Ken La Salle — As this political season heats up, look around you. What do you see? Aside from the ubiquity of money here and sound bites there, there’s one way to split all of the political rhetoric right down the middle and that is with a tool call “cynicism.” It’s everywhere, and it has been since long before I was born. But it is very useful in understanding just what our society is going to need going forward, what the next generation of voters are going to need: a well-tuned, perhaps even flawless, bullshit detector.
You see, I was born just before the age of Vietnam, Watergate, and what we’ve come to know as political cynicism. Back then, there was a sense of trust in politics that came out of World War II, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Politicians seemed to do their job and many of them seemed to do it well. (Let’s not kid ourselves though; there’s a reason I’m leaning heavy on the qualifiers. Incompetence is not a new invention but, all the same, there was a sense of trust.)
I saw that trust mirrored in the political decisions of so many people older than myself—old enough to vote, as I was growing up. But then, as I mentioned, things began to change. The 1970s were a kind of turning point that fostered cynicism in the system. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” may have been coined in 1964, just a year before I was born, but my generation appeared to listen. We didn’t trust anyone very much and, when we did, we couldn’t wait to tear them down.
Politicians learned very quickly that many in my generation weren't going to trust them and they played that card to their advantage. They used their power to steer our distrust. Many of us learned to distrust unions, with the reasoning that unions were the fat cats with all the money and the corporations were helpless before them. We were taught to distrust the poor who needed help, rather than focusing on the rich who kept getting richer. We learned to distrust hippies and social workers and progressives and all the way to people with the name Mohammed.
We were played. And in the process, we let all those who would steal from the poor and rape the environment and cripple our government get away with crime after crime. That’s actually one way to split the voting public these days: those who are gullible and those who are misguided by their distrust.
What we lack are the critical thinking skills necessary to hack our way through the web of lies politicians so often spew. This should come as no surprise. Our schools discourage critical thinking and push conformity all the way down to their daily tests. We’re raising a generation of kids who can follow in a straight line and take the same tests but who are never trained to think for themselves.
And that’s what you should be focusing on this political season and in every political season that follows. Focus on the wave of voters coming towards the booths. Are they going to be brainwashed to follow in line or make the mistake of being steered by the lies? Or are we going to step up and begin teaching them the critical thinking skills they’ll need to understand just what’s going on?
There’s another name for critical thinking, by the way. It’s called a “bullshit detector”. Most people don’t get theirs in schools, for the reason mentioned above. Most of us pick ours up when we’re teenagers, when we begin to realize things are not really what they seem.
But in a climate where politicians and just about anyone who wants to benefit of our backs know how to play those without critical thinking skills, it’s important that we each step up and hone those skills for all they’re worth. Forget about the schools; take charge yourself! You can go old-school and pick up a book or two in science or history or you can tap into the new technology and become informed.
Knowledge is the only way to really sharpen a bullshit detector, and if we don’t all start educating ourselves we’ll keep finding ourselves played over and over again.
About the Author
Author and playwright, Ken La Salle has brought his shows to stages from Los Angeles to New York to San Francisco. His passion is intense humor, meaningful drama, and finding answers to the questions that define our lives. You can find his books on Amazon and Smashwords and all major retailers. His philosophical memoir Climbing Maya was recently published by Solstice Publishing as an ebook and in paperback. You can follow Ken’s writing career on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.