Skeptic

In the book Glory Road, Robert Heinlein has his protagonist cut lose his adopted son who doesn’t understand that “the world doesn’t owe him a living.”  Dan Miessler recently published a joke whose punchline was basically that individual responsibility was the hallmark of the republican party.

If you and you alone are responsible for your own well being, then you have to make your own decisions, and learn to do it with the best possible information you can.  You learn to hedge your bets, take managed risks, and make sure you have a strategic reserve.Most importantly, you have to learn to evaluate the information that is in front of you.  You need to learn to separate the hard sell from the hard data.  Even when you have the hard data, you have to learn to analyze it yourself.

The thing about Science is that it attempts to base itself on as few principals as possible.  A true Scientist doesn’t believe in science but rather accepts that the scientific method is a useful tool for trying to come to a better understanding of the observed world.  Really there is only one belief:  doubt everything.  This is called skepticism.  Does skepticism stand up to it’s own scrutiny?  Perhaps doubting everything is itself a dangerous approach, and will lead to more misunderstanding than the alternative.  But what is the alternative?  Take something on faith.  OK, What do you take on faith?  Which version. Whom do you trust?  Once you have been burnt by someone, you learn to mistrust everything, if only a little.

In order to make decisions you need data.  Lots of it.  Opposing viewpoints allow you to consider hypothesis that are unpopular, but may in fact be more correct than the conventional wisdom.  Where do you get this data?  Study.  Which means you better be able to read.    And you better be able to get your hands on what you need to read in order to make informed decisions.

This, I think is the basics that our society needs to provide if it wants to call itself equitable.  It needs to provide the opportunity for literacy to all of its children, up to that point where they are able rt o not only comprehend the words on the page, but to evaluate for themselves the quality of the arguments put forth.  It needs to make the raw material of that decision making process available to it’s citizens so that they can make informed decisions.

This leads to the two most important public institutions we have:  Public Schools and Public Libraries.  The first provides the tools we need to make good decisions, the second provides the raw material.  Yes, you can get these things elsewhere:  some people are naturally gifted, or have great parents that instill these values and education in their children.  Much can come from privately funded sources as well.   But if we are going to hold people to a basic level of responsibility, society has to provide at least the opportunity to get the skills necessary to achieve that basic level.

There is a pattern in modern life, where an invention comes along that seems like it is for convinence, but becomes a necessity.  The Automobile has replaced the horse as the main long distance form of transportation.  The computer is a necessary tool in the modern workplace, a huge difference from when I had my first job in high school.  An education used to be a nice to have thing:  you could still run the family farm with sweat equity and the basic math that you learned from your parents.The family farm has gone away.  Now a high school education is required for anything but the most manual of jobs, which are few, far between, and barely pay a living wage.  Education is a necessity.  Providing a publicly available education to all of our nations children is the founding block for a fair and equal society.  How else can we have a nation of skeptics?

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