Because we aren't Grownups

Pat Ryan

I wanted to respond to Jeff Golden's recent Kumbaya post, but the comment was looking a little windy and a lot confused so I decided to double down. To refresh, the central question was how do we move The Center far enough Left to offer some hope of voter buy in to the agenda of the progressive minded. Critical_Thinking_SEAL100

So, when my old Da dropped in from his adopted home in West Texas a couple of months back, I got this  refresher course on rationality.

Dad: "You know, in England, older people who want hip replacement surgery are out of luck. They wait in line for months and most retirees aren't even eligible."

Me (after a quick Google): "It's just not true Dad. In the last reported year, 68% of all hip replacement surgeries were performed on people over the age of 70, and about 1500 were performed on people over the age of 85."

Dad: "How about them Dallas Cowboys? Ain't they something?"

Now obviously, a few years back, the Google part was missing, but the result of the conversation was identical to the present, because my old Da knows at a gut level that even if he's wrong on this or that detail, it doesn't matter because his overall belief system is immune to pesky countervailing facts. By this point you're rolling your eyes and clicking your mouse because, by God, everyone knows that Those People are just irrational and we aren't even trying to reach Them. Nope, we're after rational moderates who have internalized a few bad ideas pushed by cynical manipulators out to make a fast buck. Bearing in mind the The Old Man has IQ tested in the high 130s, I'll just baldly state that it ain't about intelligence.

Back in '03, The Bus Project did one of their summits in Hood River and one of the exercises was to address the ongoing Wilderness non-contiguous, postage stamp sized, island designation battle on Mt. Hood. The Acolytes were divided into groups and asked to present pros and cons regarding appropriate protections and to address the concerns of various stakeholders, (you know, basic HS and college undergrad debating.) It went  roughly like this:

Pro sequestration crew: "Little birdies, cute bunnies, rainbows, anybody with half a brain, precious playground for PDX hippies, 7th generation, 100th monkey, Chief Seattle, etc., etc." 

Evil extractionist crew: "We hate trees (HAW HAW HAW) We hate all little furry creatures (HAW HAW HAW). We just want to destroy everything without any regard for anybody or anything else because we are just stupid vicious extractors of resources (HAW HAW HAW)".

Me: WTF?!?!?!?!

Laughter and sneers all around. You might have thought that I was suggesting that a one to one teacher/student ratio was not the ideal end goal in the public education sector.........or some Wingnutty idea like that. So I'll just baldly state that it ain't about education either.

So much for Socratic Dialogue...........but the bottom line, to answer Jeff's question, is to add Critical Thinking training to every grade level, from K-graduate degree and test for basic competence every three or four years. My hope is that under such a program, we would eventually arrive as a society at a place where it would be totally embarrasing for anyone to just assert stuff to be true without  supporting data.

In Oregon, as things stand currently, Critical thinking is a minor irritant and a vestigal appendage to a few civics and social studies classes. The reason for this seems to be that most progressives already believe themselves to be critical thinkers, and indeed, one of the reasons that I continue to frequent Blue Oregon, is that one of the worst faux pas in this forum is inaccuracy, although that's only one aspect of critical thinking. The main thing for the critical thinking beginner is that if you find information that reenforces your extant belief, don't believe it, ever. Do the danged research. Find the double blind test results. Assess all possible peripheral data points that may affect your opinion.

This kind of thinking will never catch on with people who were raised on and are stuck on..... "Because I said so", or "because God said so", or "because you will be punished or ridiculed if you fail to see it my way."  It should be a natural for our guys, but my experience is that it ain't.

It is hardwired into us to derive our beliefs from The Gut or even worse, Common Sense. This was a survival trait back in the hunter gatherer days, but these days, its counter-evolutionary. That the sun orbited the earth was a non-issue to Conan the Barbarian, but if Gene Roddenberry had gone with that one, we would never have met the Tribbles, and a huge cultural injustice would have been allowed to go unchallenged and unnoted. 

