Reasonableness

On a recent blog post I received a very carefully considered response to a question from a young woman who played tennis for me while I coached and also took a class from me while an honors student. She is bright and well-trained in her area of expertise, which is biology. She is now a mother and active in her community. She refuses to vote for Hillary Clinton and, I suspect (though she never said) she will vote for Donald Trump. This has given me pause and deep concern

To this point I have dismissed the supporters of Donald Trump as mindless minions. And while this may be true on the whole, it is obviously not the case with this young woman, whom I respect and am quite fond of. But I think she is dead wrong when she says that critical thinking has lead her to the conclusions she listed as the reasons she cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. In the end it comes down to what a person will consider “good reasons.” One person’s notion of “reasonableness” is obviously not that of another. I do suspect it is largely a matter of intellectual training (like recognizing good literature), but it is also a result of the fact — noted by David Hume ages ago — that reason is largely a slave of the passions.

The young woman in question lists six reasons why she cannot vote for Clinton, two of which are religious. I cannot dispute those reasons because they do not count, in my view, as reasons. Matters of faith are not subject to philosophical debate and are seldom, if ever, altered by critical reasoning. This is a good thing, by and large, since there are things we humans are simply not equipped to know and things we must simply accept on faith. I have always held to that view. In politics, it comes down to a separation between the state and the church, one of the founding principles protected by the Constitution.

But a couple of the reasons she gives strike me as rather weak and subject to criticism. I will discuss one. She worries that under a progressive president, such as Obama and Clinton (if elected) the defense of this country would be weakened. Indeed, she thinks, it already has been weakened.  Clinton’s own position on defense has been carefully spelled out:

Ensure we are stronger at home. We are strongest overseas when we are strongest at home. That means investing in our infrastructure, education, and innovation—the fundamentals of a strong economy. She will also work to reduce income inequality, because our country can’t lead effectively when so many are struggling to provide the basics for their families

She has not advocated cutting the defense budget despite the fact that this country spends 3 1/2 times as much on defense as China, which is second on the list of countries that spend billions on defense. In the case of the United States, we spend $581,000,000,000 annually on defense. But if cuts were to result from her presidency, surely, a cut of 20% (say) would not cripple the armed forces that defend this country? And Hillary Clinton hardly rates as a dove; indeed, she has shown herself to be rather hawkish.

And there are a couple of other reasons on her list that are subject to question as well, including her personal reflections on the failure of the Affordable Care Act which in large part seems to have been a success; but I won’t go into them. I do not want this young woman to feel as though I am holding her up to ridicule. On the contrary, I applaud her for speaking up and sharing with all of us the reasons she finds compelling for voting against the woman I honestly believe would do an excellent job as president.

What has me most deeply disturbed is the fact, which I shy away from, that reasonableness — which I have taught for over 40 years and which I embrace with both arms — is powerless when it comes to deeply held beliefs and fears. For those who fear terrorism, for example, this country does not spend enough on defense. And for those who believe that life starts with conception the notion that a woman should be the one to choose whether her fetus lives is far from reasonable. No reasons whatever will dislodge those convictions so strongly held. Arguments become mere rationalizations.

Thus, I am doubly disturbed by this young woman’s response to my question because I know she is convinced her position is reasonable whereas I am not, though I know full well that I could not persuade her to my point of view. I find myself having pursued a lifetime of seeking to help my students become more reasonable only to discover that, in the end, conclusions are often, if not always, based on emotion.

Formula For Success

So, you wanna be president, eh? I have some tips for you garnered from years of looking and listening at key holes. These are some of the things successful politicians do to win voters — especially voters that would put them in the White House. Pay close attention!

  1. Exude confidence. Appear to be in charge. You want to convince your listeners that you have everything under control, are cool under fire, and will achieve greatness.
  2. Know your audience. Know what they want to hear and tell them precisely that. It’s not about what is true, it’s about what people want to hear.
  3.  Repeat. Again, repeat. If you say something several times people will believe it is true, whether it is or not. Indeed, truth is not the issue, it’s all about what people want to hear and saying it enough times that they will believe whatever you say.
  4. Appeal to emotion. Don’t try to overwhelm your audience with facts. Facts will just confuse people. Know your audience and know what they fear and what they desire. Exploit their known prejudices: play on them. Then probe. And repeat.
  5. Deal in generalities. Don’t get bogged down in specifics. People don’t what specifics anyway. They want clichés and formulas, no matter how vapid or even how untrue. Richard Nixon won his way into the White House by telling folks he “had a plan” for getting us out of Viet Nam. He never said what that plan was, because, as it turned out, he had none. But people believed him because it was what they wanted to hear (refer back to point #2 above).
  6. Smile, look sincere, and pause for effect after saying something your audience responds to favorably — as though you knew what they were thinking.
  7. Never, ever admit you were wrong. Don’t change your mind even if it has been shown that what you said was a bald-faced lie. Stick by your guns and attack those who insist that what you said was untrue. People prefer their candidates to be self-assured, even if they are chronic liars. They won’t recognize a lie anyway and very few of them will bother to check your “facts” to see if they are true.
  8. Pander to your audience. Give them more credit than they deserve. As a group they may have a collective I.Q. of 73.6 but treat them as though they are brilliant and wise enough to make you their choice for president.
  9. Attack your opponents at every opportunity. Blame every problem on them, especially if something terrible has just occurred, and assure your audience that if you were president this sort of thing would not have happened and will never happen again if your are elected. Your opponents can do nothing right. Stress that. Don’t worry whether or not this is true because, as said above, the audience doesn’t care about the truth, they want to hear what they already believe is true.
  10. Keep it short. K.I.S.S. No long sentences. No logic. No lengthy explanations with data and evidence to support. Remember that your audience has the attention-span of a cocker spaniel and act accordingly.