Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just the Facts Ma'am!

During my 1st day of university, I encountered a phenomena that has puzzled me for years: so many educated, articulate people were so wrong on so many issues. The consequence of this phenomena goes beyond university lecture halls, because many of these individuals find their way into the realm of politics...even the white house.

On that day, I encountered students and even professors who so skillfully argued the merits of socialism and state intervention over a free market. They clung tightly to their beliefs, even when presented with examples of nations (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Estonia, Ireland, China and Chile) that had dramatically raised the living standards of their people through a strong shift towards the free market.

And of course they used their full rhetorical might to tap dance around the myriad of examples of nations that had ruined the lives of millions and millions of people through socialism. Naturally, good friends of mine who had grown up in socialist countries like Russian and Cuba found this highly puzzling.

As I rose up the academic ladder, this phenomena became even more pronounced. While working on my masters degree in education I was repeatedly told that "intact two parent families are no more advantageous to children than families run by single parents..." While researching this topic I encountered mountains of data that clearly indicated the huge correlation between single parenthood and poverty, crime, welfare dependency, low academic achievement and a host of other social pathology.

For an educated, intact, middle class couple to successfully attend to their career, while also attending to their children's social and spiritual needs is an exhausting challenge. So, common sense dictates that even for the most dynamic individual to successfully balance their parental, professional and personal responsibilities without the help of a spouse is next to impossible. And simple economics dictates that very few individuals can raise a family on a single salary, especially if you factor in the high cost of quality child care.

So, how or why do so many intelligent people so successfully divorce themselves from reality? Here are some answers that make sense to me:

1. Sometimes formal education and intelligence allows individuals to embrace theories and rhetorical tools that allow them to tap dance around unpleasant realities. And more often than not, logic is a tool used to justify what we already believe rather than help lead us to the truth.

2. Too many people and too many movements are judged on their "noble intents" and not on real results. This explains how people supported socialism even in the face of its obvious failure. Dare I say this also explains the religious zeal that many people hold for Obama, when he has no accomplishments to show beyond his rhetorical prowess.

3. Admirable crusades against racism, sexism, poverty etc. induce many people to go beyond a healthy idealism of intent towards a hazardous idealism of interpretation.

In the case of my professor, to admit that certain choices and behaviors, like single motherhood contribute to the social and economic ills of African-Americans and to a lesser extent Latinos, is beyond the pale, because it's tantamount to "blaming the victim." And of course it flies in the face of their idealistic narrative in which they are the "great protagonists" who battle "oppressors" on behalf of "oppressed groups."

A good question to ask yourself when you encounter an "innovative theory" is "what would a detective do?" In the case of my education class, after 5 minutes he would probably stand up and in a gruff voice declare "Just the Facts Ma'am...Just the Facts!"

If more people placed evidence over ideas and facts over feelings, bad ideas and failed policies would have much shorter lifespans and the politicians who promoted them would not get re-elected year after year after year...

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