Monday, January 6, 2014

On Being Well Informed

Someone recently commented to me that he can’t understand how people could still be so ill informed with all the available information outlets there are today. I replied that I don’t understand how anybody can be well informed for the same reason.
We truly live in a wondrous age. With the advent and phenomenal growth of the internet almost every bit of information is seemingly at our fingertips at the touch of a button. But it’s not the quantity of information that I question, but the quality. 

For example, in politics we can find opinion pieces and “news” pieces (which are more and more becoming the same thing) in abundant supply for both sides of any issue. Some people will say that Ronald Reagan was the best president of our time, while others will just as fervently contend that Barak Obama is. And both sides will have no trouble coming up with evidence on which they base their opinions. Politics clearly comes down to philosophical ideals, and facts really don’t enter into it on either side - so why we even try to use facts to convince others is beyond me. It simply will never work unless you’re able to change their philosophical ideals.

In nutrition, it’s a similar story, but more insidious because one should be able to reasonably expect that science and facts would carry the day. Not so. Science tells us that eggs are good for you. Five years later, science tells us they’re bad for you. Eight years of further study turns it back again and it never ends. 

Likewise, medicine should be all about science and facts. Still, we have people who embrace what has become the conventional western model of medicine (basically drugs and surgery), while others eschew this in favor of a more holistic “natural” approach to health. Both sides can come up with copious citations to back up their preferred position. What makes it worse is the unceasing feuding that goes on between the two. The conventionalists claiming that the holistic group has no valid scientific studies to support it, and the holistics claiming conspiracy and cover-ups on the part of their adversaries, all the while touting how anything natural is good for you and drugs are always bad. On the one hand, poison ivy is natural, but I’ll pass, thank you. On the other hand, the FDA recalls hundreds of drugs every year. It needs to be borne in mind that 100% of these recalled drugs were once sold as safe. (And why it’s legal for a pharmaceutical company to market directly to an uneducated consumer is beyond me).

In the non-science arena we have religion. And this topic, perhaps more than any other besides politics (with which it seems irrevocably linked), demonstrates just how polarized all this information accessibility has made us.

Moderate Muslims claim that Islam is a religion of peace. Some in the Christian and Jewish communities disagree. In fact, they claim that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim - one either follows the Quran or not. Firstly, I question how many Muslims these Christians and Jews actually know personally. If they don’t know any, then how can they possibly hope to support their claims? They would likely tell you that all you have to do is read the Quran and it will prove their point. Maybe, maybe not. Admittedly, I have not read it. MY point is that the same can be said of nearly every religion. There are a lot of Orthodox Jews who believe differently than other sects of Judaism. Yet they all have the same Tanakh. There are over 200 different denominations within Christianity and you’d be hard pressed to find universal agreement on many topics. Yet they all have the same Bible. I know Catholics who believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion, despite the clear teaching of the Catholic church to the contrary.

What I’m trying to say is, regardless of the semantics involved with “moderate Muslim vs you believe in the Quran or you don’t”, the fact of the matter is, just like with every other faith, there are probably many Muslims who live their life in a very peaceful way regardless of what some claim the Quran teaches. 

The distinction is, do we judge a religion on its teachings alone, or do we accept people or not based on their actions. If you go with the former, then it would be correct (in my opinion) to say that anyone who believes in the right to abort is simply not Catholic - because they don’t follow the Catholic teaching, regardless of how they were raised. Likewise, if the Quran teaches hatred, intolerance, and violence, as some claim, then anybody who doesn’t follow these teachings is not Muslim. So what are we fighting about? They may, and probably do, identify themselves as Muslim for the same reason the questionable Catholic, or Methodist, or Baptist identifies themselves those ways - because it’s the tradition they understand. 

All of this “information” and opinion is widely disseminated everywhere we look. How are we to truly be well informed? It would be a full time job to wade through all the stuff. The fact of the matter is that most of us make our choices and base our opinions on our preset belief systems, world view, and prejudices. That’s not really being well informed.    

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