Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Town Hall Vandals IV: Good Citizenship

I have written recently of the fact that the Town Hall Vandals – those individuals who seek to close down public debate at town meetings – represent a culture that, to put it kindly, are lacking in the intellectual virtues.

Their attempt to shut down public debate on the issue of health care is evidence that they do not have an interest in the fruits of that debate. Instead, they wish to impose their interests and their truth on others – to prefer bullying to reasoned persuasion as a method of determining public policy.

I have also mentioned that it is not surprising that this lack of any concern for truth can be found in the fact that the reasons they cite for their protests are pure fabrications. Rather than responsibly determining the truth of the matter they eagerly grasp at any proposition that suggests the possibility of feeding their desire to rationalize their immoral behavior.

We can trace this lack of concern with evidence, reason, and truth back to their eagerness to accept wholly unreasonable fictions regarding evolution and climate change, and in rationalizing the invasion of Iraq in which they sacrificed the fortunes and well-being even of their own members on the altar of irrationality and stupidity.

We must add to this long list of absurdities that show a total disregard for evidence and reason the view that many of them hold that President Obama was not born in the United States. This belief fits their fantasies and it is certainly something they wish to be true. Because they base their beliefs on their wishes rather than a consideration of evidence and reason, many of them believe it to be true. Yet it is a proposition that a morally responsible person with a desire to be right would ever accept, based on the available evidence.

I would not want any of these people on a jury in which I was being tried for any crime I did not commit. While the prosecution has an obligation to prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, these people display such incompetence when it comes to determining evidence and proof that they cannot be trusted to render a just verdict. More than likely, they are going to base their verdict, not on the evidence, but on whether the look and manners of the accused appeals to them. I cannot trust that I could be found innocent on that standard.

Speaking more generally, that makes these people poor citizens. In the same way that they are not competent jurors, they are also not competent voters. They lack the competence to evaluate the quality of an argument based on reasons and evidence, so they lack the competence to direct the country for the common good. They cannot even direct the country for their own good, since the inability to link evidence to conclusions is as dangerous for the agent as it is for others who would become the victim of his incompetence.

Where a government is set up in such a way that it puts power in the hands of the people, those people acquire a civic responsibility to exercise that power competently, They have a civic responsibility to determine what skills are best suited for making good decisions for the society as a whole, and they have an obligation to promote those skills in themselves and others.

This sub-culture of the American body politics - those who make up the body of town hall vandals as well as these other examples of intellectual recklessness – have abdicated the moral responsibility that citizens have to govern well. Instead of working on those skills that would make them competent to live the life of good citizens, they render themselves incompetent governors of their own lives and the lives of others.

Yet the one thing these incompetent thinkers demand is the power to rule the country and to make decisions that affect everybody – the very types of decisions that they have made themselves unqualified to make.

Given their tendency – even their hunger – for distorting the truth and manufacturing fictions that they wish were true, if one of them were to read this post, I can well imagine the fictions that they would invent.

They may say that I base my accusations merely on the fact that they disagree with my conclusions and so I attempt to put down those who do not agree with me. Yet, in virtually the same breath, they would protest any claim that all points of view are equal and there is no way to appeal to evidence or reason or some other method of knowing to determine which option is more likely true.

I imagine one of them saying, while sitting in deliberations as a member of a jury, that all points of view are equally valid and the question of whether the accused is guilty or innocent is nothing more than a groundless matter of personal preference.

Some may be tempted to declare that this is an argument for abandoning the democratic process and for imposing a set of decisions on those who have made themselves incompetent citizens.

It should not be surprising to discover that this is a gross distortion of what I have written, since this group is particularly talented at coming up with gross distortions. This posting is not a call to end the democratic process. It is a call for the Town Hall Vandals to start to live up to the moral responsibilities to develop those skills and temperaments that citizens have an obligation to develop. This includes the disposition to be able to take part in reasoned discussions, and the ability to competently evaluate the quality of evidence and the conclusions they support.

None of us benefit by having such a large and vocal body of incompetent citizens in our community – not even the incompetent citizens themselves.

No comments: