This guest commentary examines intellectual honesty in our times..
Current day’s events are not the first extermination of intellectual honesty. Throughout history, one of the first signs of deterioration of Democracy to a dictatorship has been suppression of the viewpoints by one group of another group with disparate opinions.
Whether we look toward the shift from Democracy to dictators in the Ancient Greek world, the Roman world, the French revolution in the late 18th Century that resulted in the dictator Napoleon, the extermination of intellectuals other than the Leninists in the early days of the 20th Century within Russia, the same occurring during the rise of Mao in China and at the same time by the demise of German intellectualism caused by Hitler’s rise to power in the first half of the 20th Century, or the second round of mass exterminations during the dictatorship of Stalin within Russia, the result is almost always the same. All these deaths of intellectual freedom and honesty, with the associated mass killings of those with disparate, opposing views, led to the eventual devastating decline of each great civilization, with the possible exception of Communist China post-Mao.
Is America at the same stage now? If a person watches MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS or peruses social media sites, a person is left with a consistent set of purported facts and statistics supported by Democrats. Then if one switches to the much less numerous FOX News Channel, One American News, NewsMax, or printed media dedicated to Republican viewpoints, a person receives an opposite set of facts and statistics. Neither group appears to professionally care that each side’s facts and statistics refute the other’s facts and statistics. Of greatest concern are the social media sites, which the public appears to be switching toward in great percentages versus the historic print media and televised news outlets.
Democrats advocate intellectual dishonesty and claim merit in doing so due to the lack of intellectual honesty by the Republicans, especially pointing to the slanted, dishonest Trump statements. But the slanted Trump statements are claimed to be necessary to refute the slanted, dishonest Democrat and omnipresent Democratic-leaning media statements.
A citizen can easily find intellectually dishonest statements within either the Obama or the Trump Administrations, as well as previous Administrations, but perhaps with greater dishonest consistency than previous administrations. The same can be said of Congress, that the Congresses during the Obama and Trump Administrations have been greater advocates of the death of intellectual honesty than other Congresses in the recent past.
What is the truth regarding the Obama and Trump Administrations? Both can claim huge accomplishments. Most of those accomplishments are viewed as huge failures by the opposing political party. An example is Obamacare during the Obama Administration. Democrats view this as one of Obama’s greatest accomplishments, while Republicans view the passage of Obama Care as a violation of the constitution and an attempt to limit the freedoms of individual citizens. Then we have huge accomplishments by the Trump Administration. One such example is immigration policies and control of the borders. Statistics of illegal immigrants are now far down versus the Obama years, but Democrats view this as one of Trump’s greatest failures. All the while, other huge accomplishments by both political parties are either ignored or automatically rejected since the accomplishment was made by the opposing political party.
What is missing? Intellectual honesty; the old approach of admitting both the positives and negatives of an issue. Truly intellectual debate has disappeared. Where is the presentation of an alleged set of facts, and then for fairness a presentation of the opposing alleged facts that might be used to refute the initial set of alleged facts?
To gain such an intellectually honest view, a Democrat would have to watch, as one example, FOX News, and then watch MSNBC; A Republican would have to do the same. But each, at present, is so repulsed to hear the refutation of their desperately desired perception of reality, they cannot stand to listen to the opposing viewpoints, all with increasing hatred emerging by each of the other. A vast majority of today’s citizens only wish for substantiation of their own set of facts.
The greatest degradation of intellectual honesty during my lifetime is the mainstream media sites. Once those sites became controlled by billionaires who demanded the news anchors espouse facts supporting the left or right theme advocated by the billionaire owner, avoiding reporting facts that would refute that same theme, we began the decline toward an eventual dictatorship. The extremists on each side who hate the views of the opposing side began the rapid movement toward persecuting those with the opposing viewpoints, the first steps toward a dictatorship. Even worse, we will likely witness the initiation of killings by each group of the other.
The same is now true of the social media sites, which are controlled by billionaires who use their platforms to censure opposing viewpoints. For example, to say that comments that incite violence have to be censured, then censure Republican entries on the social media platforms is intellectually dishonest. To allow other sources from the left that advocate violence on the same social media site is evidence of the first steps toward a dictatorship.
We must return to true intellectual honesty. The steps to achieve this vital goal: (1) we must prevent the mainstream and social media sites from the daily brainwashing of viewers with one-sided facts. We must prevent billionaires with a biased worldview from imposing their worldview on the rest of us. Media outlets must present an objective set of facts to the general public, with pros and cons of each position, and allow the general public to determine truth, (2) each side with opposing viewpoints must start to “do unto others as we would want to be done to us.” We must hear and be open-minded to opposing viewpoints, (3) people must stop hating those who have different viewpoints, (4) we must insist that members of Congress conduct themselves along with the true rules of intellectual honesty, and last, (5) both sides must condemn those who support one-sided arguments and double standards.
The media for both sides must expose those Congressional voices that violate intellectual honesty.
Editor’s note: Padgett is a retired U.S. Army Colonel where he worked in Acquisition and as a Uniformed Scientist. He has a doctorate in Management. He and his wife run and own a consulting business that specializes in teaching U.S. Government Federal Employees Program Management and contracting.