Blog, Crisis Management, Media + Politics, Politics

Meaner and More Divisive Than Ever: The Dangers of Failing to Accept Reality

        In 2015, I published Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments[i]. Not only was it a compilation of dumb arguments such as they were at the time, but even more, it was a biting critique of both the arguments and their proponents. 

Since then, things have only gotten much worse. Not only are the “arguments”—if they are even deserving of the term—dumber, but they are damning evidence of their proponents’ glaring inability and abject refusals to accept reality. In a word, they are meaner and more divisive than ever. 

While there’re countless examples that one can give, the following are more than sufficient to illustrate what we’re up against.

Recently, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis verbally assaulted students by commanding them in no uncertain terms to stop engaging in what he called “Covid Theatre” by continuing to wear face masks. Despite deaths being down, to trivialize in any way a deadly disease that is still producing lethal variants and thus continues to pose a major threat to our general health and well-being is nothing less than the height of social irresponsibility, if not evil. But then as my most recent book[ii] shows, the numbers and types of arguments/claims that people have concocted for Not getting vaccinated for Covid 19 are just as bad, if not more so. Indeed, they’re not only devastating, but constitute major Threats to our Sensibilities. 

In short, the numbers of serious Threats that Covid 19 has spawned (the Economy, the Strain on Health Care, the Entire School System, etc.) plus those that have and are continuing to occur despite it (Global Warming, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, etc.) are utterly overwhelming and thus too much to bear. Arguments of the worst kind represent the utterly feeble attempts of far too many to try and regain control over their lives.

As the eminent British poet T.S. Eliot put it best, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

If the preceding weren’t bad enough, Governor DeSantis promised to sign a Bill by the Republican State Assembly that would ban classroom discussions about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Primary Schools. Indeed, it would prohibit use of the word “Gay.” Needless to say, it’s not only set off firestorms of protests from the Gay community, but from supporters nation-wide.

Not to be outdone, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has threatened the parents whose children are considering Transgendering with dire consequences. Anyone who knows of parents who are even considering it for their children and fails to report it would face “criminal penalties.” It’s nothing less than encouraging Vigilantism. Just as bad, other States are considering equally horrendous actions.

Given how much the Social-Emotional development of young children has been seriously hampered by means of their being unable to have normal contact with other children, one would think that additions to the curriculum that emphasized and thus reinforced Social-Emotional Learning would be actively welcomed. But no. A Republican Senator in the Mid-West spoke out fiercely against such a proposal contending that it would promote the teaching of Critical Race Theory and therefore not only indoctrinate children, but make White children feel bad about themselves. The argument is not only supremely dumb, but mean. First of all, Critical Race Theory is only taught in college not in K-12. Second, depriving children of Social-Emotional Learning only harms them even more. It’s both incredibly mean and cruel. Everything has become deeply politicized and extremely divisive. 

Recently, former child star Ricky Schroeder called museum guards “Nazis” for refusing to admit him because he refused to wear a mask. In his defense, he shouted, “God’s Laws are Higher than man’s!” The guards were of course only carrying out their assigned duties in the museum’s effort to protect its visitors as well as themselves from a deadly disease.

Undeniably, among the worst is the Big Lie by Donald Trump and his supporters that he won the last election. Even though it was one of the most secure on record and there was virtually no evidence of voter fraud, it’s led to the passage of some of the most draconian and restrictive voter laws. As a result, it’s put American Democracy in serious danger. 

Once again, we’re not only dealing with dumb and fallacious arguments, but with absolutely mean and senseless actions. And, as January 6 showed, we’re dealing with the ever-present threats of violence that they encourage. 

Lest it appear that mean arguments and actions are the sole province of the ignorant and extreme Right, I hasten to point out that they’re also found in abundance on the Left as well. Cries for Defunding the Police are one of the most prominent examples. Reform the Police yes, but Defund them when violent crime is up nation-wide? It makes no sense. To be sure, after the senseless and brutal murders by the Police of Black men, there is no doubt whatsoever of the need for major change. The entire culture of Policing needs to be seriously reexamined and overhauled.