One thing my old Da said stuck with me. Something to the effect that "The American People have done a pretty good job making decisions without information so far........", but imagine what we could accomplish if we could just agree on the relevant facts, never mind the extrapolation.

So there it is Mr. Golden. If we want rational debate, the ideal debaters on all sides would be........critical thinkers. Some of 'em might even be progressives.

The image used is from . Haven't researched these guys, but looking at the site, it's a good starting place.......... 



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    i'm a big fan of intelligent, critical thinking. but i think we'll get a lot farther with really good stories. as long our stories are based on fact and derive from our own critical thinking, we can tell them honestly. and more people will respond to a really good story than a well-presented argument. the Right rose to power based on their stories, not their political philosophy. no one believes facts anyway (and that's a fact); they believe the stories that appeal to them.

    we need honest stories that appeal to people's desire for a better country -- a progressive country.

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    I agree with everything you say except for this:

    no one believes facts anyway (and that's a fact.

    It's not a fact. If you had said "most people" or provided some other qualifier, I would have agreed with your entire comment.

    I prefer facts and relevance as a foundation for any and all of my beliefs and I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I'm alone on this one.

    You're arguing that the propensity to believe good stories should be exploited, and that's sure valid for the near term.

    I'm arguing for a program to change that propensity, but I freely admit that it will take decades. I still think that it needs to be done.

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    Pat, you object to an obvious joke? i should have added "(-:"

    facts are tricky critters. facts are not truth, and certainly TRUTH. facts are interpretations of observed reality, and how we observe reality is a process continually in flux. critical thinking works its way through the problems posed by facts to try to arrive at understandings that are logical, sensical and defensible. none of that is ever written in stone.

    when we tell stories, we bypass aspects of rationality that can both obscure truth or recognize it. it's a two-edged sword, but if we can trust ourselves to use facts responsibly, can we not give ourselves the same trust for story-telling?

    the story of Rosa Parks goes much farther than a recitation of the facts regarding Jim Crow laws. just an example.

  • Steavis (unverified)

    You might want to add to your critical thinking one thing - How do we pay for the progressive agenda? It'd be nice to see something besides rich people/companies are greedy and need to be taxed more.

    The tax struture is geting top-heavy in terms of % taxes paid by high wage earners and we still have a $1.4T deficit and the health plan to pay for.

    Heck, myabe cost savings like no Iraq war? I got the prop tax bill on a Portland property and PFDR + Urban Renewal = the amount paid for schools.

  • William Neuhauser (unverified)

    Well, as my dad used to say with enough irony to note the irony but not enough to make him adjust his mindset: "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up!"

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    Wow William,

    My dad has also used that very line all of his life with a very similar proportion of irony/defiance.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    Critical thinking is the #1 enemy of a very substantial part of the United States economy. Would critical thinkers consume highly processed foods containing unhealthy levels of fat, salt and unknown and unpronounceable chemicals? Would critical thinkers incur credit card debt at high rates of interest to purchase disposable consumer products? Would critical thinkers spend their evening watching "Battle of the Network Stars"?

    Morons make the world go round.

  • Peri Brown (unverified)

    I have to say that when I lived in Texas that I considered a lack of critical thinking to be a right wing disease, but, living in Portland, I've been shocked at how reality testing challenged the left can be.

    Maybe my sample is limited. I know that when I lived in Texas, knowing that someone was a Cowboys fan would have precluded letting them even know that I was associated with critical thinking.

    Good post. News to me that Jeff was talking about moderates. So, you all are really going to ignore the reprehensible right, as they pile the kindling up around the house?

    Texas does produce a broad range. Bush to Paul. On BO, I, Pat and Jenni have confessed. Definitely not cookie cutter progressives.

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    I don't think any ideological group is immune to those who can't manage critical thinking any more than have a corner on it. I've had engaging conversations with conservatives who do think critically and have solid facts at their disposal.

