Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Dearth Of Reason

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.
-H.L. Mencken

I’ve long been of the opinion that a critical flaw in our society, likely foisted over several generations though I haven’t been alive long enough to see that many, is that we have spent far too much time teaching one what to think, and far too little teaching how. If I were in charge of education, I would make a requirement of high schools that economics and logic were required courses — economics of the behavioral sort and logic courses with a heavy emphasis on logical fallacies.

But I’m not in charge, and in my experience very few students are exposed to either in their formative years. Sadly, a new study suggests that they’re not offered all that much better in college.

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn’t learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Possibly the best teacher I’ve ever had, my AP US History teacher in high school, started the semester by giving us conflicting accounts of the battle of Lexington & Concord. Our first assignment was to write a paper justifying which side fired the first shot — the “shot heard round the world” — based SOLELY on those accounts. Not all people in the class came to the same conclusion, but the lesson wasn’t about providing us with the correct historical answer. It was about teaching us how to determine the answer based on that evidence. The lesson, one I remember vividly 17 years later, was that one does not “learn” history, one “does” history. Implicit in the lesson is that you cannot accept written, even eyewitness, accounts without evaluating the credibility of the source of those accounts.

To place nothing — nothing — above the verdict of my own mind.
-Dagny Taggart’s rule, Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

It goes without saying that such a lesson makes one inherently a skeptic. That poor word, too often used pejoratively, denigrates those who are unwilling to take revealed information as fact without self-confirmation. But skepticism is a healthy part of critical thinking. It is what instructs to ask whether a speaker’s own interests might cloud their ability or desire to present an unbiased viewpoint. It is what instructs us to ask whether a political policy’s actual results will in any way resemble its stated objectives. In short, skepticism and critical thinking is man’s only defense against snake oil and bullshit — in other words, the only defense against politics.

Very few people I’ve ever spoken to had such opportunities in their high school curriculum. Most were taught facts, not processes. And thus many come into their collegiate experience without these skills. Sadly, too many also leave after four years without those skills.

Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called “higher order” thinking skills.

If you’re not going to college to learn, exactly why are you there?

Oh, wait, it’s because you have no clue what you want to do with your life, you’re terrified of actually entering the real world, and because your parents and your previous schooling have prepared you for absolutely nothing other than classwork [this of course discounts those who went to school to obtain their Mrs. degree — not an inconsequential number]. So you do something silly like majoring in “Communications”, which offers no particularly employable skill set.

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don’t preclude the possibility that such students “are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.”

While I don’t particularly consider natural sciences or mathematics to be “liberal arts” disciplines, and am surprised by the grouping of business students in the group showing little gains, I think the keys are simple. The natural sciences and mathematics demand rigorous adherence to logical thinking. Even in the social sciences, it is expected that you justify an idea with some sort of argument. It’s no surprise that math students are better at thinking than communications majors — they’ve spent the last four years practicing.

But it’s good to know that denial of reality hasn’t been impacted!

The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.

Christine Walker, a senior at DePauw who’s also student body president, said the study doesn’t reflect her own experience: She studies upwards of 30 hours a week and is confident she’s learning plenty. Walker said she and her classmates are juggling multiple non-academic demands, including jobs, to help pay for their education and that in today’s economy, top grades aren’t enough.

“If you don’t have a good resume,” Walker said, “the fact that you can say, ‘I wrote this really good paper that helped my critical thinking’ is going to be irrelevant.”

Yeah, those “real world problem-solving” skills are going to be completely useless to an employer.

You wouldn’t be aiming for government work, would you Christine? Oh, “student body president”? Yeah, you’ll fit in well in DC…

The State of the Union: the Liberty Movement Responds

Executive Director of the Libertarian Party Wes Benedict:

President Obama says he wants a freeze in non-security, discretionary spending. In the unlikely event that happens, it won’t really matter, because to make a real dent in the deficit, it’s necessary to cut spending on the military and entitlements. The president promised big government in the past, and he delivered. I expect more of the same.
However, Obama has truly been a hypocrite on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a candidate, he promised to end them. Tonight we heard more hollow promises. The fact is, as president, he has kept those wars going, and has greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan. As a percentage of GDP, military spending is higher now than it was during any year of the George W. Bush administration.

Unlike President Obama, Libertarians would bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce the military budget.

