Lies My Teacher Told Me

In 1974 I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  I loved school, learning, I even loved the smell of school supplies.  Autumn was my favorite season.  The classroom seemed like a place of endless possibilities, limitless potential, THE place to be.  A place to discover The Truth.  My favorite subjects were English and History and my future was obvious.  I was either going to be a History teacher or an English teacher.  Or maybe a social worker… I hadn’t quite made up my mind.

3.Watergate800x600My father’s first career was in the Air Force.  Eventually he retired as a Colonel, but in 1974 he must have been a Captain.  He had already traveled the world.  He had a Job of Importance.  He Knew Things.  When the Watergate scandal first broke my father famously told my mother “Don’t be silly.  You don’t get to be President of the United States by lying!  They’re simply trying to tear him down.”  It’s possible my father will never forgive Tricky Dick.  Not necessarily for Watergate itself, but for betraying his trust and fouling the office of the President.  In other words, I was raised to have faith in authority.  Nixon was an aberration.

Littleton Remembers Columbine Tragedy On 5th AnniversarySurprise!  My first job was at the library at Columbine High School.  Back then we didn’t have a local library.  The school library doubled as the public library.  For a while I considered majoring in library science until I discovered that quite possibly the only person in the world treated with less respect than a high school teacher is a librarian.  I jumped into pop culture at the local cinema for my second job – the third job was at a book store.  Yes – it was a life long trend.  But a strange thing happened on the way to the book store.  Even as I started college, intent on earning a degree that would lead me straight back into the classroom, I started to notice something distressing.  Something… didn’t add up.

41xtLuzhOQLIt started as a nagging worry.  In high school I was a liberal arts rock star (at least until a nasty wave of Bipolar Depression hit, but that’s another story).  I got into both AP English and History with no problem.  I studied “advanced” texts about our part in WWII, for example (spoiler alert – we were the good guys.  The Germans sucked.)  And yet when I took a class on WWII in college I read a German textbook on the same topic.  While the conclusion was more or less the same, the path through the war from the German perspective was a real eye-opener.  Maybe… all Germans… don’t suck?  Hum.  A piece of the puzzle was missing.

713Ey6jaRZLThat was just about the time I discovered the world’s most dangerous phrase.  “Well, wait a moment… that doesn’t make sense because…”  In other words, despite the best efforts of the public education system I had somehow developed critical thinking skills.*  Even so, I was deeply suspicious of anyone who sported a “Question Authority” sticker.  In 1995 one of the new bestsellers went by the obnoxious title of “Lies My Teacher Told Me“.  I resented the hell out of that book even as that little nagging worry grew larger, (especially when I learned about incidents like the Gulf of Tonkin).  I wanted to be a teacher my whole life.  Teachers do NOT lie to their students.  Just the opposite.  Public school teachers are engaged in the business of truth.  Right?  Right.  … right?   

Um… sort of right?  I mean, they don’t deliberately lie.  Right?  They just teach from the books that are approved, so they can’t… help it?  If the books are wrong?  Um… wait a moment…

How could I reconcile my desire to teach history with my growing obsession with the truth?  Actually, I couldn’t.  At least, not in public school – especially after we started teaching to the test.  The more I learned, the more I came to realize that the modern classroom and truth have very little to do with each other.  I eventually got out of the classroom for good.

MSDMOON EC011Which leads me to the point I’m trying to make.  I was listening to the news this morning, which offered yet another glowing report about the latest jobs report.  As I listened I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite films,  Moscow on the Hudson .  Robin Williams takes a surprising turn for the dramatic as Russian musician Vladimir Ivanoff.  While the majority of the film takes place in New York City, the scene I keep going back to is an almost throw-away moment in Moscow.  Vladimir is watching television with his grandfather.  The story on the news is a glowing report of the increase in boot production.  His grandfather accurately predicts the increase then blows a raspberry at the screen, dismissing it for the propaganda it is.  Had this man been in the room listening to the jobs report this morning, he would have had the same reaction.

The lies we live under don’t start or stop with what our teachers told us.  They’re everywhere.  They’re everything.  The older I get the more clearly I see the tissue of lies we’re wrapped in.   And yet I have no idea what to do with this information.  Those who are open to this idea already know.  Those who are not open to it will fight tooth and nail to keep from finding out.  Just like my initial distrust in the idea of questioning authority, the majority of the modern population will double-down on the lies they’ve been taught.  The alternative is to admit they’ve been lied to.  Worse yet, confess that they bought the lie.  This is so far beyond most people’s comfort zone they’ll never consider the idea.   But the dissonance between the truth and their dedication to the lie grows more and more… the anger caused by the dissonance builds.  Double-down becomes digging in.  And where do we end up?

