A Minnesota colleague whose insights I respect, has an academic blog. Recently, he shared a post in which he summarized an aspect of contemporary life that keeps many of us up at night; he titled it “The Death of Thoughtfulness.”
As we watch an increasingly bizarre Presidential campaign–dominated on the Right by authoritarian know-nothings to whom the term “thoughtful” would never be applied and on the Left by voters impatient with complexity —his essay seems especially pertinent.
The post was lengthy, and I encourage readers to click through, but these paragraphs seemed to me to capture the essence of his—and my—concern:
The world is not black and white but it is lived in shades of gray. Solutions to America’s or world problems are not as simple as just send in the marines, cut taxes, or carpet bomb. There are no silver bullets to fix the economy, bring about world peace, or eliminate poverty. We live in a complex world with complex problems and understanding both and possible solutions require thoughtfulness about recognizing the limits of any one idea or policy proposal.
Yet simple-minded dogmatism is what sells. Recently I attended a conference of student college journals. One of the speakers was a representative from a major media news service. When one of the students asked how they could get more media attention for their journal the response from the news service was simple: Take a point of view and press it no matter what, even if extreme. The advice was that to be successful you had to have a simple, clear perspective and argue it to the extreme. It was not about being thoughtful or making clear careful distinctions–just take a position and advocate it, facts be damned.
The question we face—and by “we” I mean the whole world, including but not limited to the United States—is whether polities dominated by people demanding bumper-sticker solutions to complex and often highly technical problems can recapture what my colleague calls “thoughtfulness” and I would label intellectual humility.
When a United States Senator brandishes a snowball and claims it refutes climate change, when a candidate for the highest office in the land blithely promises to “carpet bomb” nations with which we are adverse, when outrage and pompous machismo are said to be signs of strength while considered, rational approaches to policy are sneeringly dismissed as evidence of weakness….we’re in trouble.