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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A standardless society

    “”Hey, check out the moon. It’s pretty sweet; a perfect half-moon nice and low on the horizon.””

    “”You know, sometimes I feel bad for people in China because I feel like they don’t get to see the moon as much as we do.””

    The second person in this conversation is not a fifth grader, but a senior getting ready to graduate from the UA. About to go out into the real world – the one orbited by the moon – and this is their grasp of the way it works. I’ve had a few good laughs sharing this story, but the more I think about it, the less funny it becomes. Why? Because we hear utterly stupid comments all the time. Another friend told me a story about roommates she overheard who couldn’t agree whether crickets or people were having a conversation on her porch; the conversation ended with one of them resolving to ask their mom because “”she knows a lot about crickets.””

    In the course of our everyday lives, we are often confronted by people who cannot effectively argue a simple point. This is most obvious when the discussion turns to politics. Many cannot rationally defend their positions on the issues. They go with tradition, what they know, what they’ve always heard. They “”feel it in their gut,”” as our esteemed president put it.

    That doesn’t cut it. It’s not that people are incapable of intelligently defending their positions. Far from it. Everyone is fundamentally able to, but never really pressed to, and so many never to think for themselves.

    What’s the excuse for any of this? While some people complain about low academic standards, it should go without saying that we should be able to know well before college why people in China still see the moon just as much as we do, and the difference between cricket sounds and people sounds. Do we need to increase our K-12 education standards? Are our schools that short on money? Are we being failed by the system?

    This is mostly beside the point. The standards being “”failed”” here aren’t any external standards – they’re our standards for each other. These standards are being “”failed”” because we simply do not have any when it comes to intellectual competence. Day in and day out, we let each other say ridiculous things and hold unchallenged opinions. In short, we are collectively acting like The Dude from “”The Big Lebowski:”” “”Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.””

    In society at large, this individual attitude morphs into political correctness (the doctrine that we can’t harm anyone’s feelings because they’re a unique snowflake) and cynical apathy. How can I make a political judgment if I can’t criticize the idiot on the street? All the political problems we have – electoral college reform,

    It’s not that people are incapable of intelligently defending their positions. Everyone is fundamentally able to, but never really pressed to, and so many never to think for themselves.

    lobbyists and special interests, the corrupt and often incompetent politicians who “”represent”” us – are just symptoms of our big problem.

    It’s not just a matter of keeping better tabs on the pundits and politicians who continually play games and avoid substance; it’s a matter of raising our own level of discourse so that carrying on about nothing won’t make any sense.

    Our current campaign cycle is indicative of how far off the mark we are. What’s truly amazing is that one candidate, in large part, has founded his campaign on these grounds: “”Hey! Look at me! I am actually a decent human being.””

    Barack Obama does seem, by all accounts, to be a decent human being. It’s unusual to have a candidate whom people are excited to vote for. Many are so desperately sick of the way things are going that they feel like change needs to come now.

    What Obama says is that it’s up to us. He can spearhead change, but we’ve got to make it happen. But what we hear from each other is that we think Obama can lead us out of it.

    We are shifting the burden to act from ourselves to another. It’s another symptom of our basic intellectual laziness, our unwillingness to commit to substantive judgments outside of ourselves. Even if Obama wins today, and goes on to win in the general election, he’s not going to change things by himself. He can’t, and we shouldn’t let him even if he could. We have to do it. Until we start putting a little effort into bettering ourselves – getting informed and getting involved – our situation will stay the same.

    Matt Styer is an interdisciplinary studies senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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