Elenchus

Reading background on a tv or movie villain, the actor stated what made the character great was that they didn’t know they were a villain. It makes sense, really. Does anybody sit around twirling their mustache like Snidely Whiplash? Put another way: everybody is the hero of their own story.

People don’t sit around trying to be villains. In fact, they’re usually convinced that their actions are the right thing to do. This isn’t an argument for moral relativism, just pointing out that even an evil-doer like a 9/11 hi-jacker is convinced their actions are righteous.

Once we remember that, short of somebody actively trying to harm others, we should make an effort to quit demonizing people we disagree with and instead try to understand them. We can still disagree, of course, but an honest effort should be made to get to the why of their belief.

This is where I see ideologically slanted media as failing the public. The Young Turks on the left and Fox News on the right are so quick to spin up their base and caricature their opponents with straw man representations rather than fact-checking, critical thinking, and reasoned discourse. I can’t stand to watch either of them anymore, because they’re so ideologically skewed that they present a distorted picture of reality.

That’s why the elenchus is my favorite, and key part of the Socratic method. The elenchus is where we ask why? We cross-examine our statements, see if our premises are true, or see if there’s any other possible explanation for something.

Is that political party really out to destroy America, or do they have a different understanding of our country and why? Did Thomas Jefferson actually say that, and in what context? Is the U.S. Constitution actually relevant the debate on this particular issue? Are accusations of bigotry warranted, or does that person know something I don’t know? Did I possibly misunderstand their premise?

The truth is that neither the left nor the right are trying to destroy America. They’re both working at realizing their vision- they’re trying to actualize what they think America was intended to, or should, be. There are some fundamental differences in that vision, but we could resolve a lot of issues if people would check their emotions and presuppositions at the door and honestly seek understanding rather than caricature each other as ridiculous cartoon villains. The Toyota 5 Whys, genuine willingness to be wrong, listening to opposing viewpoints, and testing our premises by falsification will get us a lot further as a society than the confirmation bias echo chamber of ideological “news” sources.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s