Benedict also saved some much needed criticism for Paul Ryan’s Republican response

On the Republican side, I found Congressman Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy appalling. He claims to want big cuts in government spending. But he didn’t seem to be too worried about cutting spending when Republicans were in charge. He supported the huge Medicare expansion in 2003, and the expensive No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. He supports the expensive War on Drugs. In 2008, he put hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars at risk by voting for the massive TARP bailout, and he even voted to spend billions on the GM and Chrysler bailout.

Just one month ago, Congressman Ryan voted for the tax compromise that included a big increase in unemployment spending, and even extensions of government spending on ethanol.

Republicans don’t want to cut spending — they want to talk about cutting spending.

At Veronique de Rugy and Nick Gillespie responded with a post “We Can’t Win the Future By Repeating the Past”

How can we “win the future,” as President Barack Obama exhorted us to do in his 2011 State of the Union address, when our top elected official remains so drearily stuck in the past? And despite the commanding role of what can only be called Sputnik nostalgia in his speech, Obama was not even channeling the distant past in his remarks.

Instead, he served up the equivalent of a microwaved reheating of the sentiments of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. That’s some sort of groovy, space-age technological feat, for sure, but we shouldn’t confuse left-over platitudes about cutting wasteful spending on the one hand while ramping up publicly funded “investment” on the other for a healthy meal.

Neal Boortz:

Sure enough, as I told you, Obama replaced the word “spending” with the word “investing”. I’ve gone through this routine with you before, people just react better to the word investing than they do the word spending. Investing good, spending bad. What Barack Obama proposed last night was not investing at all, it was pure stimulus spending. Space and we all know how well the last stimulus plan worked. Where’s the unemployment rate now? About 9.5%? Yeah, that worked. One of the mainstays oval bomb his new stimulus program is this high speed rail boondoggle. Obama said “Within 25 years our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail.” Space you do know, don’t you, that Amtrak has never made money. Amtrak is a constant drain on taxpayer dollars were ever those trains run. And how is it going to be any different with high-speed rail lines. Experts not working for the government or not working for the building trades unions, are pretty much unanimous in their opinions that high-speed rail in our widely disseminated population simply will not work. It high-speed rail doesn’t work between New York and Philadelphia, or New York and Washington DC without losing money, how in the world isn’t going to work between Orlando and Tampa or any other two urban areas in this country. Space the fact is that this whole dream about high-speed rail is nothing but a payoff to unions in order to put construction workers to work building rail lines, joining unions, paying union dues, and allowing unions to make massive political contributions to candidates. Democrat candidates.

Gene Healy at Cato says the problem with the SOTU isn’t the seating:

Bipartisan symbolism’s all the rage on Capitol Hill right now, with members scrambling for a cross-aisle BFF to sit with at the State of the Union (SOTU). Tonight, the lion will lie down with the lamb — or at least Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will sit elbow to elbow and try not to bite each other.

Maybe these gestures will lead to a nationwide surge of oxytocin — the togetherness hormone — healing partisan rancor across the fruited plain. But that’s highly unlikely, given how polarizing the modern SOTU and the modern presidency have become.

Over at United Liberty, former Liberty Papers contributor Jason Pye warns readers to not be fooled by the president’s favorite buzzword from the SOTU: “investing”

Consider this, in the same speech President Obama was pitching a paltry speeding freeze, he spoke often of investment. Of course, since “stimulus” has become a political non-starter; thanks largely to his behemoth spending bill passed shortly after he took office two years ago, “investment” is the new buzz word for statists to push their wasteful pet spending.

Among these “investments” will be more spending for high-speed rail projects, high-speed internet, tax credits, more education spending, energy subsidies, and more spending for our seemingly endless operations in Afghanistan – although he promises that we will soon begin withdrawal from the country, don’t believe it; we’re going to be there for years to come. Obama claims to want a spending freeze, but he also wants to spend more money. On what planet does that make sense?

Former Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr called the speech a “yawn”

A little bit of something for everybody; but a really big something for government. This was the essential thrust of this 44th President’s second — and longest, state-of-the-union speech last night. While Barack Obama did not include quite as lengthy a shopping list in his state of the union speech as did his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, his list was long nonetheless.

Even though Obama paid lip service to regulatory reform, community-based education, tax reform, and reform of last year’s health care reform (among many other tid-bits), in virtually every instance, the ultimate solution to which he kept returning was more government spending and increased government prioritization.

Finally, John Stossel offers a State of the Union address of his own (to which I won’t excerpt because the whole thing should be read; I’ll post the video if I can find it).

***UPDATE*** Cato offers a more complete response to the SOTU by getting into some of the details of the speech and other observations.

