Jan 28

In Praise of Skepticism

In Brief — The author recommends a healthy level of skepticism in examining the world around us, whether focused on the media or what you hear, read and see. [Written in July 2017.]


Honest Skepticism is a Virtue —

Earlier in 2017, Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and two of his trusted friends met with Vladimir Putin’s lawyer and assorted Russian men for the alleged purpose of receiving copies of Hillary Clinton’s dirty linen.

Putting aside the fact that the number of persons attending that meeting grew (mostly Russians), a normally reliable source has written that young Trump’s failure to report that meeting to the FBI was acceptable because only government officials are required to report such a meeting to American watchdogs.

Due to my innate skepticism, that claim smelled fishy to me. Consequently, I researched the issue, not just because of my skepticism but because such a claim by a supposed authority might become accepted as fact even though not true. If a false claim by a usually knowledgeable and trustworthy source were to be allowed to stand, America’s civil liberties would be in deep jeopardy. In this case, the claim IS NOT TRUE.

My research found that all persons, both private citizens and governmental officials must notify the American government any time there is contact with representatives of a foreign government. Not to put too fine a point on it, five of the individuals present at Trump Jr.’s meeting were representatives of the Russian government, a government noted to be antagonistic to American interests.

Legislators passed that law in order to prevent private persons from interfering with national policy and negotiating with a foreign government. It can be argued that Trump Jr. believed he was acting as an official of the American government inasmuch as both Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were invited and were at the time of the meeting key figures in the official Trump campaign organization. Private or official, it wasn’t reported as required.

The Trump son/Russian meeting is serious and indeed is reported to be on the radar of Special Counsel Mueller, particularly since Trump penned his son’s defense. From the perspective of skepticism, it is wise to be skeptical of everything you are told, see, read or hear.

I regularly read the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Intercept, Truthout, occasionally England’s Guardian and other news sources. TV news programs are part of the diet of this “political junky.” Whether right, center or left, my skepticism is always there. It’s part of me, doubtless because I’m a lawyer, but also because it’s in my blood. Friends of both the right and left are sometimes driven nuts by my acerbic comments, but they usually overlook my skepticism. I must point out that one of the hard-right believers with whom I’m familiar overlooked the evidence confirming the truth of my demurrer and took me to task. It must be said that people will believe what they choose to believe even when confronted with the fact that they are wrong.

The reason I’ve related this incident is that I heartily recommend the cultivation of a skeptical frame-of-mind. If you heed my advice, you will seldom be deceived by rosy scenarios, no matter how appealing they may be. The biggest threat is when something is right down your alley, but if you maintain a healthy level of skepticism toward even that temptation, you will be armed.

Remember… honest skepticism is a virtue.

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    • Joe on January 28, 2018 at 17:53
    • Reply

    Skepticism seems like a foundation of human advancement, because it sets the scene for stepping back, reconsidering, and engaging with additional ideas. But i think we need to develop a “technology” of skepticism, based on theories and ideas about the limitations of reason, common errors in rational thinking, instruction in critical thinking, and the like, all while remaining skeptical.

    1. I’m skeptical about your “foundation” position, but a healthy level of skepticism will help any person avoid many of the obstacles on the path of life. The more skepticism one develops, the less likely one is to be conned.

      Instruction in critical thinking — largely absent in American schools — implies skepticism. Critical thinking is…well, critical to help us avoid mistakes. Schools need to foster this essential skill; testing is fine if not overused, but critical thinking is essential.

      While rationality has limitations, it’s a goal that is absent in too many people. Fact is, most people have lots of emotionality and relatively little rationality. I vote for more considerably more rationality.

    • Elodie Pritchartt on January 28, 2018 at 18:33
    • Reply

    What charges, if any, do you think are forthcoming? How soon?

    1. I’m not privy to what the FBI has, but I’m guessing that Trump is going to be charged with several felonies in the not-too-distant future. Although it is potentially weak, obstruction of justice may well be one of the charges. From what is known so far, Russian money is in the mix.

      What’s more, I have reason to believe that Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr. are FBI targets as well. All we know for sure is that President Trump will fight like a cornered badger. What the many Trump lawyers will say and what the Republicans will do is unpredictable. Whatever is going to happen, it’s going to happen before the 2018 elections.

      By the way, Republicans are probably going to catch it in the shorts in November. At least, that’s my view as of today. Since I’m not Nostradamus, I can’t see what’s in the future. Notice, please, that I have my fingers crossed.

        • Elodie Pritchartt on January 28, 2018 at 19:13
        • Reply

        Yes, I think Trump will get hit with obstruction of justice and money laundering. Keeping my fingers crossed as well. Hope you are doing well. Fondly, me.

        1. Trump has so many misdeeds (to put it mildly) that Mueller and his team will have no trouble picking the felonies to charge him with. Of course, the Republicans will struggle to find their backbones, so we can’t predict how they will come out when Trump is charged. Whether they support him or not, the voters must send them home in disgrace this November.

          Thanks for the good thoughts, Elodie. I hope you are doing well, too. Keep writing those wonderful pieces.

            • Elodie Pritchartt on January 29, 2018 at 06:29

            I totally love you, Don. I wish we’d gotten to know each other better when I was at ABC.

            • Don Bay on January 29, 2018 at 10:02

            Smooth talker. You might not love me if we had known each other then, but I have to admit that I’m poorer for not having known you better when we were at ABC. That said, I’m glad you are a voice for rationality in Mississippi and that you are a skilled writer all of us can appreciate. Furthermore, not only am I glad you are in my life now, but you are an inspiration for me.

    • Donna Boe on January 28, 2018 at 23:37
    • Reply

    I am pretty naive about the news I read and hear, so I depend on you, my skeptic friend to offer another perspective.

    1. The older and more experienced I get, the more skeptical I become. Doubting never hurt anybody. The gripe I have is that too many people won’t bother to check the veracity of the stuff that pours into their information sources. No matter what the cause is, active skepticism will arm a person against gullible acceptance.

      Don’t rely on me or anybody else to save you. Develop your own skepticism. Maybe watching Rachel Maddow will help you flex those skeptical muscles. You’ve obviously got the smarts, so work on shedding any naivety you have.

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