There is no end to the examples that one could give of the depths to which we’ve sunk. But one thing is clear. We are suffering from nothing less than Mass Psychosis. Our ability to face and thereby deal with a world that is more complex and messy than anything we’ve ever faced is in serious jeopardy. 

Finally, consider the fact that Words themselves have become more troublesome and divisive than ever. Thus, the use of pronouns by which we refer to people’s identities have become major flashpoints. Compared to the pain and humiliation that LGBTQ’s have suffered for years, the issue pales in significance. One is entitled to use whatever he, she, or they feels is appropriate to refer to oneself and others. 

In addition, the Age of Dis and Misinformation has only made matters worse. Who and what can one Trust to provide True and Accurate Information about the multiple Threats that assault us on a daily basis? No wonder why Paranoia has flourished and made us feel more Vulnerable than ever. It’s not surprising that we yearn for reputable authorities to address our Fears as honestly and as forthrightly as they can. 

But just when we need them more than ever, along with Health Care workers of all stripes, School Principals are planning to resign in numbers never experienced before. The stress of dealing with the Mental Problems of students and the constant angry flareups of parents has gotten to the point where they can’t take it anymore. The same is true of Flight Attendants. The numbers of dangerous incidents with unruly passengers have become so frequent and violent such that it’s no longer safe to fly.

Unfortunately, the problems with Words is widespread. Thus, recently, Russia has announced that anyone calling its “Incursion into Ukraine” an Insurrection or a War could face up to 15 years in jail. 

To recap, the “arguments”—if once again they are even worthy of the term—range from punishing parents and children for alleged crimes; ridiculing and thereby downplaying serious health concerns; verbally assaulting workers who are merely doing their assigned jobs in order to protect the public and themselves; furthering lies that put American Democracy at risk; instead of promoting serious reform, threatening the very existence of the institution of Policing.   

We cannot survive if we continue to deny and trivialize life-threatening events and especially sensible ways of dealing with them. 

The greatest casualty of Covid 19 and of all the other threats we’re facing is the serious damage they’ve done to our ability to make sense of things and to get along with one another. Reason Itself and Civility have suffered serious blows.

While counterarguments may not change the minds of those who need it most, we have no choice but to speak out as forcefully and as often as we can against the most vicious assertions and atrocious lies. More than ever, we have to believe with all our hearts and minds in the dictum that the Truth will finally win out.

[i] Ian I. Mitroff, Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide toCombatting Dumb Arguments, 2015.

[ii] Ian I. Mitroff, The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons From Covid, Springer, New York, 2022, in press.

Blog, Politics

Top Ten Dumb Arguments

Originally posted on November 25, 2015 on Huffington Post

In giving my list of top ten dumb arguments, let me offer my sincerest apologies to David Letterman. After listing the arguments, let me comment briefly on each.

1. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
2. The IRS ought to be abolished and the tax code ought not to be anymore than three pages long.
3. “If I’m elected President, I will get Mexico to pay for a wall that will keep out all undesirables.”
4. The U.S. tops the rest of the world with respect to all measures of importance.
5. Western civilization is superior in every respect to all other civilizations.
6. There should be a national registry of all Muslims.
7. Without exception, all government institutions are ineffective and bad.
8. Global warming is a hoax.
9. When it comes to vaccinating my children, I am a better judge of what’s right than the medical and pharmaceutical establishment.
10. One does not need experience in foreign and domestic affairs in order to be President of the U.S.

1. The first outrageous assertion is based on the simple-minded belief that there are clear, easily identifiable, and persistent differences between “‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys.” In a nation with over 300 million guns, how could we ever assure that the guns of the “good guys” would never fall into the hands of the “bad guys?” Oh, the “bad guys” only get their guns from the black market! More to the point, depending on the circumstances, isn’t everyone, if only temporarily, capable of being a “bad guy?”

