Archive for the ‘Critical Thinking’ Category

So Deal With It, Buttercup

There is significant food for thought in this August 17th post from Doug Wilson.  I give it to you in its full glory for your cogitations.   (Emphases added to the more salient (IMHO) points.)


There is a difference, and not a small one either, between answering an argument and responding to a tantrum. When you try to make the tantrum stop through appeasement, all you are actually doing is purchasing the next tantrum. “A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: For if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again” (Prov. 19:19). It is a most unfruitful way of paying it forward.

This is why the removal of Confederate symbols and statues is a big deal. A people can decide to put up statues, and a people through their elected representatives can decide to take them down again. It might be a shame or not, depending on the symbol. But because it would be a function of debate and deliberation, what is at stake is the subject under discussion—the statue or symbol itself.

But there is another way of conducting public affairs, where the impetus to do something is because somebody is pitching a fit. And that means that if you capitulate, you are not just capitulating on that subject. The issue is not what decision you are making, but rather how you make decisions. If a surly two-year-old boy is throwing down in the toy aisle at Walmart, you are not just negotiating with him about the particular toy he wants. You are actually talking about everything in the store.

Because we are living in a time when any attempt at rational discourse will get you branded as a racist, and then shouted down, this means that we are talking about every toy in the store. We are talking about Stone Mountain, the American flag, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, the name of Washington D.C., the name of Washington State, the name of Washington State University, the name of the Washington Redskins (how about the Beltway Indigenous Peoples?), and so on. There is no logical stopping point because we are not dealing with logic. We are dealing with what the Left wants, with what the Left demands, with what the Left is drumming its heels on the floor about.

As we respond to the tantrum, it does not need to be reasoned discourse. It should be a simple no. Deal with it, buttercup. There is no need for argument in response because no arguments are being offered. There has been far too much appeasement already, and so the appeasement should skid to stop at the very next thing that is demanded. Sorry, kids. Moscow, Idaho will continue to have streets running north and south with names like Washington, Jackson, Jefferson, Grant, et al.

Of course, in the meantime, we do have to take some account of the losers on the bent-Right who want to make paper mache shields with stark and frightening lightning-bolty thingies on them. But these are people who live on the margins, and are not likely to be able to run anything larger than a convenience store. They are a bugbear—they are not a real threat. They can overrun a comments thread on a blog like nobody’s business, but the only big thing they can successfully do is besmirch the reputation of honorable men like Robert E. Lee. And the only thing real conservatives actually have to do with regard to them is to make it absolutely clear how much we genuinely detest their venomous posturing.

Meantime, the antifa types are a genuine threat because they do have backing of the actual commies who run places like Illinois, say, or California. These people can’t even run a convenience store, but they can take anything, however large, and run it into the ground. They can do that, and have done, many times.


Progressives Use Violence to Whitewash History

16 Aug 2017 1 comment

This is an important article offering perspective, an attribute widely missing from much of the analysis you are currently seeing in the media, mainstream or otherwise.  (HT:  Patriot Post)  It is copied verbatim below.


The awful violence in Charlottesville is the inevitable culmination of the Left’s goal of eradicating opposing viewpoints.

Louis DeBroux · Aug. 16, 2017

The awful violence this past weekend in Charlottesville is the inevitable culmination of the Left’s goal of achieving the complete eradication of opposing viewpoints. Whitewashing history (pardon the pun) and engaging in political violence are tools to that end.

As the Dallas Morning News observantly noted, “History is not easily compartmentalized. It isn’t simply right versus wrong, black versus white, or blue versus gray. But there’s an entire crowd of folks who want to do just that because they believe it is all those things, and most egregiously, they believe there is an individual right for all to go through life unoffended.”

Dr. Lee Cheek, senior fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute, concurred, noting, “The events in Charlottesville have no connection to understanding the political traditions of the American South, and everything to do with battles among professional ideologues without any attachment or knowledge of the historical situation.”

Millions of Southerners are proud of their heritage for reasons that have nothing to do with slavery. They revere Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who stated in 1856, five years before the commencement of the War Between the States, “Slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.” Lee is heralded as a brilliant military strategist who served America faithfully in the Mexican War and as Superintendent of West Point. However, when called upon by President Abraham Lincoln to lead Union forces against the seceding South, he declined, incapable of bearing arms against his family, friends and home state. He accepted the commission as commander of Confederate forces in order to defend his beloved state of Virginia. Following the war, Lee worked tirelessly to convince his fellow Southerners to seek peace and reconciliation.

None of this matters to the Left, though. There is no understanding of the complexities of history, no appreciation for context. Slavery has existed throughout human history, regardless of color or nationality. In fact, there are more people enslaved worldwide today than ever before, including slavery practiced by Muslims. Mohammad owned slaves. One wonders if American progressives will now call for banning all things Islamic.

Indeed, how far will this go? Historical monuments of the Confederacy are being removed in Memphis, Lexington, Baltimore, New Orleans and elsewhere to appease angry leftists. These fascists even desecrated an Atlanta monument dedicated to unity and reconciliation.

Violent leftists have rioted in recent years in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Chicago, Ferguson, Charlotte, Berkeley, DC, Oakland and other cities, destroying businesses, setting cars on fire, and dragging people from their cars and beating them, declaring their right to do so because of past and current “injustices” — such as hearing words they don’t like.

As detestable as the KKK and white supremacists are, they have a right to speak and to peaceably assemble. Our First Amendment was written specifically to protect unpopular speech, and we show our own intolerance by silencing those with whom we disagree. The violence in Charlottesville would not likely have occurred had not the leftist agitators shown up looking to pick a fight, though the murderous Nazi thug is obviously responsible for his own actions.

So again we ask, how far does this go?

Do we eliminate all monuments to Democrat/progressive hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who opposed anti-lynching legislation, turned a blind eye to the Nazi eradication of Jews, and imprisoned 100,000 Japanese-Americans? What about progressive icon and racist Woodrow Wilson, who re-segregated the federal workforce?

Progressives have already declared war on Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, who owned slaves but sought to prohibit slavery in the newly formed nation. They now call for taking down the Jefferson Memorial.

Even Lincoln, author of the Emancipation Proclamation, is not immune to leftist hatred. The Lincoln Memorial was desecrated Tuesday. Is that because Lincoln, a staunch opponent of slavery, was willing to save it in order to preserve the Union, or because he also believed in the superiority of the white race?

If we truly want to rid our nation of its shameful history regarding racism, let’s start by abolishing the racist Democrat Party. After all, it was the Democrats who waged war to preserve slavery, founded the KKK, enacted Jim Crow laws, and fought against Republican efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Democrat President Andrew Jackson owned slaves and signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

It was Harry Truman who wrote to his wife, “I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s not a n—er or a Chinaman.”

It was the Democrat Party that praised Senator and former KKK Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd until his death a few years ago, a man who filibustered the Civil Rights Act for 14 hours. It was Lyndon Johnson, a virulent racist but a political pragmatist, who told two Southern Democrat governors his signing of the Civil Rights Act would “have those n—ers voting Democrat for 200 years.” And it’s Johnson’s “Great Society” that has yielded today’s urban poverty plantations, where blacks slaughter other blacks without too much notice from the Leftmedia.

What about Bill Clinton, whining of the upstart Obama, “A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags”? Or the absolute devotion of Democrats to Planned Parenthood, founded by eugenicist Margaret Sanger for the express purpose of exterminating blacks through abortion and sterilization? According to Tuskegee University, the KKK lynched 3,446 blacks in 86 years. Planned Parenthood is a white supremacist’s dream, killing more blacks in two weeks than the KKK killed in a century. And the Democrat Party fights to ensure that $500 million a year in taxpayer funds is funneled to Planned Parenthood to kill all of those black babies.

Surely we could at least agree to remove the Seattle monument to Vladimir Lenin? Anyone? Anyone?

How far do we go? Are we willing to engage in violence and oppression of opposing viewpoints? If so, then Charlottesville will only be the beginning.

Another BIG Lie Exposed in Glorious Living Color

18 Jan 2017 1 comment

The Left, aka, the Democratic party and its minions, have asserted many times how they are so superior to those Neanderthal conservatives so that they really should be the ones in power.  Way back in 2007, and reposted here in 2015, is my analysis of an alleged scientific study allegedly demonstrating this point.  Let me provide a small portion as an incentive to go read the whole thing:

Then in the introduction, the paper’s authors state (again, with [annotations] as an aid to translation):

Across dozens of behavioral studies, conservatives have been found to be more structured and persistent in their judgments and approaches to decision-making [inflexible neanderthals] as indicated by higher average scores on psychological measures of personal needs for order, structure, and closure [See how paranoid those troglodytes are? The babies need order, structure, and closure!] Liberals, by contrast [See?! We’re different!], report higher tolerance [Yeah! We’re tolerant (of everyone except conservatives)!] of ambiguity [See how secure we are?] and complexity [and we’re smart, too!], and greater openness to new experiences [Wow! Bring it on! We can handle it!] on psychological measures.

One need only recall the total meltdown of the liberal left since the election results became public knowledge to see how hilariously absurd these conclusions are.  And they are doing it out in the open where all can see.  Mainstream America is not stupid.

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

And I would close with this warning/prediction:  right now, their antics are ridiculously hilarious, and ineffective, and basically being ignored by normal, rational people.  But if they keep it up and don’t adjust to reality, they will become increasingly disgusting and rejected to an even greater degree than they already are.

Children!  Grow up already!

Voting Like a Robot

Isaac_AsimovIsaac Asimov (1920-1992) was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, having authored or edited more than 500 books.  The level of his genius is evidenced by the fact that those works have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification systems used in libraries.  A professor of biochemistry, he wrote nonfiction in popular science, science textbooks, essays and literary criticism.  He is, however, probably more well know for his hard science fiction, mystery, and fantasy writings.  A contemporary of Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov was considered one of the “Big Three” writers of science fiction during his lifetime.

One of his more well known science fiction series is the Robot series, a collection of 38 short stories and 5 novels, the first one being I, Robot.  Yes, this is the book upon which the 2004 movie of the same name, starring Will Smith, is based.  Alas, the title and Dr. Susan Calvin are about the only things in common between the book and movie.  Read the book; it’s more interesting.

That said, “the unique feature of Asimov’s robots are the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in a robot’s positronic brain, with which all robots in his fiction must comply, and which ensureltc data that the robot does not turn against its creators.”  And again, yes, Trekkies, Lieutenant Commander Data’s positronic brain originated with Asimov, not the creator(s) of Star Trek Next Gen (or any other Star Trek version for that matter).  It is to those three Laws of Robotics that I want to turn our attention to at this point.

These three laws were essentially how Asimov solved the problem (and introduced some very interesting unexpected consequences…see the Robot series) of how to define and constrain robotic behavior in such a way that humans would not, indeed, could not be harmed by their electronic creations.  Let’s look at those three laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

What I want you to notice is that these laws form a hierarchy.  The first law supersedes and overrides the other two.  The second law is just as important as the first, but if obedience to the second law conflicts with the first law, the first law “wins.”  Likewise, the third is dominated by the first and second.  Think about it.  In order to ensure the most benefit, robotic behavior cannot be defined by only one principle.  It requires several, and they must be structured and inter-dependent in their relationships.

In a similar vein, how does God go about defining human behavior that pleases Him?  Does He have only one principle for us to obey?  No, He summaries it in two that are also hierarchical (Matthew 27:37-40):  loving God and loving our neighbor.  Loving God supersedes loving our neighbor, but both are important.  And these two actually summarize what, when presented with more detail, require ten such principles for human conduct (Exodus 20:1-17).

OK, you say, so what does this have to do with voting???  Patience, dear reader.  We’re almost there.

Based on the above considerations, I would assert that most complex behaviors and decision processes, of which voting is one, can not be determined by applying only one principle.  Unless you have more than the wisdom of Solomon, no one principle will encompass all possibilities that can be encountered.  Applying this to voting:  for those who say they cannot vote for a candidate with whom they have principled disagreements (i.e., they must vote their conscience; dare I point out how nebulous and subjective “conscience” can be at times?), they are really attempting to apply just one principle to the process in a simplistic and naïve fashion:  if a candidate doesn’t share my values, and have shared them for an adequate period of time so that I know he’s really a photocopy of me, then I can’t vote for him.  The reason this is simplistic and naïve is simple:  unless you personally run for office and vote for yourself, there is no one candidate that will agree with you 100% on every issue, let alone on all the issues you may want to list as important to you.

It is rare that we will have someone who shares all our positions and values, so what do you do?  First, acknowledge that you can seek to vote for the one who comes the closest even if that is still so far distance from you that you have to hold your nose to do so.  Second, it is perfectly all right, indeed, a duty to vote for someone as a vote to prevent someone else who is far worse from taking office.

So I would propose the following Three Laws of Voting, tailored after the Three Laws of Robotics and with a bow to Dr. Asimov:

  1. A voter may not injure his/her country or, through inaction, allow his/her country to come to harm.
  2. A voter must place a vote for the candidate who conflicts least with the First Law.
  3. A voter must protect his/her own conscience as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
      Perhaps not as eloquent as Dr. Asimov, but still more inclusive of the possible eventualities we might face in elections in this country than the simplistic “only vote for your twin” that many are seeking to apply this election cycle.

Think about it.

Much has been written on the comparative damage the two candidates from the two parties could do to the country, so I’ll not rehearse those considerations here.  Suffice it to say that Clinton would do more, being more of Obama’s destructive policies than Trump.  Voting for Clinton violates the Second Law.  Voting for a third party candidate violates the First and Second Law, primarily because it would ensure another Clinton presidency.  Voting for Trump might require a nose pin to withstand the stench, but it would not violate any of these laws (and I did not vote for Trump in the primaries).  Regardless, please don’t…

Arguing Against Reality…Reality Doesn’t Care How You Feel

Thanks to the so-called “progressive” left, the number of reality-challenged induhviduals in this country, particularly in today’s universities, is growing at unprecedented rates.  At all too many institutes of alleged higher education, the next generation (and that should really scare you if you think about it) is being told to “follow your heart”  as you chart your future.  Moreover, they are instructed to do so no matter what anyone tells them to the contrary, for in so doing, they are being “authentic.”  This turns one’s life into an “heroic” narrative that all too many are embracing even when the contrarian is the cold, hard facts of reality.

Political Cartoons by Nate Beeler

Probably one of the most recent instances of this are alleged transgenders, and those hyperventilating on their behalf, who want to ignore their own biology because their heart tells them otherwise and to demand access to the public restroom of the gender to which they identify (again, regardless of what their chromosomes are rather clearly tell them).

So, why is it these induhviduals, and those advocating for them, are not considered anti-science in the same way Creationists are?  Why aren’t they considered science deniers the same way those who question anthropomorphic Globaloney  WarmingTM are?  They are much more boldly flying in the face of Science by denying obvious biological reality. 

The fact that they don’t call themselves by their desired gender, but have to invent the word “transgender” for identification purposes lets you know they really know what they are.  Simply put, no, gender is NOT a social construct; it is a biological reality created by the type of chromosomes you inherit from your parents.  It is not a complicated issue.  And young people who are confused about their gender identity need to come to grips with how they were created and what they are as determined by the physical reality of their own body.  They shouldn’t be coddled with lies about their feelings and told to follow those nebulous impulses originating from who knows where.

As for following your heart, those promulgating and believing such drivel should seriously heed God’s warnings about that in Jeremiah 17:9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

The last phrase indicates the capability of strong self-deception.  The heart is not to be trusted, and young people with little to no experience of the realities of life especially should not “listen to their heart” no matter how attractive and/or romantic and/or heroic such a path might sound.

This is not just Old Testament wisdom.  Listen to Jesus’ warning/explanation in Matthew 15:19:

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

So, you want your life to be characterized ultimately by such attributes, by all means, “follow your heart!”  But if you don’t, consider God’s wisdom (Proverbs 23:19):

Hear, my son, and be wise; And guide your heart in the way.

Your heart needs to be guided, not listened to.  And guided in God’s way, not your own.

The Pyramid of Disagreement: A Critical Tool for Analyzing Arguments

An essential skill in evaluating and discussing, mastering the ability to recognize the level of disagreement to which you and/or your opponents are appealing will help discernment to be achieved in almost any debate.  Originally posted in April, 2008.


Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities… With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.

