Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Andersen’

The Closing of the Newseum

January 6, 2020

Most people reading this post will wonder what was the Newseum and why is its closing significant. The Newseum opened 22 years ago in Rosslyn, Va. HM’s office was in the same building as the Newseum. It is convenient to have a museum in your building for two reasons. One reason should be obvious. And it was also convenient when you had give people directions to your office, all one had to do was to tell visitors to follow the signs to the Newseum.

The information in the newseum was priceless. And there were many interesting objects:

the twisted antenna from the World Trade Center North Tower

the door that was jimmied during the Watergate burglary

hunks of the Berlin Wall from when it was torn down

a copy of the Washington Post front page from 9 Aug 1974 with the headline “Nixon Resigns” this sat in a display case near a political bumper sticker reading, “Support Nixon, Impeach the Nation

Miscues in the form of poorly worded headlines decorated the walls of the restrooms such as

“Genetically Modified Crops Talk of Meeting” & “Panda lectures this week at National Zoo.”

There was a gallery of Pulitzer Prizewinning photographs

There was a memorial for journalists who had been killed working on their articles.

These artifacts, and they are just some of the artifacts, are nice, but the real importance of the Newseum was to have all our First Amendment’s rights displayed in one place. One of the people said about the Newseum, “Anybody can see one exhibit, but you don’t get the big picture of how important that is.” Indeed the Newseum provided that big picture.

After eleven years in Rosslyn, the Newseum was moved to an impressive building in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the Newseum was not part of the museums owned by the Smithsonian Institution, it certainly held its own with these other museums, and exceeded several of them.

It was the lack of financing that caused its closing. Unfortunately, it needed an entrance fee to survive, and that fee kept increasing.

The real tragedy is that its closing reflects the general decline in newspapers, which have played a critical role in the development and survival of our democracy. It is not only the technical revolution that is the problem here. The larger problem is the decline in critical thinking that has been replaced by alternative facts and believing in alternative realities. Critical thinking is being replace by magical thinking according to Kurt Andersen.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR HISTORY

January 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Kurt Andersen. The title encompasses the nature of the book. It offers an explanation of how the United States ended up in this current crisis. The first English colony established in the United States was at Jamestown in what was to be Virginia (Virginia for the Virgin Queen of England). These settlers were bent on finding gold and becoming rich. But Andersen would explain the making the perilous passage to an unknown country to become rich was an example of magical thinking.

However, the colonists settling in New England were idealistic, not mercenary. They were in quest of religious freedom, but the freedom they sought was for their religion. They had low tolerance, if any, for other religions. Now all of these religions were Christian religions, dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. Religious differences were not due to differences in the teachings of Christ, but rather how men interpreted these teachings. Previous healthy memory blog posts have emphasized the difference between a belief in God, and a belief in a particular religion. Individual humans believed in God or some godlike sprit long before the creation of religions by religious leaders emerging who professed to be providing teaching and guidance from God. This conundrum exists today. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom as one of its freedoms. It does not specify any given religion even though there are Christian churches saying that the religion is Christianity, when it is definitely not. So here we have religious people violating one of the ten commandments.

It is both ironic and a conundrum. Apparently some evangelicals, rather than following the obvious teachings of Christ, are trying to impose their religious beliefs and laws that stem from their religious beliefs, via government. So most of their effort has been in the political arena, promoting politicians who advocate their beliefs, which obviously impose on the freedoms of others. These people would deny any resemblance between what they are doing and the religious police found in Saudi Arabia.

The new religion of Mormonism, founded by Joseph Smith, emerged in the 1800s. A new testament of the bible was promoted that described the religious activities in a much earlier time period. Religions and religious practices have emerged and are still emerging, but they differ primarily in religious dogma. Medical quacks became prominent and another Gold Rush in California occurred and quickly exhausted itself.

In the era between 1900 and 1960 , Andersen writes that there was Brand-New Old-Time religion. He also writes that the business of America became show business.

In the 1960s and ‘70s there were the hippies, the intellectuals, the Christians, politics and conspiracies, and Living in a Land of Entertainment.

Here are the chapter headings from the section ”1980s through the turn of the century”

Making Make-believe More Realistic and Real Life More Make-Believe

Foreover Young: Kids “R” Us Syndrome

The Reagan Era and the Start of the Digital Age

American Religion from the Turn of the Millennium

Our Wilder Christianities: Belief and Practice

America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We so Exceptional?

