recent poll reveals that, of those who will vote for Trump, 4% think he can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night—that means that a certain number of Trump supporters don’t trust him with nuclear weapons, but want to give them to him anyway.

A hilarious recent article in the New York Times made the point that Trump supporters are loyal to a fault. In it, a supposed Trump advocate scolds the rest of us for pointing out Trump’s faults, assuring us that nothing anyone says will change the minds of his base. Funny as hell, except for the part about it being true–nothing can destroy democracy quite so thoroughly as an evidence-proof electorate.

The hypocrites in the GOP, the ones who, for years, have been shoving reason through a black hole, so that it always comes out backwards and upside-down, are caught flat-footed. They like Trump’s hypocrisy a lot, but they’re nervous about how unabashedly he exposes it, without a whisper of the usual serpentine reasoning they usually like to use, to confuse the issues.

He just says the stupidest things—and liberals are confused. They’re used to having a debate with someone who injects a lot of false data and emotional blackmail into their policy, requiring an exhaustive review of what’s actually true, to rebut. Trump’s bald-faced “Build a Wall” or “Ban the Muslims” leaves them with their jaws hanging, unable to process such public abandonment of adult responsibility. It’s an unexpected gear-change. Trump no doubt mistakes it for awe, or something.

Trump supporters and far-right wackos of all kinds worry about an invasion of ‘foreigners’ in the USA. But people like me see past the surface of a person’s skin color or faith—we worry about an invasion from within, by the ignorant. America believes in equality—so the ignorant have as much of a say as any high-school graduate or PhD. Even the willfully ignorant, proud of their dismissal of science and logic, proud of their bigotry and chauvinism, eager to kick over the sand-castles of the liberal progressives—even these troglodytes have an equal say in the making of America. They are the cup of sugar in the gas tank of democracy.

Nothing I say will change them. Nothing I write will even propel them towards thought or questioning. So I’m not writing for them—I’m writing for you. You can grade my examination now.

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