A Shaky Foundation

An assertion is an argument or a postulation.  It is an opinion stated as a fact.  An assertion is an attempt to make a point or convince somebody of something.  It is the punctuation mark on an idea.  More on assertions after a brief detour.

I am not a master of logic, but I do have a fairly well-developed BS detector; and I will state authoritatively that a constant stream of BS is being spewed by Everyone With An Opinion about every topic from how to lose weight, to which political party Jesus would endorse, to how to fix What’s Wrong With America, Dammit.  In fact, I’ve heard more nauseating tripe in the last five months than I did in the entire previous year.  And I heard a lot of nauseating tripe that year.

Several compelling reasons have been offered for why there’s so much stupidity assaulting our eyes and ears, and marching in the streets.  One reason I haven’t heard but I’m mulling over, is the availability of a national platform for youth.  Time was, national platforms were reserved for old dudes like Walter Cronkite who had some life experience and at least the appearance of wisdom.  I’m sure that back in those days, some folks exploited their exclusive platforms to push an agenda, maybe there wasn’t much diversity of thought, and some were perhaps just plain wrong.  But right, wrong, or otherwise, their audience expected that they at least be seasoned enough to have purged the naïveté of youth.  Today, any middle schooler with a phone can slap a hashtag on a self-righteous tweet and receive 125k “likes” for taking such a courageous stance for The Cause.  Now I don’t begrudge kids the ability to voice their opinion, but I do think that so-called adults who applaud this mindless noise should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

See, young people are naïve.  They can’t help it, bless their hearts.  It’s merely a function of a lack of experience.  (By the way, indoctrination—political, religious, or other—doesn’t count as actual experience.  Neither does holding a protest sign or rioting.)  I’m going to go out on a limb here and risk sounding like the grumpy old guy yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but since I’m approaching that time of life anyway, I may as well go all in.  We have a large number of young people hollering about fairness and justice and whatnot, who are all the while acting most unfair and unjust.  And whatnot.  And a large portion of the adults in our society is applauding.

And yet, there’s a problem with my theory that I just can’t get past:  older folks are doing the same thing.  They, too, spew inanities and show no ability or desire to reason.  They get away with this, you see, by avoiding actual discourse.  If you avoid discourse, then you don’t have to justify your assertions with evidence and logic.  And if you don’t have to justify your assertions, then you can generate a following just by being loud.

But unlike youth who simply haven’t been taught how to reason, there’s no excuse for older folks being intellectually lazy.  Here’s a simple lesson in logic that should be a fundamental part of childhood education:  You can’t reasonably base an assertion on another assertion.  Yet people on all parts of the political and religious spectra are basing their arguments on stacked assertions and megaphones.

I keep seeing this sophistry as a method of avoiding difficult questions, and I’m getting pretty darn sick of it.  You see, when someone really wants to find the truth, they will turn their arguments over and examine them from multiple angles and perspectives.  They will support their conclusions with evidence and reason, providing their rationale for their audience to consider and challenge.  They are willing to show their work.

Here are two examples—one from politics and one from religion—that illustrate what I’m talking about.  If you look carefully while you’re reading the morning news, no doubt you can find many more.

I could make the assertion that “totalitarianism is superior to true democracy.”

“Why?”

“Because democracy is racist.  Boom.”

One assertion stacked on top of another is not an ingenuous way to support an argument.  Rather, it is a sophistic attempt to shield an ideology from scrutiny.

I could make the assertion that “God is just.”

“Why?”

“Because the bible says that God is just and the bible is God’s word.”

I’ve again supported one assertion with another assertion.  Whether the original assertion is correct or not is indeterminate from my argument.

When we support assertions with other assertions, the only people who will accept what we have to say are those who already agree with us, and simpletons who can’t be bothered with applying any intellectual rigor to what we are saying.

If we are trying to convince people of the correctness or the utility of an idea, then we have an obligation to, as best we are able, support our assertions with evidence and sound reasoning.  Basing our assertions on other assertions is like inviting soldiers from the besieging army to guard our walls.  We’re already dealing with an onslaught of nonsense.  Let’s put some solid reasoning up on the ramparts.

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