Small Minds

Many years ago, in my misspent youth, I read an article in the Sunday paper, written by a Nun, that developed the notion that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. I have always thought that was an interesting notion and it may have been (in a small way) the reason I decided to pursue a PhD in philosophy. At the very least, I didn’t want my mind to atrophy and I thought philosophy was the sort of subject that could keep my mind alive well into my dotage: questions that don’t have answers! Well, here I am.

But, with the exception of a few bright people who post blogs and comment from time to time about the issues, I appear to be surrounded by small minds discussing people. I am speaking of the elections, of course, in which ideas are scarce if present at all and events seem to have been ignored as well — unless they reveal a scandal about the parties involved. This election is all about people and the ad hominem fallacy abounds. I speak of that logical fallacy that redirects attention to the character of the person advancing an argument rather than dealing with the argument itself. One of the candidates, who will not be mentioned, glories in attacking not only his opponent but anyone who walks, rolls, or crawls and has the gall to disagree with him. I cannot remember any candidate in my lifetime who seems to enjoy attacking persons as does this man. And he has a great many followers who seem to enjoy it as well.

Politics has always been a bit dirty even from the get-go. And the ad hominem attack on the speaker has always been there in some form or other. But this election takes the cake and wins hands-down: it seems to have achieved a new low. We are scraping through the bottom of the barrel!

When one reflects back on the days when the Constitution was being considered for adoption the country (very small at the time, of course) was abuzz about the balance between states and nation; there was considerable fear of giving up the power that resided in the small relatively homogeneous states to a nation of people who disagree with one another about many of the important issues of the day. Where have those ideas gone? Where is that passion for thought on a large scale, a scale beyond the self? Why can’t people discuss issues with those whose opinion differs from their own? Why do we have to cast aspersions against those who disagree with us rather than listen to what they have to say?

When the Federalist Papers were written by three men of genius they were published in all the major newspapers of New York state and everyone worried whether by adopting the concept of a united country they would be giving up much of the power they had amassed as one of the most prosperous states in the colonies. Everyone who could read — and many who could not — discussed the ideas and thought about the issues involved. It is sobering to realize that those people were willing to think outside the box, to imagine a united country and the positive force it could be in the world. They saw beyond themselves and the present moment and made determinations based on the question of what would be best in the long run.

When this country celebrated its bicentennial in 1976 Henry Steele Commager, the great American historian, was asked what single thing differentiated the folks in this country when the Constitution was written and discussed from the people of America two hundred years later he answered quickly: in those days they thought about the future, about their children and their grandchildren. We no longer think about those things because we are fixated on ourselves at the present moment. That was in 1976. How much worse has it become in the interim? One can only wonder.

In any event, the answer to this question is revealed to some degree by the present lack of discussion in the political arena about the ideas that are so important to the future of this country. Instead we hear about every mistake (real or imagined) one or the other candidate has made in his or her lifetime (or what mistakes their significant other might have made). And it’s not just the candidates, either. The media glories in gossip and citizens who are about to go the voting booth are immersed in talk about the personalities and character (or lack of character) of those who are running for political office.  “I hate him,” or “I can’t stand her.”

We should be talking about qualifications, not personalities. We are lost in blather about people and have lost sight of the issues that confront us all and which will determine the course of this country for the next generation at least. Our minds have shrunk: they are small indeed.

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24 thoughts on “Small Minds

  1. Hugh, thank you for another thoughtful blog! You’re obviously still very capable of thinking thoughtful thoughts 🙂 — so, indeed, you chose the right career path! Many thanks to that long-ago nun, too!

    There was a lot of good, thorough discourse over divisive issues in the early decades of America’s history — discourse that came right from the heart of the mechanics of our government, and helped shape those mechanics. But in fairness to today’s voters or potential voters, we should remember that the core divisive issues of America’s first decades proved unsolvable polarizing and finally led to a great, violent eruption. (The Civil War.) Those core issues were slavery and states’ rights (or, actually, an extremely warped sense of states’ rights on slavery). Each plagued the nation before the Constitution had even been written, and the divisions, the anger, worsened as the country grew in size and land.

    But those divisions were seldom personal, or at least not as broadly personal as they are today. The personal was not what comprised the bulk of a candidate’s qualifications, nor what elections, policy decisions were based on.

    Now … Well, I was trying to be fair to today’s voters for a while. But then I think of Trump.

    We have been a nation that has been essentially a cult of celebrity, cult of personality for a long time now. It’s only been exacerbated by the proliferation of “reality TV shows,” and 24-hour “news” talk shows. From that miasma has emerged Trump, who, sickly, is the candidate born for and born of this era. He is the small-minded candidate, whose only substantive quality is that he talks and tweets with gross, graphic, mean-spirited, spiteful bitterness about PEOPLE. And he does so in a way that draws other small-minded people to him, those who feed on the personal attacks, have grown so used to the cult of personality that defines us.

