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Issue #201

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- JANUARY 2021 


 

From Roiling to Reckoning? (USA)

The political situation in the United States is in turmoil. Discord that had been building over time climaxed on January 6 in a storming of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. (The insurrection took place immediately following a rally at the White House for President Donald Trump.)

Basically, Trump supporters went to the Capitol while Congress was in session. They overran the building and disrupted the formal certification of the 2020 presidential election. Members of Congress were evacuated during the siege, which involved much destruction of property and resulted in five deaths. The Congress resumed session immediately after and concluded the certification late in the night. However, the divisions and instability have been sustained by subsequent actions, including heavy military presence.

“January 6, 2021” will be a date in history for Americans to recall long after today’s generation has passed from the scene. Wikipedia lists numerous entries for the 6th day of the year (starting in 1066), and its fresh 2021 entry points the way to several useful news articles describing the modern melee.

Although the certification (a prerequisite to an orderly change of administrations) was accomplished that same day, an insurrection taking place at the seat of government has shaken the citizenry and undermined the U.S. reputation as a stable democracy. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, a visible military presence to defy domestic terrorism has changed the character of the nation’s capital city and the capital cities in most states. The American population today evidences a resounding division between those who consider the recent election to have been fraudulent and those who accept that all processes went fairly.

The new administration will forge ahead with its programs, but how the overall political situation will be resolved remains an open question. It would appear that reaching civic serenity will require a thorough reckoning with the reality of the 2020 election.

 
 

Broken Thinking

One posting to the Brights' website proclaims:
The need for critical thinking is becoming critical, I’m thinking.

That jaunty statement is to be found in the listing of “Sound Bites,” a sampling of brief bumper-sticker-type comments offered up by Brights when their input was solicited by a prior bulletin topic.

The concept is complex, its meaning far from clear, but the entreaty to “critical thinking” (CT) is commonplace. Businesses seeking talented employees will plead for those who possess the attribute, and the CT topic has become something of a buzzword in education. Schools and programs from pre-K to post-grad tout their capacity to produce marvelously rational and analytical performance in students and apprentices.

Some descriptors typically brought to bear on the topic of critical thinking: logical / skeptical / unbiased / analytical / evidence / etc. etc.

Wikipedia, in its bewilderingly untidy way, covers the subject adequately for most readers, For the truly interested, even university programs exist!

However, the basis of CT in all its forms starts from one common place:  FACT.  Critical thinking involves one in analyzing facts to form one’s judgment. Basic to the process:  reality/truth/actuality. Yes, facts. And right there is where so much of current populist thinking goes awry.

When opinion takes off without established fact, troubles arise. Reckoning is splintered. There is fractured reasoning. Conspiracies proliferate. Disinformation spreads unchecked. Lies are accepted as verity. The American mix of white supremacists, 5G truthers, anti-vaxxers, coronavirus deniers, QAnon believers and other fringe conspiracy theorists mix with independent citizens and propagandist media to form a disturbing cacophony of voices and an expansive range of conduct. A true “Wild West” of thinking.

There is indeed “a need for critical thinking,” The need is becoming critical. The conflict arising out of the recent American presidential election is but one example, albeit quite a blatant one. Fact must begin to overpower fiction.

 
 

ALEX WILLIAMSON FOR THE CHRONICLE

Addressing Disinformation

Brights generally favor use of the tools of inquiry and reason to assess issues and reach for truth, but the sociopolitical climate defies simple strategy.

In contemporary circumstances where propaganda and conspiracy theories abound, mere “fact checking” has been proved insufficient to the task of dispelling misinformation. There is general awareness that logical argument has its limitations. 

 “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into.

A new article in the Chronicles of Higher Education provides a handy academic discussion of the challenges of critical pedagogy. “Teaching in the Age of Disinformation” (1/12/2021) explores various aspects of the pursuit. Whether one is seeking an overview of those challenges or actually tackling difficult discourse with today’s students, the essay will be of likely interest.

 
 

A Happy New Year?

What a year 2020 has been!

Sadly, the fresh year offers little cause for joy for much of humanity. SARS-CoV-2 is running rampant on too much of the globe. While the hopes drawn from knowledge of vaccines efficacy and their expanding availability may lift some spirits, the vaccination horizon for too many populations lies far, far away.

One views the turning of the calendar page to 2021 from the personal circumstance within which one resides. Too much affliction from the past year continues apace, and many suffer deeply from the losses they’ve incurred.

We may well wonder, can this current year be any worse?  Quite possibly it will. Still, it’s nice to know that at least the horrid 2020 is now behind us.

 
 

Appreciating Your Condolences

Many thanks to those of you who expressed your condolences to us at Brights Central on the November death from Covid-19 of Paul Geisert, which we had reported in the December bulletin.

Those good thoughts you sent along in writing (no prayers!) were appreciated, most particularly by his wife, Dr. Futrell. She, with Paul, had co-founded The Brights’ Network as a nonprofit educational hub for the constituency, and she’s still around at BC, where we enable persons to register and educate broadly about the notion of having a naturalistic worldview, wholly free of supernatural/mystical elements.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has kindly acknowledged Dr. Geisert’s death in the winter issue of its Freethought Today publication (image excerpt shown). FFRF is a membership-based nonprofit based in Madison, Wisconsin, and the largest freethought organization in North America. Its U.S.-focused mission is to promote nontheism and defend the constitutional separation between religion and government. The organization produces publications, broadcasts a weekly radio show and conducts numerous court challenges to violations of church-state separation. On its website FFRF offers a brochure and a complimentary issue of the Freethought Today newspaper, inviting memberships. The organization would be of considerable interest to atheists and agnostics in the U.S. who want to help meet the severe challenges that Christian Nationalism poses to the American secular form of government. The movement has a desire to “take back the nation for God.”

The Freethought Today issue containing the article about Dr. Geisert (page 2) closes with this paragraph: “Despite having no deity-belief whatsoever and hence functionally an atheist, Geisert would not accept the label, despite friend Michael Newdow’s persuasiveness on the matter. ‘I see no reason to define myself by reference to religion; I am a bright.’”

 
 

Research Methods Explained

The Pew Research Center is one of the predominant institutions for reporting on societal trends, in particular the shifts in American demographics and religious beliefs. However, it has had to come to grips with the influence of its changing methodology over time.

Pew had, for most of its history, conducted its U.S. polling by way of telephone. Over time, however, the declining response rates and rapidly rising costs made that method of conducting surveys increasingly difficult. So, in 2014, the Pew Center began its shift to online surveys.

Pew has produced a new report to explain the details of its move to online surveys because the shift has major implications for the way the Center measures trends in American religion, such as trends in religious attendance. The report concludes with some confidence that the methods are well suited to monitoring of trends in years ahead. If you want to see behind the scenes of Pew methodology, this report would be for you.

 
 

Hide Your Smile, Not Your Message!

You can still let your eyes twinkle and grab attention with the mask we’ve included among the available merchandise items in the Brights’ kiosk at Zazzle.com.

The mask design (shown here) features the Brights’ standard logo superimposed over a “deep space” background. (Blue and purple dominate the “dust and gas” in the “nebula.”)

Brights generally embrace that mask-wearing is a helpful factor in reducing viral transmission. Consequently, as we try to protect others - and ourselves - from getting Covid-19, we can simultaneously inform those we encounter about the international constituency of Brights.

As BC has pointed out, there’s just enough of a contrast in the design to have someone wonder about it, even at appropriate physical distance.  If “What’s that on your mask?” is the question, then then you have your opportunity to explain.


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