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This has got to stop.

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*  When I first encountered the phrase “critical thinking”, especially if someone said it in relation to questions I was asking, I’d always deny it.  My mother was raised in the South.  She took great pains to teach me how to be a “lady” (even if I didn’t follow it overmuch).  As a result, if someone said I was engaging in critical thinking it sounded like a criticism itself.  I didn’t want to sound “critical” ( = grumpy / wrong / bad).  I just wanted things to add up – I wanted to know the truth.  Sort of the same thing happened  when I went to the doctor.  They always wanted me to list my “complaint”.  I kept trying to explain that  I wasn’t complaining!  I was just sick… Um, I’m sorry to bother you?  Ha!  Strange what goes through the mind of a kid.

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Q & A: In what ways are many liberals out of touch with the real world?

I’ll tell you one big way (speaking as a radical leftist) – I was under the delusion that the overwhelming majority of Americans were kind, non-judgmental, and fairly smart, and there were just a few very loud White Supremists and other bigots making a lot of racket… I thought working-class white Americans were upset because the economic system was going less and less in their favor, and although some folks blamed those worse off than themselves for this, they would support legislators and programs that helped everyone – including themselves.

Turns out there are apparently a LOT of Americans – perhaps a majority – who are consumed with hatred towards those unlike them, whether those people are brown, non-Christian, non-hetero-normative, not American citizens, whatever. There are a LOT of Americans – perhaps a majority – who would support policies that hurt them personally, as long as those unlike them are hurt worse.

This is not a reality that it has been pleasant to face. Thanks for asking.

REALLY well said, Sadie! <applause> I’ve been saying much the same, always in a bit of a daze. I thought those you speak of, the ones consumed with hatred to the point of madness, were part of the “lunatic fringe”. I knew they were there, but such a minority that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I was so… so wrong. What an unpleasant lesson to learn. At the (very) least, know you’re not alone.

That’s interesting Paul. There’s no need to project. I’m happy to tell you what I thought. 😉

I’m southern. My entire family is southern. My grandfather was one of the most racist individuals I’ve ever known. He refused to eat food prepared by African Americans. He saw one spit in a white person’s food once – that was enough for him.

My mother was his only child. She rejected everything he taught her about racism. She married a military officer, traveled the world, learned all she could about living a life based on the idea that everyone brings something amazing to the table. This is what she taught her children.

Which brings us to me. When I lived in New Orleans I had a great deal of hate directed at me for the color of my skin. After Katrina, when Mayor Nagin assured the world that “We as black people, it’s time, it’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. And I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day” I was the least surprised person in the world. Ok, I was a little surprised that a politician said the soft part loud, but that’s it.

It made sense to me that a minority population would want to claim a city where they could live as the majority. But even then, trying hard to listen, to see what it was like, I was still outside the experience. I still thought that the hate, the prejudice, the discrimination was directed by a very vocal, extremely active minority. Surely humans as a whole were better than that. Which isn’t to say that African Americans don’t experience discrimination. Not at all. But the majority of people do not default to hate. African Americans, like all others who experience discrimination, were actively targeted by humans on the verge of madness. A vocal minority. The lunatic fringe.

That was my mistake. My partner teaches Cultural Diversity classes. I help grade the papers. I’ve read the stories for over a decade, each one describing what it’s like to live under the thumb of prejudice based on stereotype. I vowed that I would not behave in that fashion. I would not tolerate the presence of anyone who did. I taught others not to act on hate. When Obama was elected I took it as proof that these efforts were working. That hate was still present, but not dominant.

I was wrong.

I didn’t understand how comforting hate and anger is to so many. I didn’t understand that some humans truly believe they can hate in the name of love. I have a very difficult time comprehending how someone can hate in the name of Christianity. I didn’t think hate was winning.

I was wrong.

Chocolate City speech – Wikipedia

Q & A: Will Trump lead to the downfall of the USA?

Woah. That’s quite a question! And just a tiny bit slanted. 😉 I’m not sure why you asked me to answer it, but I’ll see what I can do, with the disclaimer that I am a citizen with a high IQ. I am NOT a political expert.

No one person is powerful enough to lead to the downfall of this country. Not even the President. But as a symptom / symbol of a horribly dysfunctional political environment, it’s hard to beat Trump. I could make the same statement about Hillary Clinton. The last campaign cycle was off the charts for boneheaded mistakes on all sides. The few who tried to draw attention to what was going on were shouted down.

The charges of corruption are very disturbing, though not terribly surprising. The Clinton campaign has been charged with rigging their party to favor her nomination over Bernie Sanders. I tend to believe those charges are accurate. The Trump campaign has been charged with conspiring with Russia to rig the entire thing. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true, and I think Russia certainly was involved, I suspect Trump’s personal involvement was minimal. He probably knew they’d try, and assumed all involved are too powerful to be held accountable, even if they got caught. So the only reason he wasn’t more hands-on was because he didn’t really care.

I could go on, but the facts before us are well documented. I think of our political system like a house eaten by termites. The exterior might seem “business as usual” but it’s being eaten away from within until the entire structure is on the verge of collapse. Trump is a big cockroach. He may be what topples the thing into sawdust. But if he does it’s because of failure at EVERY level. The corporate owned media is a farce. The people – where are the people? How could so many buy into so many lies? The train may wear Trump’s face, but all involved are to blame for the wreck.

Q & A: Why do I have a hard time understanding liberal arguments on a lot of issues?

Mike Rightmire, Molecular Biotechnologist and Bioinformaticist, wrote such a brilliant answer to this question I feel a strong need to share it with others.  Take it away Mike!
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I’ve found one of the major differences between conservative and liberal viewpoints is: that liberals often (not always) try to drive legislation based on how humans tend to react to stimuli, whereas conservatives (often but not always) tend to drive legislation based on how they feel humans SHOULD respond to stimuli.

For example: trickle down. It makes sense that if a person growing a business gets to keep more of their money (lower taxes) they would invest that money in the business (making more jobs) so they can make more money.

That makes total sense!!

The problem is; the evidence suggests they don’t (or at least not after a certain point. Once a person has reached a “certain level” of wealth, speculation tends to be more profitable than trying to sell/ manufacture more widgets. Speculation does not create jobs…just wealth.)

NOW…

“Liberals” (I hate these labels) generally (but not always) identify this issue, and change tactics. Conservatives (as implied by the very name) KNOW that this SHOULD work…so they must be doing it wrong…and tend to double down.

This is the same issue with most social problems…

Harder prison terms SHOULD deter criminals (they would deter “ME!”). But they don’t.

Making drugs illegal should stop drug use. But it doesn’t.

Killing terrorists should stop terrorists. But it doesn’t.

Teaching kids to stay abstinent until marriage should reduce unwanted pregnancies. But it doesn’t.

So, the question you must ask yourself is;

Am I having a problem understanding the liberal viewpoint, because I’m clinging to an unexamined fallacy(ies) about human nature.

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A SECOND DIFFERENCE is an emotional one. I call it, “WHY SHOULD I?”

This is the harder one. In my (apparently liberal leaning) attitude I have discovered that what’s “fair” – when addressing humanity – is immaterial.

For example, healthcare. Conservatives (rightly so) believe people should take care of themselves. As well they should. But some don’t or can’t. And never will. So, the conservative say, “Well…WHY SHOULD I have to pay for them?!”

The answer is; it doesn’t matter. You will anyway.

You will either pay to house, feed, clothe, and heal them. Or you will pay to clean up the bodies, clean up the crime, clean up the parks (where they sleep and defecate), pay for the prisons, etc.

A liberal says, “Paying to house and feed them is cheaper. Let’s do that.”

A conservative says, “BUT IT’S NOT FAIR. So let them suffer.”
Liberal: “But why let them suffer?”
Conservative: “So they’ll learn.”

But sociologists and psychologists tell us, that they don’t learn from this.

So, the next question you have to ask yourself is; why is it better to let people suffer, even though it costs you more, than pay for something you “shouldn’t have to” pay for?

=== EDIT ===
A very reasonable comment was made, about how (perhaps) conservatives have a more “… ingrained and perhaps more rigid sense of right vs wrong.”

This was my response…which I think is a useful addition to the original post…

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“… [conservatives have a more] ingrained and perhaps more ridged sense of right vs wrong.”

Or perhaps simply a more inflexible one. Whether it’s “wrong” to be unable to work, even when that inability appears as just “laziness” is a point of discussion.

As a molecular biologist who studied neuroscience heavily, I have come to the realization that the drives and morals that allow me to “function” are less a matter of my personal superiority as an individual, and more to do with luck (good genes, proper nutrition growing up – leading to proper brain development, good parents, good schools, etc.)

I think this is another point of difference between “conservatives” or “liberals” (or moderate or any two humans on the planet regardless of “classification”)…

The experiences that shape our world.

My studies have shown me, personally, that who we “choose to be” drives a much smaller portion of our personalities than we like to believe (or are willing to accept).

While I have worked very hard (as have most people) to cultivate those parts of me that are “good”, and correct those parts of me that are “bad”…the very fact that I’m psychologically capable of doing this, and even have a definition of “good” and “bad” personality traits, was entirely beyond my control.

Point being that I have run into many people (frequently conservatives) who are under the (IMHO) *delusion* that they are self-determined (or, at least, predominantly self-determined). So, when they see “a bum”, they believe they simply choose to be this way – so they deserve to suffer.

I do not think this is such a simple matter. As a result, I’m much more accepting of the (very Biblical) statement that, “There will always be poor (and lazy, and incompetent)…” so, simply dealing with that unalienable fact in the most pragmatic and humane way is simply reality.

And complaining about “Why should I have to”…just seems egocentric.

Q & A: Would President Trump’s personal physician be obliged to disclose a mental illness or drug dependency diagnosis?

Medically and ethically, yes they would be obliged to disclose either a mental illness or drug dependency. However, in the case of the POTUS, the argument of “in the case of national security” overrules medical ethics. If it was deemed to be against the national interest, nothing whatsoever would be disclosed. I’m not defending this, just explaining it. Come to think of it, one of my favorite comedies is based on this idea. If you’d like to spend a happy two hours, check this out:

Dave

Q & A: How come most people talk badly about Donald Trump supporters, when most people I know that support Donald Trump are good people?

Great question. My mother comes from a large southern family. My father was in the Air Force, so we obviously traveled from the moment I was born. I only saw my southern relations on occasion – family reunions etc. But my mother never missed an opportunity to tell me how wonderful they all were, how selfless and kind they were. They were the definition of “salt of the earth” and “shirt off their back” Christians. We settled in Colorado so I never had a chance to really interact with them personally, but we always kept in touch through phone calls and email etc. They weren’t perfect, but I never saw any of them behave in a way that made me question the picture my mother painted. They were good Christians and wonderful people, and we were lucky to be related to them.

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Then came The Election.

In the summer of 2014 my cousins started posting Memes about liberals that brought me up short. Things that were wildly out-of-context, completely skewed or historically inaccurate. At first I pulled them aside privately, explaining the truth of the matter. Initially they’d just thank me for the information, then they’d post something else just as bad…

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I thought there might be a problem with communication, or maybe they just thought I had a bias. So after a while I’d point them toward several sources and invite them to research it for themselves. I told them they didn’t need to believe me – just look it up! Their reply to this suggestion was that the information as I understood it was my opinion, and I was entitled to it. But that’s all it was. Opinion.

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Next they started using words like “Arab” and “Muslim” interchangeably. They also did that with “Fascist”, “Communist” and “Socialist”. It was clear they had very little (if any) idea what these words actually mean. They were just the worst words they knew (along with “Libtard”) so they used them sort of at random when describing someone who favored Obama or, later, who didn’t like Trump. Trying to explain Bernie Sanders and his concept of Socialism, I might as well have been trying to teach a cow how to play the piano. Actually, I might have had better luck with the cow.

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As the election approached the memes posted to their Facebook walls took an ugly tone. A hateful tone. I wanted to believe their accounts had been hacked, but no. These same “Good Christian” salt of the earth people were advocating violence against anyone who had skin darker than theirs, who spoke any language other than theirs or who worshiped any God but theirs (actually, anyone who attended a different church really). They condemned gays to burn in hell in the same breath with Socialists and again I couldn’t actually tell if they understood the difference.

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On the night of the election the scales fell off my eyes. They weren’t happy Trump won. They revealed their true colors. Their victory celebration was difficult for me to comprehend, it was so full of hate and violence. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t take to the streets to burn crosses or hang someone – it was that extreme. One of my cousins – the “educated” school teacher that I had tried hardest to reach, told me that no one wanted to hear anything I had to say. The people had spoken and I needed to keep my ideas to myself from now on.

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With a heavy heart I unfriended every one of them. We’ve not spoken a word since the election, and I doubt we ever will again.

I thought my family members were good. I thought they were kind. I thought they were true Christians. It turns out everything I ever “knew” about them was 100% wrong. They turned out to be vicious, small minded, mean spirited, hateful creatures. And every one of them supports Trump.