    Their critical thinking leads them in a different direction than mine, in most cases. Partly because of ideology and partly (I think) because of other life experiences that are part of their calculus.( Or maybe I just think I'm better than I actually am. Who knows.)

    Critical thinking is vital and shouldn't be dismissed. I'm all for it in schools at every grade level.

    But I don't think that's how we'll reach "kumbaya".

    And no, I don't know how we will.

  • JTT (unverified)

    What I got out of my undergraduate (liberal arts) education was an ability to read, write, analyze, and think critically. Many years later, I can only vaguely tell you about the assorted subjects (which may be due to the beer drinking and less to the passage of time)...but I know that every course I took encouraged me to think critically about an author's writing, perspective, and construction. In HS, most kids only get exposure to that kind of rigorous education in AP/IB advanced courses (if they exist in the first place).

    Critical thinking is hard work. It requires research and being exposed to facts and circumstances that may be unsettling at first. A critical thinker should always be willing to have his/her perspective turned upside down (or at least tilted) by new information, facts, perspectives, studies, and time. I have seen a deficit of critical thinking exist in all political camps and across the spectrum. Why? Because it's easier to sit back on your haunches and be comfortable in thinking that you certainly know what you know because it's right. It's hard to be comfortable in a state of not knowing or in spending the time to find/do (legitimate) research that backs up what say.

    My favorite quote of all time has to be one commonly attributed to Lincoln: "Best to keep one's mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove any doubt". There have been few times in history when silent wisdom triumphs over boisterous foolery...but it is those times, when people take time to listen, that are the most rewarding. Talking's easy, it's listening that's hard.

    I don't want a country or state of Kumbaya. Frankly, it would be a pretty uninteresting and cardboard-bland. I'd go for a state of respect, which is impossible achieve if everyone is carrying pitchforks, enjoying the sounds of their own voices, and no one is listening.

  • nulwee (unverified)

    "Critical thinking is a minor irritant and a vestigal appendage to a few civics and social studies classes."

    In Portland, it tends to be tied into a defensive attitude about how "progressive" we are. Though we're a very different city in a very different state today, history concerns itself with progressions and decisions back to The Oregonian's opposition to suffrage, massacres of Chinese in the 1880s and the Modoc War, the most expensive Indian war in US history. The confiscation of Japanese-American land (now prime real-estate) in the West Hills? The complex and sordid history of the Termination Act that turned Klamath County from a prosperous and healthy ecosystem and community into a dirt-poor timber plantation.

    Here in Portland, we've low-balled a lot of things under the pretense that the mediocrity of othercities mass transit, or education, or crime, excuses our own shortcomings.

    Both the smug and the influential (and the smug influential) seemed to have made OR-Gov a foregone race, and couldn't be happier. Why are we cheering on the same entrenched re-treads that led us to this point?

    A hungry quintile of children, an unemployed underclass--these are things that any civilized people should take shame in. Question me if critical thinking compels you to, but come at it with a look at reality and not what you want to see. False equivalencies and rose-colored lenses are not needed. If we don't have pervasive, lasting problems than who else can we condemn in the US? Not many.

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    Pat, your post reminds me of the early years of Blue Oregon before reshuffled talking points were inserted into comments. I enjoyed a "food for thought" moment thanks to you.

  • John R (unverified)

    I think it would be entirely appropriate to begin this new era of rational debate by applying our new Critical Thinking skills to the post itself. Let's take another look at the sample dispute between Pat and his dad:

    Dad: "You know, in England, older people who want hip replacement surgery are out of luck. They wait in line for months and most retirees aren't even eligible."

    Me (after a quick Google): "It's just not true Dad. In the last reported year, 68% of all hip replacement surgeries were performed on people over the age of 70, and about 1500 were performed on people over the age of 85."

    Everyone have their Critical Thinking goggles on? Good. Let's begin.

    Dad offers two points to support his conclusion that "older people... are out of luck," 1) They wait in line for months, and 2) most retirees are ineligible.