Magical but Not Necessarily Christian, Spiritual but Not Religious

Blue-Chip Witch Doctors: The Reenchantment of Medicine

How the Mainstream Enabled Fantasyland: Squishes, Cynics, and Believers

Anything Goes—Unless It Picks My Pocket or Breaks My Leg

The final section is titled : “The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond”
Here are the chapter headings:

The Inmates Running the Asylum Decide Monsters are Everywhere

Reality is a Conspiracy: The X-Filing of America

Mad as Hell, the New Voice of the People

When the GOP Went Off the Rails

Liberals Denying Science

Gun Crazy

Final Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Our Inner Children? They’re Going to Disney World!

The Economic Dreamtime

As Fantasyland Goes, So Goes the Nation

HM’s view, one that, in fairness, oversimplifies Anderson, is that he argues that our problems are due to magical thinking, and he implies that our situation in the U.S. is unique.

HM is skeptical about his claim that our problem is unique to us. And rather than use the term magical thinking, HM prefers to use psychological processes, such as lack of Kahneman’s System Two Processing, and the failure to think critically. These, in turn, can be explained in terms of serious shortcomings in mental effort or mental laziness.

An Extremely Important New Year’s Resolution

December 31, 2019

One being to build a healthy memory through healthy practices, but most importantly growth mindsets. Growth mindsets require new learning and the development of critical thinking. Both of these involve Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking. However, it has become apparent this year that the development of healthy memories is essential to the maintenance of a healthy country.

Consider the following message from Karl Rove, senior advisor to George W. Bush in 2004:
“[You] in what we call the reality-based community…believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We create our own reality.”

and the following message from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump in 2017:
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving…our press secretary gave alternative facts.”

So, what is a good path to a healthy memory? Perhaps the best place to start is the Constitution of the United States. It appears that too few citizens are familiar with the Constitution. But what is more frightening is that many people in the Congress either do not know or disbelieve the Constitution and are behaving in a manner contrary to the Constitution that puts our democracy at risk. The name of our species is Homo sapiens, which means wise man. Too many humans are not living up to the name of their species.

Even for those who have read the Constitution, we should remember that people make it their life’s work to study the Constitution. Still, even being expert in the Constitution is insufficient. Critical thinking is also needed.

The following aphorism is attributable to, at least Daniel Moynihan and Thomas Jefferson: You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies but not your own facts—especially if your fantastical facts hurt people.

Understand that Kellyanne Conway was not offering alternative facts. There was no evidence underlying her facts. This is a further way that the water has been poisoned. Facts are being offered as facts for which there is no evidence. And all too often what is offered as evidence is in truth a fabrication.

Very often it is difficult determining what to believe. This is certainly true in scientific investigations where research may go on for decades or even centuries, before a consensus is achieved. Even after a consensus is accepted, scientists still should be open to a new theory if more evidence or a more comprehensive theory is offered.

Critical thinking is hard. Believing is much, much easier. The advance of mankind was very slow until the scientific method was developed that challenged beliefs and offered empirical evidence as an alternative. Technology is the result of this science. Perhaps it is a tad ironic that a product of the scientific method, the internet, is a tool for promoting disinformation and false beliefs.

There are a few keys that one can employ to facilitate critical thinking. Certain behaviors indicate which sources, be it individuals or publications, should be completely ignored. One is the claiming that information is false without offering alternative explanations supported by facts. Claiming conspiracies or witch hunts is another tool used by totalitarian dictators. Similarly, failing to allow access to individuals or documents indicates underlying guilt. Personal insults do not disguise the fact that a legitimate factual response is impossible.

The following passage comes from Hannah Arendt’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism:
“A mixture of gullibility and cynicism have been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true…Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable evidence of their falsehood, they would take refuge in their cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
Arendt published Origins of Totalitarianism when Stalin was in power and Hitler only six years gone.

The following is taken from FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICAN WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR A 500-YEAR HISTORY by Kurt Andersen:
“The seven centuries of Greek civilization are divided into three eras—the Archaic, then the Classical, then the Hellenistic. During the first, the one depicted by Homer, Greeks’ understanding of existence defaulted to supernaturalism and the irrational. Then suddenly science and literature and all the superstar geniuses emerged—Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle—in the period we canonize as “ancient Greece.” But that astonishing era lasted less than two centuries, after which Athens returned to astrology and magical cures and alchemy, the end. Why? According to The Greeks and the Irrational, by the Oxford classicist Eric Dodd, it was because they finally found freedom too scary, frightened by the new idea that their lives and fates weren’t predestined or managed by gods and they really were on their own. Maybe America’s Classical period also lasted two centuries, 1800 to 2000, give or take a few decades on each end.”

So, for all who care about the United States, please engage your critical thought processes and build a growth mindset. This will benefit not only your memory, but also the survival of democracy in the United States.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.