Tuesday, October 25, 2016

False Equivalencies and the Thinking Logically #SOL16

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 
I teach students to think logically. 

Scratch that. 

I work to teach students to think logically.

This election cycle has complicated my work. 

My own thinking has veered into the illogical at times as the roots of polarized thinking take hold. 

I found myself succumb to confirmation bias Sunday. For the uninitiated, confirmation bias results when we think new evidence supports our existing beliefs and/or theories. 

Consequently, when I viewed a video about False Equivalency posted on FB by Media Matters, my initial response was to think it affirms my own beliefs about the merits of Hillary Clinton's candidacy compared to those of Donald Trump. 

My second reaction to the video included disappointment at the speaker's use of profanity. I had hoped to use the video as a teaching tool, but the taboo language, although infrequent, rendered the video inappropriate for use with high school students. I posted a comment to this effect on the discussion thread accompanying the video. I received a response by the creator of the video, Michael McElroy, which he has since deleted. 

In essence, Mr. McElroy resorted to an ad hominem attack, calling me an irrational person, someone incapable of "rational thought" because I challenged his use of profanity. Mr. McElroy based this remark on a belief that "adults" should be able to handle the language he used. Perhaps they should, but even in this time of political chaos, I'd argue that a sense of rhetorical decorum elevates a speaker's ethos. 

I responded to Mr. McElroy's ad hominem attack: 

Clearly you don't understand my point. And instead of trying to understand it, you resort to an ad hominem attack. I teach high school students in an ultra-conservative Mormon area. Out of respect for cultural norms, I don't use profanity. your use of it would ring as a mark on your credibility to my students, both at the ninth grade level and among the dual enrolled students. There is something inherently wrong w/ the inability or refusal to consider a potential audience. I requires students to learn the basics of the VALs framework and psychometrics. Know that as a rational thinker I'll exercise my right to ignore your voice in the future. 

A little further down the thread, I saw a comment labeling the video "propaganda." It's at this moment I began thinking of the video as girding confirmation bias. Indeed, the video does degrade Donald Trump. It does seek to present "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view." It qualifies as propaganda.

At its core the idea that Donald Trump fails the litmus test of respectability and preparation necessary in a candidate for the highest office in the U.S.A. resonates with me. He is, by many metrics, a vile man. 

However, the video offers an analogy of the election as a horse race. The analogy, call it a metaphor , works up to a point. It fails when it frames Donald Trump as a "wild bull." Simply, a wild bull would not run in a horse race. For the analogy to pass the test of logic, the Donald Trump equivalent in the video would need to be a horse. That is, it must be like the other animals in the race at least in this basic way. Since it is inherently different, the video presents an illogical argument vis a vie its representation of other candidates a s race horses and Donald Trump as a bull. 

I found myself pondering this Media Matters video and realized that had it not been for the questionable language in it, had it not been for the presenter's attack on me, I might have used the video in my Communication 1101 class. 

I almost allowed the bias of Media Matters to confirm my own bias through an illogical argument. That's the inherent problem of consuming information that merely affirms our own beliefs and values.

Each year I begin my Communication 1101 class with Aristotle's words that "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it." That's my challenge in a difficult election cycle if I am to model the logical thinking I've come to expect from my students.