Am I a Moron?

No that’s not snark. It’s a serious question that every thinking person must be willing to ask. We don’t learn and correct errors by shutting our ears and digging our heels in the dirt while telling ourselves we are smarter and right. We do so by considering the questions and evidence presented by others and examining our thinking. 

“Why do I believe what I believe?” should be the very first question we ask ourselves. 

My wife and I were talking about the current state of thinking in the world when I remembered that “The dumbing down of America” became a recurring MSM motif about 15 years ago. It had suddenly dawned on the nation that US high school and college students had been 1st in the world in math and science during the 1960s and were now in 26th place. Glenn Beck began a series on US history when he discovered revisionists had twisted it since Bill Ayers and company overtook the NEA and school curriculums. And I asked an older English teacher at the middle school where I worked if her students read books like “1984”, “Brave New World” or “Fahrenheit 451”. “Oh No”, she sighed, “In fact, they don’t read novels at all…they just need to be able to fill out the forms…”

Ten years later I was a clinical supervisor for six adolescent treatment sites where I was involved in the hiring and firing of counselors. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the multitudes of young degreed professionals who could not compose a grammatically correct sentence.

Moron

Moron (n.) 1910, medical Latin, “one of the highest class of feeble-minded persons,” Adopted by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded with a technical definition “adult with a mental age between 8 and 12;” used as an insult since 1922 and subsequently dropped from technical use.

According to Piaget, thinking in children between the ages of 8-12 becomes more logical in terms of concrete events.  They begin using inductive logic to reason and derive conclusions from specific information and arrive at a general principle. E.g. “If my friend pees on the electric fence and gets shocked, the same thing will probably happen to me. Therefore, I shouldn’t pee on any fence because it could be electrified.” While thinking becomes more logical, it tends to be rigid. Abstractions and hypotheticals often “go over their heads and under their feet.” An example might be considering the potential relationship between individual hydration levels, footwear, or the lack of thereof and electrical conductivity when peeing on or near an electric fence. 

Subtle humor and innuendo are also abstract.

So how can one avoid the pitfalls of thinking like a moron? While IQ and maturity are obvious factors, there are some tools we can use to check ourselves, especially when involved in a heated debate where we all tend to regress into morons at times. They are called logical fallacies.  If a calm person tells you that your argument is fallacious, they are not cussing at you. They are just referring to one or more of the following fallacies that need to be corrected. They go by various names, however, the principles remain the same. This list is not exhaustive. However, based on my experience, they appear to be most common in public discourse, especially on Social Media.

The List

Appeal to Authority – is a circular argument that produces a conclusion based on one’s faith in the credibility of a source. For example,  “The CDC and FDA says substance “A” is safe.” How do you know the CDC and FDA are correct?  “Because they are the CDC and FDA.”  The argument is fallacious because it neither proves nor disproves anything about substance “A”. It is merely a statement of who we trust. Of course this argument might be less fallacious if they were never wrong in the past.

Ad Hominem – involves attacking the credibility of the messenger as a counter-argument while avoiding the original argument or question at hand. Here’s a fun example, “The Theory of Gravitational Effect” is invalid because Issac Newton was a patriarchal, alt-right, Christian extremist.”  Laugh if you will but this is literally where education is headed if we allow it.

The Strawman – is a smokescreen and involves countering an argument by arguing a point that was never mentioned and is not relevant to the issue at hand. For example “Isaac Newton read the Bible more than any other Book. His Christian worldview led him to believe in an objective reality governed by objective truth and objective physical laws that he sought to uncover.” Strawman: “The Bible is not a valid source because it condones slavery!!”

The Slippery Slope – is sometimes called a “False Equivalency”; E.g. “Last week my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On Saturday he hit his head on the floor. He went back to the doctor on Monday and the tumor was gone.” Conclusion: Brain tumors are cured by hitting one’s head on a floor. Is there a correlation? Maybe. But correlations alone only yield questions that identify a possible need for further investigation. They are never proof of cause by themselves. Unfortunately, slippery slopes make for excellent clickbait.

The implication that these women died because they were unvaccinated is a slippery slope. Could the lack of vaccination have played a role? Perhaps. We do not have enough information to conclude either way.  In the meantime headlines and media, assertions generate a whole lot of fear and engagement. 

