Friday, September 10, 2010

A Failure to Communicate . . .

Some days, life seems to imitate art.

This is not one of those days, but the topic at hand put me in mind of the line from the film, Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."  I was enmeshed in a mini-controversy on one of those email discussion groups when it struck me that the problem we were having in the discussion is often the problem in most human communications on topics of interest.  People confuse opinion with fact and knowledge with uninformed prejudice.

It appears that the combination of fierce individualism and thorough-going egalitarianism have produced circumstances in which everyone believes that their passing opinion on any topic they deign to opine upon is absolute truth, or at least every bit as true as anything anyone else might say.  I blame this on the Psychologist Carl Rogers as much as anyone.  He pioneered the idea that everyone and everything was precious and wonderful just by virtue of being.  His approach to self-esteem has crippled a couple of generations of American children, and it is on the way to crippling discourse in our nation.

It is bad enough that everyone thinks they are right, but when they lose the ability to distinguish between a mere opinion and a clear fact, debate and even education may be at risk.  In the on-line discussion that prompted this entry, an individual asked a question, having admitted a lack of knowledge to form a decisive assessment of a situation.  When offered the information upon which he might form his opinion, the individual became argumentative.  He rejected and contradicted facts simply because they did not conform to his prior prejudices nor support his hastily formed and unfounded opinions.  He subsequently withdrew from the on-line forum altogether, convinced that the group was the sort that would not grant equality to his passing thoughts with the results of careful inquiry and scholarly investigation.

It was an unfortunate decision, but it highlighted the problem in modern communications.  Too many people think that just because they hold an idea, it outweighs facts and reality altogether.  It is fine if someone wishes to cling to their own ideas and prejudices, even in the face of truth and evidence to the contrary.  It is not productive, but they have that right.  It is not helpful, however, if they feel the need to dismiss and invalidate facts and reality in pursuit of their ill-informed ideas, and to hold those who treat facts as something other than a mere opinion as unjustly prejudiced and even arrogant.

If bigoted fantasy and hard, cold facts are believed to be on an equal footing, rational discourse will cease to be possible.  We will have a true failure to communicate.


RobbieFish said...

Not just "uniformed" prejudice, dude, but "uninformed" as well! ;^p

Cuda said...

Thanks for the editorial heads-up.