Thomas Jefferson

When confronted with an idea, proposition, or any content with which one disagrees, several responses are possible. One can ignore it, consider the points of disagreement and become convinced that they are correct and you have been mistaken, or one can continue to disagree and make an attempt at explaining why. Here in the blogosphere, this frequently occurs in the comments section, although the size limitation makes extended and detailed discussions difficult at times.

Nonetheless, to be effective, an effort should be made in determining how to do so. To that end, the preeminent anti-Idiotarian, Dr. Sanity, has brought to light this essay by Paul Graham entitled How to Disagree, which has been supplemented here with this tremendously valuable graphic depicting the Pyramid of Disagreement in which the various possible methods of disagreement are ranked in order of prevalence and effectiveness.


As you move up the pyramid, the effectiveness increases. Mr. Graham labels the bottom method DH0 (Disagreement Hierarchy) on up to DH6. It is important to note that anything below DH4 (counterargument) he labels as “unconvincing,” but could also be labeled “invalid,” or “ineffective.” Thus, if one truly wants to convincingly deal with a topic, one should engage in counterargument (DH4), refutation (DH5), and/or refuting the central point (DH6).

An additional benefit of this pyramid is the ability to recognize what kind of presentation one is reviewing or formulating, i.e., it serves as a tool for analysis of argumentation by providing a framework to judge the level of effectiveness of an argument, another’s or your own.

In general, if the point is to convince and persuade, you want to stick to the upper levels of argumentation. Unfortunately, these usually take more effort and are longer to prepare that the vastly easier lower levels. The progression up and down this pyramid can be correlated with at least two other characteristics: level of rationality and its converse, the level of emotionalism. The higher up the pyramid, the more you have to think and use rational argumentation. The more you sink to the lower levels, the more likely it is you will sink into emoting and reacting without thinking, and thus end up with drivel. The most petulant and peevish exchanges occur at these lower levels, especially at DH0. In addition, this pyramid helps to explain at least one potentially confusing couplet in Proverbs that some take as a contradiction:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

Let’s first note that a fool will most likely answer with the folly of a DH0 or DH1 level response. The more intellectual ones might make it to DH2. So, don’t respond in kind, at the same level, because then you’ll be just like him, and you’ll be operating in the realm of the unconvincing. Yet there are times when it is necessary to formulate some response so that he doesn’t think he’s won (becoming "wise in his own conceit") and so that he doesn’t distort and corrupt someone else’s thinking with his poisonous pabulum. In those cases, you respond at DH4-DH6. With this framework, we see the statements are complementary and not contradictory.

As conservatives, let’s commit ourselves to operating at the DH4 and higher levels in our intercourse here in the blogosphere. If nothing else, it will drive liberals crazy!

ADDENDUM: Two further thoughts on DH0 level discussion, i.e., name-calling responses. First is one that Mr. Graham makes in the essay linked above: it doesn’t matter if one sinks into the gutter of vulgarity to call someone a [explicative deleted] or if one rises to the lexicon of loquacity to label someone a “poltroon of plenitudinous proportions,” it is still name-calling and does not address the issue under discussion and thus is only effective to the author in an emotive, cathartic way (which still may have some value for said author of such a comment, but does nothing to prove any point, or even that the name is an accurate assessment of the one to whom it is ascribed).

The second point is to answer the question, is it ever right to assign a derogatory label to someone, i.e., is name-calling a valid response in some situations? Here, I think there is a fine but finite distinction to be made between a.) responding to an argument and b.) attempting to describe someone or something based on the evidence at hand. Name-calling never answers an argument, period. Thus, it is never a valid response as a counterargument. However, some labels are accurate descriptors if sufficient data has been presented to make the case to use such a label. For example, it is not too difficult to label many liberals today as socialists because one can take their own statements and compare them to the statements found in socialist documents and find identity clearly manifested. Thus, based on the data, labeling someone with a name based on evidence is a valid exercise. It still is not an argument, but it consolidates data, is subject to verification and falsification, and can serve as a basis for argumentation.

Any additional thoughts on this or any other aspect of the pyramid are welcome.

