Donald Trump and the Death of Logic

Is logic in America dying?

In 1998 a doctor by the name of Andrew Wakefield published an article in the medical journal The Lancet claiming to have found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The research, which had a sample size of twelve children was quickly disseminated and latched onto by anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. In the wake of the article, the scientific method began its due process with independent and governmental researchers attempting to confirm Wakefield's claim and found it to be entirely fraudulent, leading the journal to retract the article's claims. However, the damage was done. Uninformed, albeit well-intentioned, parents began to stop vaccinating their children for MMR and the result has be devastating. Fuelled by celebrity authorities and alternative medicine crusaders, the anti-vaccine movement has had a lasting impact on modern society all over the world. Simply put, where Wakefield's message has caught on, measles has followed.


What has been fascinating to me however, is the way in which the false information was disseminated and accepted. The scientific method, the system by which information must be corroborated and reviewed was largely ignored. The people who accepted Wakefield's research, people who hardly have faith in the scientific system, were willing to accept Wakefield's research because it confirmed their grand conspiracy theory involving governments, corporations and the entire scientific researching vocation. Yet when that same system, the scientific method, expanded its research in the form of a June 2014 meta-review of 1.25 million children and found that: "vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder" that process is ignored. Am I the only one seeing the cognitive dissonance inherent in the rationale of the anti MMR vaccine movement? Either you accept science or you don't.


Science is an important human way of discovering the nature of the world around us. I asay that as an aspiring theologian and a postmodern thinker. Yes, knowledge of spiritual things requires faith and no human knowledge is ever entirely objective; for me, questions of morality and existence are of more interest than cells and psychology, but that doesn't mean science should not stand beside as a means of understanding the world. The push back against the MMR is a classic example of the hypocrisy of the fallacious: "I will use science to prove my point as long as science as it actually is intended to function does not prove me wrong; then science is untrustworthy. Science is only right when it confirms my belief and wrong when it doesn't."


This error in logic explains why 1 in 4 parents believe the lie that MMR vaccines cause autism. Once a conspiracy becomes mainstream, it's painstaking to reverse. Conspiracy theories do not follow the rules; it is an idea working its way backwards with fact, and not the other way around. It is not surprising why people who hold to one conspiracy theory tend to follow the elaborate rabbit holes of another; their mind is not grounded in the real. 


So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? 


Well, it is in this societal context that Donald Trump is thriving. Donald Trump, who viciously calls his opponent a liar, is himself the worst liar in the era of modern politics. Trump, who is heralded as an outsider and enemy of the establishment, is a billionaire rife with political and business ties. His "economic team is largely comprised of bankers, hedge fund managers and Wall Street insiders, who do not in any way represent the interests of the average American voter." Trump is perceived to be anti-political, but is representative of the worst elements of political pandering.


Donald Trump is using politics to his advantage, yet if that same political process proves him wrong then politics is untrustworthy. 



The MMR Vaccine hoax and the Trump presidential run give us valuable insight into the fragile state of human thinking. Julia Shaw, a "memory hacker", explains how the human mind is able to accept false information and form it into memory quite easily. According to her, we can be exploited by confusing one's imagination with memory. In other words, if you continue to feed false yet relevant information to someone and exercise their imagination they will eventually believe that information to be true. Donald Trump is a compulsive liar, but he has lied to the American electorate so often, and lied to them confirming their imagined fears so convincingly, that he has essentially become immune to all of the critical checks and balances that prevent people like him from getting 100 feet from the commander and chief's seat. In the five days leading up to yesterday's debate, Donald Trump made 87 erroneous statements. That's one falsehood every 3 minutes and 15 seconds over five hours of remarks. That type of lying borders on the pathological, and yet people still see him as someone who is going to speak the truth. You need to understand that this level of brash and breathtaking denial of facts as true and wilful ignorance of logic is specifically a Republican problem. You may think that is a sweeping statement to make, but the fact that Donald Trump walked on a stage for a presidential debate is a damning indictment of the recklessness of the GOP. 

This is why the basis of critical thinking is to study and analyse information that challenges one's inherited biases. Information that only confirms one's belief is dangerous, especially if that belief is based on a falsehood. Logic is the system by which statements are determined to be valid or invalid, but that system seems to have been thrown out the window. Many in the American imagination however have concocted a narrative that the media are in league with a liberal plot to overthrow and destroy America, even comparing liberalism to a mental disorder. Political criticism has slowly been devolving into defining the opposing system not as a different worldview, which may or may not be pragmatically true, but as a evil force that needs to be exterminated. The problem is the breakdown of the relationship between the media and the general population. It is difficult to trust the media when it has so often become the voice of the powerful, usually the corporate voice. Conservatives aren't imagining things when they refer to a liberal media bias, but the problem that so often plagues the American mind is intellectual isolation. Therefore, anything that contradicts one's own personal narrative goes in the "evil" side and is automatically classified as "bias". Fact checking in this environment is useless as logic has been exiled.


Take last nights debate. Anyone with a basic understanding of logic and argument would have recognised that Trump lost the debate, and lost it quite decisively. Yet according to Time, 55% of those polled thought Trump won the debate. It's sort of like watching a boxing match where the better boxer wins 10 out of the 12 rounds only to lose the match. One could certainly question the judges understanding of the rules of boxing and likewise, we should question whether many Americans understand the rules of logic.


You can call me sanctimonious all you like, but it appears Trump's supporters are unable to engage in meaningful political discourse. Don't get me wrong, the history of democracy is filled with people winning debates because they are more likeable than their opponents, but if we were to consider the debate a job interview, and we had no prior opinions of the two, could we conclude that Donald Trump has the more hireable personality?


There is of course a larger problem; the mere two party dichotomy of democratic options in the United States seems to fail to logically represent the wide variety of political opinions. There are many people who will never vote for Hillary, some of which seem to be under the impression that they must vote for someone they find repugnant as to ensure some of their political hopes are secured. This thinking however, fundamentally devalues the importance of political speech. Speech, which many people wrongly believe to be pardoned of ethics, is one of the most important aspects of a politician. Politicians are after all, elected because of what they say, as speech is the means by which we judge his/her ideas. When we receive ideas through speech, we ought to be able to make rational, albeit subjective, prioritisations of content. This means that many people consider a person who advocated war crimes as not conflicting with their personal political grading. While political thought should never be sweepingly categorised as "evil", there are political ideas that lend themselves to acts of extreme immorality.


Even aside from his political speech, Donald Trumps' comments on women should unequivocally disqualify him from running for President. Never in my life has someone who is so bereft of character been considered to run such a powerful office. Nonetheless, arguments have been made that neither candidate is qualified to run the office, and if that is the case, a person in this situation should not vote for either; it's the logical thing to do.


Comments

Isaac Krahn said…
"Either you accept science or you don't."
Science I accept - the problem I often have is with the scientist.

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