“Who benifits most from that?”

Appeals to Emotion – headlines like “500 new cases on Kauai!!!” generate a response from the more primitive parts of our brains like the amygdala. Fear overrides the higher cortical areas from which logic, decision making, and self-control are derived. Anyone following the data knows that “cases” alone means nothing in itself. Yet, MSM depictions of worst-case scenarios no matter how rare generate a proverbial stew of fear and rage that can be used to frame and charge public narratives- then policies and laws.  History proves that an emotionally charged public will gladly forfeit its constitutional rights for the illusion of safety.  Those who desire to think beyond the level of a moron must discipline themselves to suspend emotion when triggered and ask “What am I being asked to believe?” and “Who benefits most if I do?”

The Band Wagon fallacy is a form of “Appeal to Authority” based on consensus. E.g. “The majority of doctors, scientists, people, (insert chosen group) _______, agree that such and such is true.” The majority of secular Germans and Jews during WWII agreed that their government was incapable of genocide. 

Consensus alone means nothing in itself.

The bandwagon fallacy is perhaps most applicable to Millennials and Gen Z because it is so driven by the need to belong. As a group, these are the least likely to go against the tide of opinion within their peer group. Here’s a 3 min video of two additional Bandwagon supporting principles that should scare you and maybe even save you some money in the process.

Normalcy Bias –  supports the Band Wagon fallacy.  It is rooted in the fact that our expectations of the world tend to shape what we think we see. For example, a large portion of the American population believes that their preferred political party always operates in their best interest; that almost none ever do is irrelevant except at election time. Aside from history books, most Americans have no experience with Democide (death by government). Yet it was the leading global cause of death during the entire 20th century. While most thinking people can choose to adjust when told there is more to the picture than meets the eye, the first thing we see is usually governed by our normalcy bias.

Rabbit or Duck?

Slothfull Induction – is the refusal to question or examine existing conclusions when evidence that warrants further investigation is presented. All the other fallacies ultimately lead to Slothful Induction. This fallacy is most clearly seen in ad hominem dismissals like “Libtard”, “Trumper” and or exclamations of “conspiracy theorist!” any time an alternative question, hypothesis, or viewpoint that conflicts with the status quo or individual normalcy bias is articulated. While history is ripe with conspiracies, normalcy bias declares they can not, will not happen today. The urban use of the term conspiracy theory specifically refers to a conclusion rooted in a slippery slope. For example, “Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci are conspiring to depopulate the earth with vaccines.” is a conspiracy theory. “If saving lives is really the goal then why isn’t every possible treatment option being made available?” is a logical question.  “The governments of the world are engaged in transhuman experimentation in direct violation of the Nuremberg Code!” is a conspiracy theory. “Given that our government has engaged in illegal medical experiments that violated the Nuremberg code in the past e.g. the Tuskegee experiment; why should I trust the government now?” is a logical question. Interestingly Slippery Slope conspiracy theories do a lot to ensure that a genuine conspiracy, should it exist, will never be exposed.

The benefits of not being a moron

Understanding logical fallacies can help us to avoid arriving at premature conclusions when further questioning is indicated. It can help us to avoid being manipulated and having our valid questions dismissed such that we forfeit our own best interests. Logical fallacies apply to everything from purchasing a car to voting to choosing the best course of medical treatment. Most importantly it could keep us from forfeiting our God-given rights to

“Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Listen, no one thinks perfectly. It certainly is not my intention to mock or put anyone down. The truth is that all of us are morons at times. We think better when we think together. “If I were the devil…” as Paul Harvey used to say, I would be looking for ways to prevent that. I can respectfully discuss any issue with anyone willing to commit to avoiding fallacious arguments and self-correction when a fallacy is identified. That takes maturity and a willingness to be wrong or at least to not win. Unfortunately, this is very rare these days and I have come to expect the worst in any public dialogue. Hence, at the end of the day, I have written this post so that I have a simple cut and paste response to 99% of the narratives that come my way on SM. There is simply no point in wasting time disputing the consensus of an overwhelmingly self-destructive neo collective. Feel free to use all, part, or none of it to save yourself the time and the frustration of being triggered into being a moron.

Maranatha