    Pat, in his rebuttal, offers two counter-points which prove Dad's points are inaccurate. Or do they? A closer look at what the Google-generated rebuttal actually proves is warranted. Because none of Pat's argument addresses wait times, it is fair to assume that the entire counter-argument is aimed at the assertion that most retirees are not eligible for hip replacement. Unfortunately, Pat's statistics do nothing to disprove Dad's point. Pat's statistics do not tell us how many seniors need hip replacement, nor how many are eligible. The demographic breakdown of those who do receive the surgery tells us absolutely nothing about who is eligible, who is not, and who should be. A hard number regarding a portion of those who do receive the surgery is similarly useless. The number of seniors that are ineligible, and need hip replacement, remains a mystery.

    Dad, recognizing an irrational opponent, makes the wise decision to defuse the situation: change the subject.

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    John R,

    Accepting your train of thinking and not by way of rebuttal, I live in Sandy, and a friend who insures through her employer isw currently going through months of waiting and haggling over a needed hip replacement.

    Another alternative conversation might have explored the relative wait times and the many other points that you raised, but the "wisdom" of my father was the wisdom that he typically displays in similar situations.

    If assertions and verbally bullying fail, deflection is the only tool left.

  • JellyRoll (unverified)

    I've read in numerous periodicals that cutting taxes stimulates the economy. For instance, recently socialist states like Germany and France have begun cutting taxes as a means of stimulating the economy.

    Pat - do you believe cutting taxes stimulates the economy?

    The reason I ask is because this is the exact opposite the USA seems to be going under democrat/obama rule.

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    In some cases a tax cut targeted at those most likely to spend it quickly will offer a short term boost.

    The most recent was the one in the stimulus package signed into law by Obama a couple of months back.

    In the end though, there's no free lunch.Cutting taxes and increasing borrowing, as was done by both Reagan and Bush II, has never worked economically, even though the whole free lunch idea has been embraced by many alleged "fiscal conservatives" over the years.

  • JellyRoll (unverified)

    Pat, sounds like you agree that if we could offer tax cuts without increasing borrowing, that would have a good effect on the economy? That makes good sense to me, but I don't see any major parties advocating that.

    "The most recent was the one in the stimulus package signed into law by Obama a couple of months back."

    The obama stimulus wasn't based on tax cuts - just printing money and giving it to people, hoping for job creation, which hasn't panned out.

    "whole free lunch idea has been embraced by many alleged "fiscal conservatives"

    Not sure what you mean here, I can't think of any conservatives that adovcate a free lunch?

    Bottom line for me: I don't think we can keep expanding entitlement programs forever w/o serious economic problems for this country. At some point, we'll have to get serious about the future of this country - I just hope it doesn't take a fiscal armageddon for people of all political stripes to realize "there is no free lunch".

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    OK, JellyRoll, I don't have a huge amount of time to be debating here. My day job is taking up a lot of my time right now. But I really can't let some of this pass without comment.

    The fact that you can find literature that supports the idea that working class people will benefit from a governmental focus on helping rich people get richer, is not surprising. There are a lot of rich people who hold that view, and they have money to support the publishing of those types of documents.

    However, the vast majority of economists disagree. A disproportionate taxation on the poor and working class inevitably harms the economy. (And, please, do not come back with a canard about the rich paying more in taxes than the poor - that flat out lie is promulgated by people who pretend that the income tax is the only tax in the world. And even the income tax does not tax the value of unsold investments, which is where the vast majority of wealth is generated.)

    You can find plenty of devotional literature which will claim that evolution is wrong. Well meaning religious fundamentalists are more than willing to spend enormous amounts of money trying to attack the basic tenets of science and critical thinking. But that doesn't make science wrong.

    The views of the radical right have been disproved time and time again. From the 19th century up until today. If slashing taxes and the basic social safety net actually helped an economy, the Bush years (both of them) should have been an economic boom time. Instead, they led to an economic disaster that our new President is doing his best to clean up.

    You want to be an "economic creationist"? Fine. But then don't go responding to an article about logical thinking.