2. Were that the world was so simple such that complex issues could be handled by simple-minded proposals.

3. Were that all threats could be so easily identified and thereby contained. A wall of such magnitude is visible proof that those who need it are suffering from acute delusions and paranoia.

4. The fact is that the U.S. is the world leader only with respect financial performance. With regard to all other measure, we are in the middle, if not the bottom, of the pack. Compared to other countries, we are not the happiest, healthiest; we do not have the lowest infant mortality; we have among the highest income inequality, etc.

5. Such assertions are testimony to fact that far too many need to have their weak egos propped up. “Trumped up?”

6. Time and again, fear “Trumps” reason and acts against our best interests and ideals as a nation. ISIS will have “won” if we ever did such a horrible thing.

7. Simple-minded, black/white thinking. So private organizations are always better? GM, for one, never made any major, systematic mistakes that resulted in people being killed?

8. 97% of climate scientists are wrong? But then you’re an expert in arcane matters!

9. “What medical school did you go to such that you know more than pediatricians?” Again, you’re an expert in arcane matters!

10. Would you let someone operate on your brain without advanced medical training and experience? Why would we let someone operate on the “body politic” without advanced training and experience? Again, experts don’t matter.

Notice that many of the propositions are based on splitting the world into “good guys, forces, institutions, civilizations, etc.” versus “bad guys, etc.” The process of splitting is due to some of the most archaic, primitive stages of human development.. Young children regularly split the world into good and bad guys, etc. The splits are not necessarily characteristic of the world itself.

In times of great change and stress, all of us revert to primitive modes of thinking. If we know this and take precautions, we can resist falling into primitive modes of thinking and duped by demagogues.

Notice further that many of the propositions are primitive attempts to deal with deep fears and threats to one’s well-being, if not one’s very existence. The Commander-In-Chief is as much the Therapist-In-Chief, the kindly uncle who can comfort us and assure us that everything is safe and well.

Beating back the forces of fear ignorance is a never-ending battle.

Politics, Serialized Blog

The Sad State of Arguments

Originally posted November 20, 2014 on the Nation of Change

The constant swirl of dumb arguments are not only a measure of the low level to which public discourse has sunk, but they displace thoughtful communication and analysis, thereby keeping us from addressing our most important problems.

…More than one in five Republicans last year told a pollster they believed that President Obama was the anti-Christ.

“It’s harmless hyperbole you say. The 114th Congress will not take up the matter of what to do with the Beast at the end times. But they will hold crucial votes on whether one of the world’s largest users of energy—us—can curb carbon emissions enough to mitigate climate change…”[i]  Timothy Egan

It is no exaggeration in the slightest to say that we are called upon daily to make gut-wrenching decisions on life and death issues that affect everyone everywhere. And yet, we are bombarded daily by arguments that by any measure are paranoid, pathological, and delusional. In brief, America is awash in dumb arguments.

The constant swirl of dumb arguments are not only a measure of the low level to which public discourse has sunk, but they displace thoughtful communication and analysis, thereby keeping us from addressing our most important problems.

Illogical Versus Dumb Arguments

All dumb arguments are illogical, but not all illogical arguments are necessarily dumb. Illogical arguments are arguments whose underlying premises are deeply flawed. In brief, the premises don’t make sense and thus the purported conclusions don’t follow at all.

But false premises and dubious conclusions alone don’t necessarily make something dumb. The primary form of dumb arguments that come most readily to mind are out-and-out idiotic, nonsensical statements like those generally associated with Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Gov. Sarah Palin.

Among the worst are those that are riddled with contempt and ridicule. (Evil arguments are unquestionably the absolute worst of all.) Such arguments are dumb not because they are idiotic, but because of the way in which they express contempt and disdain towards those they portray. In short, they demean those to whom the arguments are directed by characterizing them in the worst possible way.

Dumb arguments are also a reflection of the deep polarization that is characteristic of our times. According to recent polls, we are not only more divided politically than at almost any time in our history, but we are more inclined to demonize those who don’t think and behave like us. Many would in fact ostracize members of their own families who dared to marry someone of an opposing political party.[ii]

At least on their surface, other types of dumb arguments are not riddled with open contempt and hostility. For example, the longstanding refusal, if not outright inability, of the NRA to acknowledge that there are strong interaction effects between all forms of technology and those who use or control them is a prime example.

Most people clearly recognize the need to license drivers (people) before they are allowed to operate cars (a special form of technology) and to make that technology as safe as possible by incorporating safety features like seat belts and crushable bumpers in their design. Although in nearly every case car manufacturers initially fought the changes, they finally acceded to the demand that both cars and people needed to be made as safe as possible.

In sharp contrast, the NRA has always wanted to put the entire burden of responsibility for the safe operation of guns solely on the backs of users. Indeed, the NRA has persistently fought any and all proposals for increasing the safety of guns and reasonable background checks of potential buyers.

Major Types of Dumb Arguments (DAs)

I’ve been able to identify six major types of DAs. The reader is warned that the various types are neither mutually exclusive, nor exhaustive. The six are merely enough to expose the major features of a highly disturbing landscape.

  1. The Truly Idiotic/Dumb, Stupid, Ignorant
  2. Deceptive
  3. Insulting, Overly Aggressive, Demonizing
  4. Narrowly Ideological
  5. Lame Excuse/Apologies
  6. Evil.

Let me give just two examples that cut across many of the six major types I’ve identified. The point is depending upon what portions of an argument are stressed, many, if not most, of the examples can be used to illustrate any of the different types of DAs.

(The earlier case of the NRA is a clear example of a Deceptive DA.)

Example I

In agreeing to end discrimination against gays, lesbians, and trans-genders, President Obama has been accused of discriminating against those who discriminate against gays, lesbians, and trans-genders![iii]

Of course in agreeing to end discrimination, President Obama is rendering a strong, unequivocal judgment against those who discriminate. But to call his judgment reverse discrimination is downright Orwellian.

In taking away the “rights” of slave owners, was one thereby discriminating against them? If one was a slave owner, I have no doubt that they felt they were clearly being discriminated against, so much so that they were willing to go to war to defend their beliefs. Or was one correcting a grievous and evil societal wrong? Obviously, history has judged it to be the latter rather than the former.

Of course in correcting previous injustices, one is seriously affecting those who caused the injustice in the first place. But would we call it “harming them?” Should we view ending slavery as “harming” slave-owners?

The proponents of DAs fundamentally misuse words and ideas. In short, they suffer from “thinking disorders.”

Example II

Along with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck stands out in proposing ideas that are clearly conspiratorial, if not downright evil. Mr. Beck said recently that in allowing illegal children into the U.S., President Obama was laying the groundwork for an Israeli-Palestinian type conflict within our borders.[iv] In other words, there was a conspiracy afoot that only he could call out.

To compare the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the plight of immigrant children basically defies all reason. It is the hallmark of a demagogue.

Dumb arguments wouldn’t exist if they didn’t fulfill important social purposes. Dumb arguments help to: simplify an inordinately complex world; reaffirm one’s core values that are seen as constantly under attack; differentiate oneself from the opposition; attract voters who are undecided and could vote either way; close down discussion and ignore inconvenient facts and arguments; demonize those who are seen as bitter enemies, etc.

Dumb arguments are nothing less than a virulent form of social pathology that must be treated as such.

[i] Timonthy Egan, “Why Do We Re-elect Them?,” The New York Times, Thursday, October 9, 2014, p. A29.

[ii] Charles M. Blow, “Dangerous Divisiveness,” The New York Times, Monday, June 16, 2014, p. A17; Nate Cohen, “Polarization: It’s Everywhere,” The New York Times, Thursday, June 12, 2014, p. A3.

[iii] Kate Patrick, “Obama’s LGBT Executive Order Threatens Religious Liberty, Say Advocates,” Daily Caller, July, 21, 2014.