ADDENDUM #2: For an interesting example of God Himself engaged in what I’m talking about in the Addendum above, check out Matthew 23, where Jesus takes on the religious leaders of the day with less than P.C. bluntness. It is critical to note that He supplies multiple examples of their behavior as evidence to justify the names He uses to accurately characterize the fruit of their lives. The grand finale of His indictment is in verse 33:

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

While this appears to be DH0 level “disagreement,” the juxtaposition to the evidence indicates otherwise: it is a descriptor and not an argument. His argument consists of the multiple examples where the religious leaders have consistently shown their contempt for God’s law by their meticulous search for all the loopholes they can find in their hypocritical pursuit of their own righteousness.

As a sidebar, let me also note that despite its vehemence, Jesus is not engaged in irrational emoting or an angry diatribe, although it is probably fair to say that a modicum of righteous anger/indignation was present. Jesus had and displayed emotion, but always under control. As one clear example of this, check out His cleansing of the Temple (e.g., John 2:13-17). Large cattle are not particularly easy to move, and turning over tables constructed to hold the necessary items of trade (scales, weights, coins) was not a job for a limp wimp (carpentry in this day and age would have provided any carpenter of the day with a good physical fitness program). We appear to see Jesus having a temper tantrum, but verse 16 we see the evidence that gives the lie to that conclusion:

And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

In contrast to the larger cattle for sacrifices, doves are fragile birds that were in cages. Rather than throwing these to the ground and hurting the birds, He calmly commands their owners to pick them up and get them out…NOW! In so doing, He demonstrates His self-control even in the midst of an apparent storm. Of course, being the sinless Son of God also makes these kinds of activities substantially “safer” for Jesus than for us (James 1:20).

Elusive Reality

Originally posted in February of 2008, the content outlined here will serve well for the upcoming election year.


Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight at one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.

Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1892)

Thus the superlative deductive detective of the 19th century pinpoints the challenge faced by those seeking truth in any body of data. One’s point of view, or perhaps better, one’s worldview or frame of reference, dramatically influences how we interpret the data coming at us in every area of life. If you haven’t liked broccoli since childhood, you will have a difficult time trying any dish that contains it without a significant shift in paradigm.

One of my favorite examples of this can be found in Francis Schaeffer’s film series based on his book How Should We Then Live? This opus is an historical examination of the development of western thought from early Greece and Rome all the way through the latter part of the 20th century. At one point he very instructively shows footage of a news story of a riot that’s been staged specifically for his film. First, he shows coverage that depicts "our brave police" staving off the rabid attacks of "fanatics" demonstrating against something or other, with the "rioters" hurling insults and bottles at the police, who hold their ground and remain calm, defending themselves and carrying off only those rioters who have attacked by physically launching themselves at them. The newscaster speaks in glowing terms of the bravery of the police and their willingness to stand in the gap to safeguard the public. Shots focus primarily on either the police or on obviously enraged attackers and their hateful grimaces and faces prior to any action on the part of the police. Makes you feel all soft and warm and protected by the police, thankful that they are there. Then, the film breaks to a second broadcast. In this one, also a riot, the cameras focus only on "police brutality," showing the police apparently overreacting and pounding on those "innocent" demonstrators who were only exercising their first amendment rights of free speech when they were attacked with great violence by the police force armed to the teeth and against which these demonstrators stood no chance to defend themselves. Again, there is selective language by the newscaster in describing the "peaceful protesters" and the "brutal police." In this case, one’s sense of justice and outrage are inflamed at what you see. Finally, a third camera zooms out to show that exactly the same riot is being filmed by two different crews. What has happened is…you’ve been framed!

The earliest formal work on framing traces back 25 years to research by the cognitive psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. In experiments examining risk judgments and consumer choices rather than content itself, the two psychologists discovered that the different ways in which a message is presented or framed can result in very different responses. They concluded in their Nobel Prize winning research that ‘perception is reference-dependent.’

Over the past two decades, research in the fields of political communication and sociology has added to previous work on framing to explain how media portrayals in interaction with cultural forces shape public views. In this research, frames are identified as being used by audiences as ‘interpretative schema’ to make sense of and discuss an issue, by journalists to craft interesting and appealing news reports, and by policymakers to define policy options and reach decisions.

In each of these contexts, frames simplify complex issues by lending greater importance to certain considerations and arguments over others. In the process, framing helps communicate why an issue might be a problem, who or what might be responsible, and what should be done.