Now this is a call to violence

Even with all the crowing from the authoritarian left about violent rhetoric, I have yet to see a call to violence as clear as this one from leftist Sociologist Frances Fox Piven:

So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs?


Second, before people can mobilize for collective action, they have to develop a proud and angry identity and a set of claims that go with that identity. They have to go from being hurt and ashamed to being angry and indignant.


Third, protesters need targets, preferably local and accessible ones capable of making some kind of response to angry demands.


An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees.

Piven is calling for the types of protests where rocks are hurled and molotov cocktails are thrown. She wants protests where property is destroyed and people are killed. She hopes that such moves will intimidate government at all levels in this nation into further forced redistribution of wealth.

As commenter Florida pointed out over at Althouse:

They [the leftists] want violence … as long as it’s THEIR violence.

As long as they are the ones bringing the thugs to the town hall meetings.

As long as they are the ones telling US what we must buy and who we can watch and what they can say.

That’s all they want.

Yeah, that’s all they want. Remember, Piven and her ilk are the kind who claim moral superiority to the rest of us. They arrogate to themselves the moral authority to regulate any aspect of our lives they choose. If we don’t cooperate with them, they are willing to intimidate us, hurt us, and kill us. The thought of a free society of equals is simply beyond their comprehension.

To the left, words in opposition to their cause are more violent than assault and murder in support of it. Never forget that.

Use “YouCut” to Encourage Fiscal Sanity and Restore Liberty

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has set up a website called YouCut to solicit ideas from regular people for suggestions on specific programs and policies that should be cut or eliminated.

From the website:

YouCut – a first-of-its-kind project – is designed to defeat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress. It allows you to vote, both online and on your cell phone, on spending cuts that you want to see the House enact. Each week that the House is in session, we will take the winning item and offer it to the full House for an up-or-down vote, so that you can see where your representative stands on your priorities. Vote on this page today for your priorities and together we can begin to change Washington’s culture of spending into a culture of savings.

YouCut appears to be similar to President Obama’s site – hardly “first-of-its-kind” as boasted in the paragraph above. And like I doubt any suggestions like “legalize marijuana” (which was the top suggestion at but I’m not sure if this is still the case) will be taken all that seriously by House Republicans. Even if more “libertarian” suggestions are discarded, however; the way I see it, if they ask for our input we should give it to them rather than simply bitching and moaning on blogs about how nothing ever changes.

I haven’t taken the opportunity to offer any suggestions so far but I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a few ideas. Any policy or program that takes liberty away from the individual would be an ideal place to start. Even such “pipe dreams” as ending the war on (some) drugs, ending the TSA, DEA, ATF, and various other alphabet agencies that do essentially the same redundant things*, bringing all the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan (and most of the rest of the world for that matter), phasing out Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, cut defense spending, selling federal land to private entities, and other policies that the Republicans may or may not be in favor of should be at least suggested. All these actions would result in significant savings for the taxpayer as well as restore lost liberties.

There have already been some interesting suggestions on the site. If you do make any suggestions to YouCut, be sure to post them here as well.

» Read more

Quote of the Day: Why We Should be Skeptical About the Tea Party’s Commitment to Liberty Edition

Alex Pareene writing for in an article entitled: Tea Partyers don’t actually care about “liberty” :

[V]arious New Mexico Tea Partyers booed one of the movement’s superstars [Former New Mexico Governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson] for daring to suggest that a wasteful and — let’s just say it –tyrannical government campaign [the war on drugs] be ended.


If ending the disastrous, expensive, immoral and racist drug war gets booed at a Tea Party rally in liberty-loving New Mexico, there is absolutely nothing remotely libertarian about the movement besides a visceral hatred of taxes and the conviction that undeserving Others are benefiting from them.

When people ask me what I think about the Tea Party generally, my response is that I’m glad it’s out there shaking things up and challenging the establishment, but I keep them at arm’s length (where were these people during the Bush years?). This article not only deals about Tea Partier attitudes about the war on (some) drugs but also other liberty issues such as gay marriage and free trade (among many other issues not mentioned in the article).

I have been skeptical about the Tea Party’s commitment to liberty all along but the 2012 presidential primary will provide an opportunity to prove me wrong. If the Tea Party overall supports Gary Johnson or Ron Paul, then I would be happy to admit I was wrong. If, however; the Tea Party backs someone like “Tax Hike” Mike Huckabee, Sarah “the Quitter” Palin, or “Mandate” Mitt Romney I can safely say my skepticism was validated.

I so hope to be proven wrong but if the response from the New Mexico Tea Party is any indication…

1 2 3