Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Makes America Great? - Part 2

From the six cards below, select a card, any card. Memorize your card or write it down so you don’t forget it. At the end of this blog (don’t look ahead), I will reveal to you which card you selected by removing your card from the group. You ask, “How can you do that in advance for everyone who reads your blog?”

Pick a card
It’s easy. That’s what this week’s blog is all about. But just to make sure, let’s do it twice. From the face cards below, pick a second card. Memorize your card or write it down. At the end of the blog, I will remove BOTH of the cards you selected from the two groupings. Read the blog first—don’t skip ahead.

Pick another card

America is the greatest nation on Earth. But what makes America great? I propose that it is because of our freedom to ask honest questions, voice our concerns, and hold our leadership accountable for their actions— according to the destination we seek.
I am sure, the mass of citizens in these United States mean well; and I firmly believe they will always act well, whenever they can obtain a right understanding of matters. – George Washington
So, how do we “obtain a right understanding of matters”? We ask questions.

There is no doubt that Socrates was a master questioner. Socrates claimed that an unexamined life was not worth living. If we live without consideration of our destination, and whether the road traveled will get us there, then we are fools and not wise. However, in our pursuit of the truth through questions, we should be reminded that the greatest danger of truth is not falsehood, but diversion and indifference.

When considering George Washington’s emphasis of the importance to “obtain the right understanding of matters”, there seems to be an ever-present dilemma: We don’t all think alike. For example, take the differences between Christians and humanist.

Christians are typically suspicious of a “skeptical mind” and instead of questioning, turn inward, focusing on personal compliance and conformity to the absolutes of an infinite, all-knowing, and eternal God whose words have been recorded in the Bible. By faith, they typically accept that God is ultimately in control of all things and therefore the outcome of all things will only occur as is acceptable to God’s plan. Therefore, many modern-day Christians are often content to avoid asking “Why?”

Question: Was it the acceptable outcome of God that Stalin, Mao, and Hitler killed who they killed?

On the other hand, to the humanist, everything is relative, absent of the bindings of absolutes. By cutting one’s self free from the Law of God, man is able to plot a course based on the arbitrary choices of what a group of people think is in the best interest of the sociological good of the community, of the country, for the given moment. Humanist philosophy recognizes that faith often requires the abandoning of reason while ignoring fact and observation. As such, faith can be stifling and counterproductive. The result is a relativistic value system that rejects moral absolutes and leaps of faith.

Question: Did Stalin, Mao, or Hitler kill who they killed for what they conceived to be the good of society?

How is it possible for anyone—Christian or humanist—to look the other way, or worse, justify such atrocities committed against humanity by these three men? Sadly, many did.

February 2012 - Congressional Job Approval
On February 8th, Gallup reported that a record-low 10% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 13% in January and the previous low of 11%, recorded in December 2011. Eighty-six percent disapprove of Congress, tying the record high for disapproval set in December.

After seeing this record-low approval of the job Congress is doing, I asked:

Question: How can intelligent adults have such difficulty resolving the crises that face our nation?

In order to better understand the insanity, I called upon those who have dedicated their lives to understanding the human mind and why we think and do what we do.

Don’t skip to the cards, just yet. Take a minute (or more) and review a few basics in psychology (explanations of our everyday behaviors) —selective attention, cognitive dissonance, and conformity.
America is the greatest nation on Earth. But what makes America great? I propose that it is because of our freedom to ask honest questions, voice our concerns, and hold our leadership accountable for their actions— according to the destination we seek.
Selective Attention

The two divers (in the photo above) are obviously not concerned with what will soon be their biggest nightmare. Why? They are not yet aware of the problem. Although, at this point, questions will not help their situation, they might have thought to ask a few before jumping into the shark invested waters.

According to psychology, we often never see the world as it is. We ignore most of what happens around us. Our attention is limited to a very narrow range of events. We are very selective about the things we notice and to which we give our attention.

The greatest danger of truth is not falsehood, but diversion and indifference.

Furthermore, what we pay attention to is highly motivated from our conditioning and presuppositions. We read news, watch TV, and listen to music that mostly agrees with our presuppositions.

People live more consistently on the basis of their presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions I mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his/her basic world view, the grid through which he/she sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

As a man thinketh, so is he.

An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He/she has a mind, an inner world. The inner thought world determines the outward action. Most people “catch” their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the same way you might catch a cold.

Cognitive Dissonance

In the video above of The Fox and the Grapes by Aesop, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he decides that the grapes are probably not worth eating. He makes the justification that the grapes probably are not ripe or that they are sour (from hence we get the expression: “sour grapes”).

When confronted with facts or information which contradicts what we believe, rather than change our beliefs, we usually dismiss or discount the evidence. This is referred to as cognitive dissonance.

Our judgment is not always guided by reason and logic. In fact, people often engage in irrational thinking – dismissing evidence in order to maintain a version of the world which suits them. In some cases, people will overlook medical problems, like dismissing a persistent cough or lump, rather than entertain the possibility that something might be seriously wrong. The opposite can also happen. People, who are convinced they are sick, will discount evidence of their health.

Political biases distort the processing of information. People typically fixate on news that agrees with their beliefs and tend to ignore those inconvenient facts that contradict with their inner talking points. This is a deeply human trait. Sometimes it is so painful to be wrong, a person convinces themselves that they are right, regardless of the facts.

In a state of dissonance, people feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. Social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions or adding new ones to create consistency. Often, a new cognition can be integrated into a person’s belief system to resolve personal conflict.

Because it is often easier to make excuses or pass judgment than it is to change behavior or values, cognitive dissonance research contributes to the abundance of evidence in social psychology that humans are not always rational beings.