(Matthew C. Nisbet & Dietram A. Scheufele, The Future of Public Engagement, October 1, 2007, The Scientist)

Framing is an essential part of communication and happens whether or not you are aware of it. The first paragraphs of this post are, in fact, a "frame" in which an attempt is being made to show the relevance of the following content and to draw you into the presentation represented by this post. It is, therefore, an important tool in creating communication that captures your audience and transmits your message. The question, then, is not whether or not you have been framed, but whether or not the frame corresponds to reality. This is not a trivial question for a culture in which truth has become increasingly malleable and relative to the one experiencing or asserting it, or to the communicator’s ultimate goals with the ends justifying the means. Consequently, what is usually missed is the consciousness that this is occurring, and so critical thought regarding the truthfulness of the frame and the truth of the contents in the frame is overturned by the emotional associations triggered by the frame.

When the emotional responses to the frame block rational thought, you have the essence of propaganda and empty rhetoric no matter the source. Although one can find examples of framing on both the left and right of the political spectrum, the preponderance of flawed framing that literally boggles the mind emanates from the left as their worldview is much more subjective and visceral than that of the right. For purposes of this discussion, we will here note the following definitions from the Pocket Oxford Dictionary (with emphases added to highlight particularly relevant parts): propaganda = information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view; rhetoric = 1) the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing; 2) language with a persuasive or impressive effect, but often lacking sincerity or meaningful content.

As flawed human beings, we are all subject to falling for propaganda and rhetoric, but it behooves us as rational creatures to beware of such manipulation. Those who must needs resort to a distortion of truth generally have an agenda they are seeking to hide, an agenda that, were it fully revealed, would trigger rejection and resistance to it.

As the information available for consumption has been increasing exponentially, our current political and social milieu particularly this election season abounds in examples of all kinds of framing. Thus, Thomas Sowell sounds the alarm in his recent (i.e., recent in February, 2008; sorry but the original does not seem to be available now) NRO article, calling false framing demagoguery:

Yet we seem to be no more aware of the need to be on guard against demagoguery today, in the 21st century, than those people who looked up with open-mouthed adulation at Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and at numerous other demagogues, large and small, around the world throughout the turbulent 20th century.

Many people find it thrilling that the mantra of "change" is ringing out across the land during this election year. But let’s do what the politicians hope that we will never do — stop and think.

In citing a specific example from current campaigning, Sowell adds,

Everybody is for change. They differ on the specifics. Uniting people behind the thoughtless mantra of ‘change’ means asking for a blank check in exchange for rhetoric. That deal has been made many times in many places — and millions of people have lived to regret it.

I, of course, cannot help but repeat his quip specifically directed at one of the most egregious perpetrators of empty framing:

Barack Obama says that he wants to ‘heal America and repair the world.’ One wonders what he will do for an encore and whether he will rest on the seventh day.

Another example: accurate framing is something that’s been dramatically missing in the reporting being done on the Iraq war. As Michael Yon notes in one of his recent dispatches:

The best reporting comes from reporters who have spent the most time on the ground here, because the context is complex and evolving. Long distance reporting is like exploring the moon through a telescope. To get a feel for the ground here, a journalist has to be like Captain Kirk. I have often commented on how very different the reality is over here from what most Americans seem to think it is.

There is no way to explain how different, except to say ‘you would have to be here to understand it.’ When mainstream reporters get the story wrong, it’s usually because they lack the context and depth of experience necessary to correctly interpret what they see and hear. The same is true for bloggers, some of whom are grandiose in implying that they spend a significant amount of time in the field, but an inventory and audit would not support the claims.

False framing most frequently involves the selection of material to show only one side of the story. Dissenting data is dismissed as irrelevant, when in fact, it is only irrelevant for the propagandist whose purpose is only to portray one side, lest the "wrong" conclusion be reached by his audience. A particularly good site for exposing such is Newsbusters.

The bottomline: part of developing critical thinking capacity is to learn to discern the framing taking place in any story, and then to test both the frame and the story content against known realities. In so doing, one heeds the admonition of the wisest man to ever live when he said:

The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

Proverbs 14:15