How I Know What I Know. How Do You Know What You Know?

Everyday life requires me to make decisions about many topics. In most cases, I have either a superficial understanding of the issue or no understanding at all. Yet, I manage and I have always managed, somehow.

The problem of my ignorance becomes even more acute when it comes to making the simplest of political decisions such as choosing to support a candidate against all other choices. To decide who I want to be President of the United States, I would have to know a great deal about arcane details of the political process, macro-economics, foreign policy, and the conditions in a dozen countries, at least.

Even today, when the Internet has made much knowledge enormously more accessible than it was only a few short years ago, those tasks are daunting. For one thing, there is the issue of specialized language, jargon one must tackle in every field of knowledge. Why, I don’t even know the language of the insurance companies on which my safety and my health rely!

And then, in addition, I would have to know a great deal about each candidate who wants me to give him or her a determining influence on my happiness and on the future of the country I love.

Obviously, the requirements are too much for me to satisfy, not a little bit too much, but vastly too much. Fortunately, there are valid shortcuts:

I can test the declarations of politicians the way I test the statements of car mechanics. In both case, I apply the rotten apple test. Here is how it goes:

If a politician states anything at all under his or her own power, not in response to a question, not upon being forced or manipulated into it by someone else, then the politician is completely liable for the reasonableness, and especially for the veracity of the statement.

So, I distinguish between Gov. Palin’s famous stumble when she was ambushed by Kathy Couric with a question on the “Bush Doctrine,” on the one hand, from false statements a politician might spontaneously make to support his or her position, on the other hand. Often, I don’t even care to differentiate between a lie and a display of ignorance, or a startling lack of criticality. In all these case alike, if a politician choses to assert something and it turns out to be false, that’s a rotten apple. That single act causes me to consider everything else he might assert as so many potentially rotten apples. I tell myself that life is short and we have better thing to do than sort through the assertions of persons seeking political office who should know better.

Congressman Ron Paul volunteered in one of the Republican candidate debates that the US armed forces spend ” $20 billions” (Billions) on air conditioning in Afghanistan and in Iraq. I think the figure is preposterous on its face. Small thing but it shows that Mr Paul is not serious.

This is, in short, how I know what I know. I use a primitive method but, at least, it’s doable. What do you do? You might ask yourselves even if you don’t particularly want to confess.

There is a Part 2 to this judgment rule. How a politician, or his entourage respond after his or her false statement is pointed out also matters The “how” tells you a whole lot about the honesty you may expect from that person in office and also about his/her intelligence. Finally, it tells you almost as much as you want to know about capacity for fixing damage. Of course, I think that’s the single most important quality in the holder of an important political office..

For the past couple of weeks, a politically conscious younger man and I have had serious discussions about libertarianism on this blog. What makes the discussion possibly interesting is that the other guy – who calls himself CrackpotCrackshot or CarckshotCrackpot – and I have similar positions on most issues and subscribe to similar analyses about societies’ springs. He and I differ mostly on the role of the United States in the world, with an emphasis on military action. Thus our discussion is not the usual bloodbath between enemies who have nothing in common and who shout past each other.

Most of the recent part of this discussion comes in the form of “Comment” under the short essay entitled: “Well Done, Mr. Obama!

[Editor’s note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix’s blog, Facts Matter, on November 19th 2011]

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