Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Minding the mindless

I am a member of a Internet community group for Marine veterans. Needless to day, there has been a lot of discussion about the alleged war crimes perpetrated by a squad of Marines in Iraq. That's not to say that the discussion has been helpful. For example, there was this discussion thread started by Eddie Murphy, a enlisted Marine veteran who served in the early 80s.

Title: Marine Hero Speaks Truth

Mr. Murtha is certainly one of the most honorable men actually standing up to the tyrants and dungeonmasters [sic] of the Bush Cabal.

How much more of Bush's disastrous foreign and domestic policies can America survive? Not much I am afraid, this country is in very grave danger of reaching the point of no return. Impeach the traitorous and cowardly Bushies now!

Have a nice day y'all!
The rest of Mr. Murphy's post is a reprint of a AP article that alleges the new scandal is "worse that Abu Ghraib."

Let's take Murphy's position at its best; the Marines are facing some big problems as a result of the immoral conduct of a few of its members, and that these problems reflect the larger problems with the war in Iraq and the competency of the Bush administration. This is a serious charge to make at a stressed, confused time in our nation's history and if it is true, it deserves to be said. Such a position however cannot be advanced by a mere one sentence declaration and a repost of a wire service article-one would have to go much deeper and show just what kind of mistakes are being made in Iraq, how these mistakes are the inevitable product of the administration's thinking, and why that thinking is flawed on a fundamental level.

Murphy does even attempt to make such an argument. He does not explain his reasons for thinking as he does. He provides his readers with zero reasons to identify with him or his position. He simply asserts that the President is a "cabalist" and leaves it at that. As a punctuation to his remarks, he tells his readers to "Have a nice day."

This statement is the dead giveaway that Murphy does not respect his audience one iota and doesn't care about convincing it of anything. Murphy has to know that his remarks are caustic and yet he makes zero attempt to justify them. In fact; he merely asserts them in the form of an "F you" to his readers.

Now I know that some readers of this post will think themselves why is Provenzo minding the mindless. The thing is, I see this kind of debate-all vitriol and zero substance-from both the right and the left and I see it with increasing frequency. When I talk to the proverbial "man on the street," I rarely find thoughtfully constructed arguments in defense of one's position (regardless of whether I agree with it or not). Murphy could just as easily be arguing for the war and against the left; the actual position he takes is immaterial.

What is material is the clear inability to communicate rationally-to identify facts and present them to others in a structured presentation. And that's troubling to me-deeply so. Why? Because matters of life and death for the nation have to be discussed and debated-clearly, coolly and logically-or the nation and the freedoms it exists to protect won't stand.

And then I can't help but think-isn't that what the public schools are supposed to provide? After all, the best argument in favor of these schools is that the nation needs an institution that teaches its citizens about the intellectual and moral requirements of self-governance and how to contribute thoughtfully to the civic debate. That said, find me one in ten out of the graduates of the public schools who understand these things on even a rudimentary level. Instead, we get the likes of Mr. Eddie Murphy and the millions of people like him-and are forced to pay for the privilege.

Needless to say, there is a better way, but I am becoming more and more convinced that one must aim pretty young to get it. After all, how can you ever hope to reason with the mindless?

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