How to End America’s Decline

How to End America’s Decline

By now most Americans understand that the country is not only in decline, but that the situation is worsening. Economic, educational, and political problems multiply. Moral and religious values are increasingly challenged. Unfortunately, with all those things happening, something central to all of them can easily be overlooked—the abandonment of logic and critical thinking. The more we understand the causes of that abandonment, the greater our chances of solving the other problems.

In the mid-twentieth century, scholars were warning against three “isms”: Ethnocentrism, Egocentrism, and Relativism.

Ethnocentrism is defined as regarding our own ethnic, religious, or political group as superior to others, which prevents us from gaining new insights and expanding our perspective. Egocentrism, or self-centeredness, is similar to Ethnocentrism but much narrower because it places superiority in a single person (the wonderful me) rather than in a group.

Relativism differs from the other two but is just as restrictive, if not more so. It holds that no viewpoint is superior to others; rather, all are equal. This belief would seem to make us more open to learning, but instead it takes away our interest in learning. After all, what is the point of pursuing truth if all ideas are equally true? Oddly, Relativism would seem to make us more tolerant than others, but it actually does the opposite. Because it is impossible for any person to function in a world of ideas without embracing some, we embrace whichever ones happen to appeal to us, no matter how indefensible they may be, and treat them as priceless treasures.

The scholars who warned against the three “isms” developed antidotes known as Logic and Critical Thinking, combined them with Common Sense, and infused them into school and college curriculums. Those antidotes are still present in some classrooms, but professors who were more interested in telling students what to think than teaching them how to think restored the “isms’ and enlisted the media to propagandize the public. The evidence of that success has been an outbreak of nonsense unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Following are several notable examples.

Defunding police departments is an embarrassingly stupid idea. It’s in the same category as closing banks because some bankers are dishonest, shutting down hospitals because some doctors and nurses are incompetent, or doing away with government because some politicians violate their oath to serve the citizens. Sensible people approve getting rid of those who aren’t doing their jobs, but not abolishing institutions all of us need.

America’s present refusal to settle for equality of opportunity and to demand equality of outcome (equity) is absurd. Equality of opportunity is achievable because it requires only passing and enforcing laws forbidding discrimination. In contrast, equality of outcome is unachievable because people differ widely in their skills, determination, and effort. Ignoring these facts and attempting to force equity at first prevents able and willing individuals from succeeding, while creating a sense of entitlement in the unable and unwilling. Eventually it frustrates and angers both and makes social harmony difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.

Helping the poor is considered a virtue today, as it has been for millennia. But what constitutes helping has changed radically. In the past, it meant freely giving our own money to those in need. Today it means the government taking our money and giving it to others without our guidance or permission. This change has not only taken virtue altogether out of the transaction; it has also increased the chance that the money will be used for political rather than charitable purposes. The new system has been a blessing for politicians and oligarchs but a curse for everyone else, including the poor.

In past times, parental responsibility meant teaching children moral values, monitoring their behavior in school and the community, and protecting them from harmful influences. If parents failed to carry out those responsibilities, they risked being taken to court and, in extreme cases, having their children taken from them. Today parental responsibility means parents surrendering responsibility to schools and accepting the values, behavior, and influences the teachers choose for their children. Parents who challenge the teachers’ choices run the same risks as irresponsible parents. But even if they remain silent about the teachers’ choices, they are still held responsible for the consequences that befall their children. Whoever devised this new view of parental responsibility could use a course in logic or at very least a primer in common sense.

For centuries the age of reason was believed to be 7. At that age, children became able to tell  the difference between right and wrong and therefore be held responsible for their actions. (Catholics will remember that was the age at which they made their first confession.) Adulthood was then considered to begin in the teens but not be completed until age 18. However, more recent scientific studies have revealed that the development of the brain is not fully completed until approximately age 25. Yet despite these new understandings, many schools are now allowing children as young as 5 to decide on changing their gender, and referring them to receive hormone treatments and even genital surgery without their parents’ permission. This practice ignores both ancient and modern insights. By any reasonable measure it constitutes child abuse. And yet millions of people, including many parents, accept it with little or no questioning.

The key to opposing and overcoming these and other absurd ideas and practices is to reject the three “isms” explained above and replace them with these understandings:

1) Every human being is an imperfect creature with positive and negative qualities, strengths and weaknesses, some inborn and others acquired. Each person has, as well, the potential to increase the positive qualities and overcome the negative ones, if he/she chooses to do so. The greatest impediment to improving is the wishful delusion that one is already perfect.

2) Every ethnic, religious, and political group both shapes and reflects the qualities of its members. Each group is likely to have developed beliefs, customs, and practices (some desirable, some not) that other groups have not developed. Familiarity with our own group tempts us believe that it is in all ways superior to every other group, but that is a falsehood that prevents us from respecting other groups and their members, learning from them, and living in harmony.

3) Ideas are true or false, or partly true and partly false. Opinions are ideas we believe to be true. They are valid if they correspond with truth, and invalid if they do not. Neither depth of commitment to our opinions, nor their longevity, nor the number or expertise of those who share them, has the slightest bearing on their validity. Entire civilizations have for centuries held certain opinions to be absolutely and unquestionable true, only to have them proven false. The reason is simple: human beings are imperfect and thus can be mistaken. Ignoring these facts increases our vulnerability to error.

4) The understandings in numbers 1 through 3 do not require us to doubt all new ideas. Doing that would handicap us intellectually. We should instead simply ask probing questions such as these: What evidence supports this idea? What evidence challenges it? What arguments have been offered for it? What arguments against it? But probing new ideas is not enough. We should also apply the same questions to ideas we previously embraced, including those we hold with great conviction. Doing this can be difficult because we may have come to cherish them, even if we never tested their validity. But it is better to risk embarrassment than continuing to embrace error.

Following these four understandings in our own lives will make a small contribution to ending America’s decline. But we can make a much greater contribution by also instilling them in our children and sharing them with relatives, friends, colleagues, local educators and journalists, and elected officials.

Copyright © 2024 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero