Thursday, March 15, 2012

Getting Informed

The other day, I happened on an article at Yahoo News about a poll taken of Mississippi voters.  Over half of them thought President Obama was a Muslim.  Really?  And where were they getting their information?

This is the problem with our educational system now.  In elementary school, we need a civics class, lessons on how to be a good citizen of this fine country.  Kids need a civics class from K through 12.  What are the responsibilities of citizenship?  I remember that one of them is to seek out factual information in order to make informed choices.  In this age of information technology, we have an abundance of information.  Our challenge is to sift through it and find the factual information that we can base our choices and decisions on.

Source: SWJournal

For example, I recently witnessed responsible citizenship in action in my own urban neighborhood.  A developer had proposed building a development in a location ripe for something, but what he'd proposed was grossly inappropriate for the location and neighborhood which has historical relevance.  The neighborhood council worked to get out information on the development to everyone in the neighborhood.  The developer established a website to showcase his plans and rationales.  There were neighborhood meetings, e-mail newsletters, coverage in the neighborhood newspaper, conversations among our small community, and finally meetings with the city and various committees involved.  Throughout it all, both sides worked hard to keep people informed with the facts.  We needed that information in order to make an informed decision about whether or not we approved of the development.  There were occasional nasty outbursts as emotions ran high at times, but overall, the process worked.  It would not have worked without the efficient dissemination of factual information to all who needed it.

Source: The White House

Where do we find factual information for national issues?  I'm thinking now of those people in Mississippi who believe President Obama is a Muslim.  Where did they get that piece of information?  Why do they believe it was factual?  Was the information delivered by a trusted source?  I think anyone who's listened to the Obamas talk about their life has heard that they are Christians, the importance of their faith in their family, and their practice of not making it a public event on Sundays.   

So, what are trusted sources?  Primary sources can be trusted ones, i.e. the person himself that the issue is about.  In this case, President Obama.  Is he trustworthy?  I think he is on this subject.  I suspect there are people who don't believe he is, to which I'd ask why, what is your evidence of untrustworthiness?  Secondary sources such as witnesses can also be trustworthy ones.  For example, the minister of the church the Obamas attend could attest to their presence and participation in his or her church.  Others in the congregation can also vouch for their attendance.  We could have people from President Obama's past who can talk to his Christian upbringing, that both his parents were Christian, etc.  We could also go to the media for verification of the facts.  That is, trusted media like The New York Times or Washington Post , The Atlantic Monthly, The National Review, Time, Newsweek, or other national print news sources.  There are broadcast news sources such as CNN, the major networks' news divisions, "60 Minutes," "Dateline," and radio.  But not talk radio of any persuasion.  Talk radio is about opinions, not facts.

Source: Nitro Digital
When I've wanted to get an even more objective view on what's going on in this country, I'll go to English language media in other countries, especially those that are highly respected and trusted international news media.  The BBC, for example.  I have also discovered that Al-Jazeera in English often has more of an objective view than even the BBC.  With the internet, there's almost no reason at all for people to say that they have no trusted media sources for factual information.

So, in my opinion, those Mississippi voters who think President Obama is a Muslim have no one else to blame for their ignorance but themselves.  I do think, also, that sometimes people want to believe something that isn't true simply because someone they trust has told them.  Someone like a minister, talk radio host, or a TV anchorperson.  Aha!  The other part of being factually informed is to ask questions, find objective corroboration, challenge the consensus around you.

Warner Bros.
Back in the early 1990's, the film director Oliver Stone made a movie about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Warren Commission that investigated it as seen through the trial of an alleged conspirator.  The movie stirred lots of controversy.  As I remember it, rather than try to reassure the public about his motives, Mr. Stone said that it was important to question the government about everything, that that was our duty as good citizens of this fine country.   His movie questioned the Warren Commission's conclusions.

So, to those Mississippians, and anyone else who thinks President Obama is a Muslim: just because the guy has a strange-sounding name does not make him a Muslim.  Get to know him.  Find out who he is.  Don't settle for gossip, slurs and innuendo.  If you care, as an American and a citizen you'll read and listen and become informed.....


Plum in Minn. said...

People believe what they decide to believe, sometimes. Isn't the human condition just as interesting as all get-out?

Gina said...

Too true, Plum in Minn. I can remember my father believed that women couldn't think or speak for themselves, that men had to take care of them in that way. He believed this in spite of being surrounded by women who thought and spoke for themselves all the time!