Cognitive dissonance theory warns that people have a bias to seek consonance (agreement of compatibility between opinions or actions) among their cognitions. This bias gives the theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and even destructive behavior.

Two Views of the Constitution (Left vs. Right)

Evaluate the views of the Left and Right below as you believe each is motivated from presuppositions and selective attention of the world around us.

The Left prefers a Constitution which specifically grants rights to society as determined (based on humanist presuppositions) that are in the best interest of the country at the present time. In that way, the government can guide the collective towards a perfect society, even if doing so requires telling people what is good for them. On a more practical level, the Constitution should mandate government spending on social programs in order to address such issues as the redistribution of wealth and political and economic justice. Instead of the Constitution being about what the federal government can’t do to you, it should be more about what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.

The Right upholds our current Constitution (not in need of replacement), as it was written by the Founding Fathers, which implies that there should be no right to anything which places an implicit claim upon another. Think of it this way, your right to free speech does not infringe upon me because I can respond and it costs me nothing. However, if you had a right to a house and healthcare and a minimum income it would place a claim upon me because government would have to take from me to provide for you, or take from you to provide for me. In violation of natural law (natural law is a view that certain rights or values are inherent in or universally cognizable by virtue of human reason or human nature, while common law is the legal tradition whereby certain rights or values are legally cognizable by virtue of judicial recognition or articulation) the Government cannot give me a house without taking the land, materials and labor from someone else.
America is the greatest nation on Earth. But what makes America great? I propose that it is because of our freedom to ask honest questions, voice our concerns, and hold our leadership accountable for their actions— according to the destination we seek.

Conforming to the Norm

Under conditions of certainty, people tend to reason consciously, while under conditions of uncertainty, people tend to herd unconsciously. Herding is an unconscious, impulsive behavior developed and maintained through evolution. Its purpose is to increase the chance of survival. When humans do not know what to do, they are impelled to act as if others know. Because sometimes others actually do know, herding increases the overall probability of survival. Herding could also be referred to as conforming.

Humans are natural-born conformers. We copy each other’s dress sense, ways of talking and attitudes, often without a second thought. But exactly how far does this conformity go? Do you think it is possible you would deny unambiguous information from your own senses just to conform to other people’s views or beliefs?

Renowned psychologist Solomon Asch concluded in his conformity experiments in the 1950s that 76% of people denied their own senses at least once in order to conform with others.

In a previous experiment, Muzafer Sherif, (see his well-known Robbers Cave experiment) found that when people were faced with making a judgment on an ambiguous test, they used other people’s judgments as a reference point.

Note: Robbers Cave experiment is one of social psychology’s most cited studies dealing with differentiation, showing how easily opposing in-groups and group hostilities can form. At the same time, it is one of the best examples of conflict resolution brought about by finding super-ordinate needs that transcend intergroup conflict.

While there's no surprise that we copy each other, it’s amazing that some people will conform despite the evidence from their own eyes. Imagine how much easier it is to encourage conformity when ambiguity levels are much higher, as they often are in everyday life.

Conformity itself is something of a mixed blessing. In many situations we need conformity. In fact, many aspects of our social lives would be much harder if we didn't conform to a certain extent—whether it’s to legal rules or just to queuing in the post office.

The dangers of conformity are only too well-known, just take a look at the implications of Milgram’s obedience experiments for a glimpse at what humans will do in the name of conformity. Sometimes it really is better if we think for ourselves rather than relying on what others say and do.

It certainly bears considering how our own lives would be different if, one day, we decided not to conform, or even to suddenly start conforming. Would things get better or worse for you? Many people find their inability to conform is a real problem in their lives while others find it more difficult to break away and do their own thing.
America is the greatest nation on Earth. But what makes America great? I propose that it is because of our freedom to ask honest questions, voice our concerns, and hold our leadership accountable for their actions— according to the destination we seek.
And now for your cards...

What? You say that your cards are not in the groups? How did I do that? Go back and try it again. I am completely confident that regardless of how many times you select a card, it will not show up in the final cards. Why am I so confident?

By understanding your presuppositions and the psychological principle of Selective Attention, I was able to deceive you by hoping you would not notice that the entire set of cards from both sets was “changed”. While you thought I was removing ONLY your card, your attention was totally focused on seeing if your card was in the group.

Human nature (if for no other reason than survival) is hard-wired when it comes to selective attention, cognitive dissonance, and conformity. Truth is often not truth if it doesn’t give us what we want or need.

As you have seen with the card trick, it’s easy to fool a person when you know how people are wired. Imposing our beliefs on the world takes little energy and effort and it gives us a sense of reassurance. Trying to discover the truth, on the other hand, is difficult, complicated, and confusing. For most of us, it is simply easier to impose our beliefs on events than to explore situations from multiple points of view.

The truth is that if our leaders continue to deny our problems history tells us that the United States of America will eventually default. The default of the U.S. will hurt many people, markets will collapse, life savings will be lost, there will be violence, upheaval, and massive political change, but you know what? The world will not end. When it is all said and done, people will work, they will spend time with their children, they will cry, laugh, and will go on. We have two options: relentlessly search for nothing but the truth, or do nothing—status quo—and let the truth find us.

If we ever hope to get out of the mess we are in (unemployment, national debt, eroding job market, souring economy, dysfunctional government), we need to get our heads out of the sand and start doing what made America great—start asking some questions and DEMANDING some answers.

We MUST start asking questions.
The greatest danger of truth is not falsehood, but diversion and indifference.

America is the greatest nation on Earth. But what makes America great? I propose that it is because of our freedom to ask honest questions, voice our concerns, and hold our leadership accountable for their actions— according to the destination we seek.
Next week: “What Makes America Great? – Part 3”

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