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Archive for July 5th, 2017

For the want of critical thinking, America has succumbed to tribalism

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Antarctica is cold. I learned that in grade school. The record is 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit below zero set in 1983. Did you know the southernmost continent is also a desert? I know much of the history of the exploration of the continent — the stories of Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, James Clark Ross, Caroline Mikkelsen, and others. I know the continent’s 5,400,000 square miles are 98 percent covered with ice (although that’s changing, I suppose, as the climate and sea continue to warm).

p-6421-mfatBut I’ve never been to Antarctica. It’s likely that you haven’t, either. So how do we know so much about the fifth-largest continent?

We read books about it. Teachers taught us about it (usually from textbooks and, if you’re my age, “film strips”). We’ve seen movies and videos about Antarctica. We’ve seen the continent on maps and globes. We’ve watched Emperor penguins on basic cable nature specials.

I’ve talked with people who’ve been to Antarctica. They’ve said the intense cold can make strong metals like steel brittle, weak, and easy to snap. Care must be taking in breathing the extremely cold air or lung damage results. They’ve learned about the continent from personal experience, not from being told the experience of others.

For many of us, much, even most, of what we know has been the received knowledge brought to us by others. Technology, over time, has accelerated the impact of what C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist, said seven decades ago. He called knowledge that enters our lives via media “the second-hand world.” That concept applies today in understanding why America’s a bit of a mess.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

July 5, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized