Monday, August 22, 2011

Why We Can’t make Good Decisions?

I recall reading a doctoral dissertation years ago that dealt with the history of sex.    It was not salacious, but rather an examination of how attitudes change across history.    Some were labeled masculine; others, feminine.  In feminine cycles, the Virgin Mary was increasingly venerated at the expense of Jesus while attitudes towards gays lightened.  Then, the pendulum would swing to the masculine attitude, and leaders would reject such softer views for more rigid ideologies.

At one time, the movement between one period  and another were slow.  Lines between them were clearly delineated through published works, commentaries and civil actions.  That’s not true anymore.  Now, societal views swing rapidly, and, at the same time, contain strands from each side of thought.  Part of conflict today comes from the clash between these two diverse ideologies.

I can think of several reasons why thoughts fluctuate so wildly these days.

For starters, communication is vastly different today than 500 years ago.  In fact, communication changed little between the time of Jesus and the development of printing press in the 1400s.  The next revolution didn’t come until the 1800s with the Penny Press, the telegraph and then the telephone. 
Today, everything is different.  A flash mob can loot stores, as happened recently in Maryland, because people can communicate faster than ever before.  That, in turn, allows for a more-rapid dissemination of opinions.  There are also more avenues for communication. A person can be bombarded daily through any number of sources, all providing the same message – which may or may not be accurate.

In addition, the information has to be presented in bite-sized units.  Pithy statements lend themselves to media presentation, but they fail to fully explain a person’s view.  For example, it’s easy to look at the economy and blame Barack Obama.  That’s absurd.  Few presidents affects the economy in his first term.  It typically takes at least four years for economic policies to filter through.  That’s true for Obama as it was for Bill Clinton.  A rare exception is George W. Bush who, flushed with cash, dissipated it all in his first term and created a mammoth deficit for his successor to deal with.

Moreover, the constant calls today to “balance” the budget – ironically, mostly demanded by those responsible for the imbalance – ignores the reality that most of us are in debt.  Anyone with a mortgage or who didn’t pay cash for a car borrows money.  The only thing that matters is maintaining sufficient income to cover the expenses.  As a result, any budget discussion must include investigations into proper taxation, a topic that doesn’t seem to enter the discussion very often.

As another example, consider Michelle Bachmann’s well-publicized comment that she wants to end minimum wage.  I’m no fan of Bachmann, but that’s simply not true.  The Minnesota Representative and Republican presidential candidate actually said she wants to end all regulations that interfere with job creation and  examine all existing ones, including minimum wage.

She has a point on minimum wage, but only a small one.  At $7.25 an hour, it might prevent some employers from hiring someone.  On the other hand, federal statistics show that about 4.4 million Americans earning minimum wage now,  representing about 3.4 percent of the workforce.  That’s little changed from two years ago when the minimum wage was $5.85 per hour.  Apparently, not many potential employers held back.  Also, people on minimum wage tend to be younger and have limited education.  They are the most vulnerable in this country to economic downturns.

Nevertheless, the sound bite doesn’t reflect Bachmann’s real suggestion for one way to deal with unemployment in this country.  

That’s equally true with most of the other claims, statements and comments broadcast in some form by the media.   Unfortunately, we don’t take the time to examine them carefully, logically and systematically before  the social pendulum begins swinging in the other direction again.

Then, too, there are far more people.  There are about 7 billion of us now.  If even only 1 percent follow a particular ideology, there’s still a ton of people involved.  With communication, they can sound far louder than their comparative puny numbers.

Mostly, though, the reason why philosophies shifts so radically lies in education.  People are more educated on paper.  A greater percentage of Americans  hold college degrees than ever before.  In the 1940s, only 5 percent of Americans held bachelor’s degrees.  By 2002, the total was more than 27 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  And we trail many industrial countries – 40 percent of Finns, for example, have degrees.

People today are more knowledgeable.  Any question can be answered via the internet.  Information is readily available on any topic.

However, people seemed to have stopped thinking.  That’s a skill not being taught in school.  Because of the emphasis on testing, schools now teach facts, not comprehension and discernment.  The founders of this country understood the difference.  They recognized a democracy cannot survive undereducated voters.  They didn’t want the masses to vote, only landowners who, presumably, had done well enough because of their education and intelligence to comprehend complex issues.

Today, instead, people are bombarded with sound bites that fail to illuminate an issue.  It’s easier to accept the pithy comments as accurate.  It’s faster.  It’s less complicated. It’s sexy.

Unfortunately, such limited comments wild gyrations in opinions and interfere with everyone’s ability to make wise decisions.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about current events and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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