In an interesting coincidence, on the same day that Joe Wilson shouted out “you lie!” during Obama’s speech I was teaching about persuasive communication in my Critical Inquiry class. According to the text, one should avoid being strident and use a calm and reasonable tone when communicating. While I did present how being confrontational and strident could be used, I emphasized that a critical thinker should also be a civil thinker (and speaker). Apparently Joe Wilson never took this sort of class.
While critical thinking does not (and should not) involve getting rid of emotions, it does require keeping those emotions in control when assessing claims. Critical thinking also involves making a proper assessment of claims before making judgments about such claims. Wilson apparently never learned this (or chose to ignore this). After all, his claim that Obama was lying turns out to be a false claim. Since lying implies a malicious intent, I will not accuse Wilson of lying. Rather, I will say that he had his facts wrong. His anger might have been rather sincere, but this would merely serve to show that a person who cannot control his emotions tends to make rather poor judgments.
In the next section of my class, we will be moving on to talk about fallacies (errors in reasoning) and various rhetorical devices. Not surprisingly, much of the focus of the discussion will be on how emotions can lead people to believe claims that are simply not supported by reasons or adequate evidence. The battle of Obamacare seems to be such a case. After all, it is all too common for people to accept claims about health care reform that are either unsupported or clearly false (like the Death Panel flap).
That people have strong feelings about health care reform is fine. After all, it is a serious issue that touches on the fundamental beliefs of many people. However, the debate (like all debates) is not served by letting emotions run unchecked and by people speaking out before they do even some basic investigation of the facts. After all, the mere fact that something makes a person afraid or angry does not entail that it must be true. In the case of the Obamacare battle, many folks seem to easily fall into those errors by simply assuming that Obama plans to do whatever it is that they fear he will do. Of course, it does not help that folks are being manipulated by interested parties. It also does not help the country to have folks in leadership position (like Wilson) fall victim to these errors and behave in ways that are unacceptable.
Fortunately, there are some folks who are willing to call for a civil discussion of the matter. As always, John McCain has been a leading figure in calling for civility and I hope that his call is heeded.
There are, of course, points in the health care proposals that are problematic and there are reasonable grounds for dispute. However, angry outbursts over claims that are not true (such as the claim that Obama plans to give health care to illegal aliens) create confusion and waste our time.
It is certainly interesting that a significant portion of the attacks on the health care proposals have been based on factual errors (I will restrain myself from calling them lies). If the proposals are as bad as the critics claim, surely they can point to real problems rather than to problems that do not even exist. What is needed is not more rumors of Death Panels or mistaken cries of “you lie.” What is needed is a clear and rational presentation of the possible problems with the health care proposals.