Sunday, December 6, 2020


Am I to "understand" and respect the opinion of someone who believes the earth is flat? 

Two columns of letters published in today's New York Times editorial page led me to this question, many of them insisting that those 74 million who voted for the current occupant of the Oval Office to remain there for another four years should be listened to, sympathized with, understood--as though they were children whose selfish needs and misinformed opinions must be addressed in order to maintain household peace. No matter that their opinions may be based on a demonstrably false set of facts, they must be respected.

There's a difficulty here, and one that presents a serious threat to the future of our country. To come to agreement on the solution of a problem, any problem--and no one can surely doubt that we have many of them--requires consensus on the underlying facts. If one who represents an opposing "view" that climate change, for example, is a hoax when the vast majority of the world's best scientists agree that it's a reality, there's really no basis for an exchange of thoughts on a solution to this global threat. If a person is led to the unshakeable belief contrary to all evidence, that the recent election was rigged, there are no reasonable grounds for discussion or argument.

I come from another culture, whose tradition is that of the European Enlightenment. Many of my fellow citizens today have been brought up since kindergarten to believe their personal needs and opinions deserve respect, no matter how misguided--or disrespectful of others--they may be. Does this make of me an "elitist"? An intellectual snob? Is it purely academic to insist that certain objective facts exist, that truth matters, that these are essential to find common ground in the pursuit of values that we share?

The problem that plagues us is not a political or even a cultural one. It's epistemological. It has to do with the difference between knowledge and belief. That distinction has been blurred--and to such an extent, it's hard to see how we shall ever return to the common sense--the common sense--required to return not only to efficacy in government but to simple sanity. It appalls me, in all honesty, that a newspaper with the standing of the New York Times should even think to publish such unserious "discussion".


Dr Michelle Frantom (aka Mad Fish Designs aka Dr Grafix) said...

I have a witty observation about 'common sense', in that it isn't 'common'. But seriously - this is a conundrum for me too. On the one hand I think I should respect other views - no matter how misinformed I think they are. On the other I am gobsmacked by what looks like pure stupidity - which may well be elitist and is no doubt disrespectful.

I have no answer but I am pretty sure of 1 thing - that if the views, opinions and/or beliefs of the 74 million aren't acknowledged they will simply become more disassociated from mainstream society. The ramifications of that seem dire.

Marie Smith said...

I couldn’t agree more. I heard a podcast by a young man who was a Qanon follower. He described a cult which he was fortunate enough to eventually leave. How is it possible to de-program all of those millions? There is a long road ahead I fear.

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