    He’s like the town gossip on steroids blended with the town bully, who’s been given the world’s biggest platform. Or, he’s the nun’s example magnified to the extreme.

    In good part, we created the monster, fed him, lapped up his outlandish insults for years in the name of entertainment — and now he’s gotten away from us. And could destroy us. Maybe karma means we get what we ask for, or, to paraphrase the old good-nutrition phrase, maybe we are what we vote. Maybe, in this current climate, this culture, we deserve a president like Trump, who trolls the gutters, who takes such glee at making up slanderous tweets and talk-show comments. He stands for all the worst qualities in modern America, and God help us if those darker angels prevail against Lincoln’s better angels of our nature.

    • I agree the small-minded deserve a President Trump, but not that the entire country might. And if that day comes, surely the rest of the world doesn’t deserve an America with Trump as President. That embarrassment would totally eclipse the embarrassment I always felt when George Bush the Younger represented the United States of America.

      • It’s hard to imagine the man as president of this country. But the fact that the race is even close at this point does make one wonder about the level of intelligence of the voters who will make the decision!

  2. Hugh, where would this nun place Trump? He talks about people, but he makes up most of it as he does with issues. Our country is in a horrible place he says and only he alone can save us. That make two mistakes in one sentence. Complex problems require holistic and multi-faceted solutions. Great post, Keith

  3. Hugh, am I correct in concluding that you earned that Ph.D. and are, in fact, Dr. Curtler, Ph.D.? I am grateful for your thoughtful presentation of the current campaign, and dismayed I have been forced to break a vow I made years ago never to vote for H. Clinton.

    • I am that person! And I am grateful that you have changed your mind about Clinton. She’s far from perfect, but she is eminently qualified for the job and her opponent is borderline mad.

      • I have to admit, I still feel the Bern. I’m certainly eager to see a woman in the office, but I’d prefer someone with the character of Elizabeth Warren or Michelle Obama.

        And I would go so far as to replace “borderline” with “barking”. 😉

  4. Reblogged this on Space, Time, and Raspberries and commented:
    This really isn’t as daunting a post to read as you might imagine. Hugh Curtler is a trained philosopher who knows how to express his thoughts so even the least philosophical of us can grasp them easily. His ideas are not dumbed down; they are clear. Please take a few minutes to read his thoughts on what We the People and our 2016 Presidential candidates should be doing.

  5. Reblogged this on The Girl From Jupiter and commented:
    A very worthy reblog as we rapidly approach the presidential elections. May our discourse focus less on personality and emotions of the moment, and more on ideals, principles, and policy as we select a candidate to guide our nation toward the future.

  6. Ah, sigh. Here in Britain ‘we’ voted to leave a body of nations that has lived in harmony for many, many years. Many falsehoods were uttered and many threats levelled and the rebellion duly came and those of us who wanted to remain in Europe woke to find ourselves bereft. One of the most chilling developments of that campaign came from the utterance of an intelligent man, a prominent member of our government. He articulated what many felt when he pooh-poohed the ‘experts’ warning that Brexit would be bad. People have had enough of experts, he said. Yes, we’re tired of listening to experts, everyone consoled themselves. Well, I understood the feeling, on both sides of that canpaign. One side said, frighten them, they’ll be too scared to vote out. The other said, yeah, you’re always telling us what’s best for us and look what a state we’re in, here far away from London, where you haven’t a clue what life is like – we’re out. And so we are. Scary, scary world we’re living in. I’m married to an American who now has dual citizenship, but maybe not for long if Trump gets in…

    • The whole Britexit thing was most disturbing as it represents the same sort of isolationism we see here in the states, a turning inward to avoid seeing disturbing things going on around the world of which we should all be aware and seeking to remedy. Very sad, indeed. Many thanks for the visit and the comment.

      • Dear Hugh,

        What is scarier is that the polls prior to Brexit indicated that the majority were in favor of being part of the EU. Complacency set in and many in favor of remaining part of EU did not turn out to vote.(Low voter turnout) After the vote, there were headlines like, “Why the majority of Brexit polls were wrong.” The rest is history.

        I do not want a repeat of this history in the U.S., Gronda

  7. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Blogger-friend Hugh Curtler has done it again, and I am sharing his post from a few days ago, as it is timely and asks some questions that we ALL need to think about, regardless of party affiliation.
    “Where have those ideas gone? Where is that passion for thought on a large scale, a scale beyond the self? Why can’t people discuss issues with those whose opinion differs from their own? Why do we have to cast aspersions against those who disagree with us rather than listen to what they have to say?”
    Please take a few moments to read Hugh’s thought-provoking post and think about what he says here. And many thanks, Hugh, for allowing me to share your post (even though I didn’t ask this time!)

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