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    See this is kind of the point of the post.

    You Know stuff, like Obama didn't cut taxes, and in fact what he's done so far is "the opposite".

    I know stuff, like Obama did cut taxes, and that Reagan and Bush both, after cutting taxes for the top two quintiles then proceded to borrow Trillions while talking about fiscal responsibility. The whole Big Adventure in Iraq was off budget.

    I have the actual factual history on my side, and you have a theory that's never been proven statistically to work anywhere.

  • JellyRoll (unverified)

    "You Know stuff, like Obama didn't cut taxes, and in fact what he's done so far is "the opposite". - Pat

    I haven't seen my taxes cut by obama or anybody else. As a matter of fact, despite the value of my house plummeting, my property taxes are due to increase. Also, the Multnomah dems just raised vehicle registration fees by $19. I am not seeing the "tax cuts" that you know exist. I am not calling you a liar, Pat, I just don't see them...? Can you be more specific. Where are the cuts?

  • JellyRoll (unverified)

    "A disproportionate taxation on the poor and working class inevitably harms the economy" - Steve

    I agree. But everytime I turn around, fee's and taxes are increasing for me (middle class) - not going down. I don't see the democrats or republicans solving this, and I don't think it's sustainable.

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    Obama cut taxes. Google it. 12,400,000 hits, including on the first page, a link to the American Spectator which argues that while the tax cuts did happen, they weren't the "Right Kind" of tax cuts, because only tax cuts for the rich actually work.

    Upon reply, keep in mind that you've totally ignored my assertion regarding Reagan and Bush II and their budget busting behavior.

    But back to the original post:

    if you find information that reenforces your extant belief, don't believe it, ever. Do the danged research. Find the double blind test results. Assess all possible peripheral data points that may affect your opinion.

    This post is not about taxes, it's about critical thinking, and the pitfalls of sloppy research and outright assumptions based on dogma or reality preferences.

  • JellyRoll (unverified)

    I guess I hadn't noticed obama cut taxes - because I am not seeing it in my bottom line. With everything else going up in cost - my $65/month, or whatever extra obama has allowed me to keep from my paycheck, hasn't made much of a dent.

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    Everything else going up in cost, JellyRoll? What planet do you live on?

    The actual rate of inflation over the last 6 months has averaged negative 0.8 percent. Last month it was -1.8 percent. We are in a period of DEflation, not inflation.

    Don't believe me? Go here:

    And that, economists will tell you, is not a good thing. Deflation means that companies are so desperate for any sales whatsoever, they slash prices to the bone. To save money, they lay off workers. Who then do not spend. Which continues the deflationary cycle.

    Deflation was a prominent feature of the Great Depression.

    The solution to this is for there to be demand. And the way to do this is for the government to make infrastructure investments. (Roads, bridges, electric grids, ports, etc.) Which, in 1932 after 4 miserable years under Hoover, FDR's government did (except for one year in 1937 due to political pressure, which then caused a double-dip).

    I'm very curious as to where you think your prices are going up. Because my newspaper is filled with coupons.

    Sheesh, Pat.... this guy is like a classic example of who you were writing about - preferring his ideological filters to his own lying eyes.

  • Mike M (unverified)

    You may want to consider taking a look at what expenses that are and are not part of the CPI calculation. Link

    Follow some of the expanded items.

    Note that taxes (other than sales tax) are not included in the calculation.

    Since many can agree that healthcare costs are increasing at a rapid rate, other expenses must be declining to compensate.

    I don't know about Jellyroll's specific situation, but he clearly knows that his paycheck isn't going as far as it use to go.

    As far as coupons, sales, etc. are concerned, you are right that careful shoppers can make their dollars go farther. Unfortunately many simply do not pay any attention at all to these easy savings. It just takes a little effort.

  • Butthead (unverified)

    Steavis said, "How do we pay for the progressive agenda?"

    First of all, Steavis, very little that is printed on BO has anything to do with progressivism.

    Real progressives' agenda would pay for health care by defunding Obama's wars and occupations, bringing home the imperial troops from the thousand or so military bases that we're presently funding without comment from the elites of both corporate parties, and ending the welfare-for-the-rich subsidies that both paries love.

    No tax increases necessary.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    "I've read in numerous periodicals that cutting taxes stimulates the economy. For instance, recently socialist states like Germany and France have begun cutting taxes as a means of stimulating the economy."

    Where do you get Germany and France being socialist states? They have socialist components that make sense, such as a couple of the better health care systems in the world, but if their elected leaders - Angela Merkel in German and Nicolas Sarkozy in France - are clearly right of center that would be difficult to do in a socialist state.

    Also, how do you explain Rich Germans Want More Taxes? Could it be they want to sabotage their own economy if raising taxes automatically has a negative impact on the economy?

  • Carolynp (unverified)

    Can I point out that many of us have migrated away from the Democratic party based on the arrogance that is on display here? Whenever someone starts out by pointing out how super smart they are compared to their dad, it makes me want to hurl. He did raise you, right? Maybe he knows a couple of things you don't, just via his age and experiences.
    When I worked at UCSF, I found the vast majority of liberals have no clue what Democrats and "progressives" actually stand for: more government power and intervention in their lives. If you hate fighting with your insurance company, wait until you find out what it's like to fight with your government as your insurance company. There is a basic benefit we have all achieved from having these entities separate that I think you guys forget: oversight. Your friend who needs the hip replacement could call the insurance commissioner now. Additionally, she could schedule the surgery herself and pay for it out of pocket. Under the utopian ideal that progressives want, paying for these things out of pocket will no longer be an option. When the insurance commissioner is the one making the decision to deny her coverage, who will she call? The press in England have had a field day covering the women who are fighting to get the newest drugs to help fight breast cancer, but it hasn't moved the cold hearts of the bureaucrats denying their coverage.

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    Under the utopian ideal that progressives want, paying for these things out of pocket will no longer be an option.

    So, your assertion is that you know (somehow), "the utopian ideal that progressives want", and you know it won't work.

    Good for you. The post, of course, is not about healthcare, but rather about critical thinking. Your arrogance is kinda on display here too, but your critical thinking skills? Not so much.

    Where progressives are monolithic on healthcare is that they think it is a right rather than a commodity. They/we are united on little else around this topic.


    My example story would go like this without the story:

    An assertion is made during a comversation.

    The assertion is factually rebutted.

    The person who made the assertion refuses to acknowledge that the factual rebuttal has any relevance and changes the subject, because he has no interest in being correct on the facts, only in "winning" and argument.

    My take away is that this type of interaction is worse than useless, as willfully ignoring relevant facts that contradict your POV, reenforces the permission that you give yourself to remain ignorant and rely on your gut instinct.

    As for the Democratic Party, I don't know what it has to do with any of this. I was a Libertarian for the 15 years leading up to the election theft in 2000. I don't speak for the Dems and they don't speak for me.

  • Carolynp (unverified)

    I'm sorry about that. I'll go a bit slower so you can keep up. Your dad brought up the obvious problems with socialized medicine in England. You said that he was wrong about the single case scenario he quoted. Then you suggested that you had "won" the argument because you could deny a single specific case based on questionable numbers. I point out that there is at least one other case scenario that you cannot deny factually that is a glaring problem with socialized medicine limiting care. That is to say, the core of your father's argument is factually correct and you are arrogant not to admit it (maybe you aren't the super critical thinker you assume you are).
    If healthcare is a right, would you say that medical professionals are technically legally required to work for free? Does government have the "right" derived from people to force pay structures even if it creates slaves? Doesn't that infringe on the right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness? Constitutional rights were intended to limit government, yet, it seems your understanding suggests they are intended to expand government and nullify other rights.

  • Carolynp (unverified)
    <h2>Man, I take back my earlier post. It was mean sounding and snotty. I apologize.</h2>

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