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Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking

Beware of mass movements and the herd-behavior that they encourage

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The late Steve Allen was an author, songwriter, and comedian, and among the most prolific talent in broadcasting history. He wrote more than 9,000 songs, including “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” which is still aired at New Year’s Eve galas. Not bad for someone who played by ear.

He wrote TV scripts, gags, and jokes. Like many others in TV, Allen’s career began in radio where, as a young DJ, he once announced a Harvard vs. William & Mary football score as “Harvard 14, William 10, Mary 7.”

His interests extended beyond show business as well. A tireless advocate, Allen was instrumental in the airlines’ smoking ban.

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Capturing Good Ideas

I met Allen in the 1990s at the American Bookseller’s Convention in Los Angeles. It was rumored that he never traveled without a pocket tape recorder and when I asked him if this was true, he took out his pocket tape recorder and showed me.

Allen once explained that although he was thought of  as extraordinarily productive, he figured he owed his high output to “Not letting good ideas get away.”

He recalled that even back in the 1950s, when tape recorders were bulky and expensive, he had one in each room of his house, even the bathroom.

Steve Allen also managed to write 50 books: he started with mysteries; then he moved on to show business; then self-help topics such as presenting, speaking, and humor; and then he focused on social issues, before his departure early this century.

Near his passing, he was concerned that our entire society seemed to be “dumbing down.”

The Lost Art of Thinking

Here are my notes and excerpts from Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking, With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind, by Steve Allen, originally published by Prometheus Books, in 1998:

* Decide that you will reason more effectively in the future.
* Beware of rushing to judgment or falling in love with your first answer
* Beware of erroneous assumptions or making predictions on scanty evidence.
* Recognize your superstitions and personal prejudices.

* Beware of arguments by slogans or epigrams,“ If the glove fits…”
* Beware of thinking that because you are bright and quick minded you therefore reason well.
* Beware of reacting to labels rather than to specific individuals.
* Concede ignorance when you are ignorant. Be more humble.

* Feel a twinge of shame when you employ a ad hominem argument.
* Be realistically skeptical, even of leaders.
* Beware of rationalization.
* Beware of the distinction between consistent evidence and conclusive evidence.

* Avoid falling for the one “right answer.”
* Become your own fact checker.
* Do not attempt to read minds.
* Recognize that all reality is complex – even describing a man sitting in a chair. This involves 100s of observations about lighting, the room, the man’s appearance, his clothing, expression, the chair, what happens over time

* Practice lifelong learning.
* Watch less commercial TV.
* Make notes, use your dictionary, and/or keep a journal.
* Rethink your religion, even if it is scary for you.

* Spend time with people brighter than yourself.
* Use maps.
* Beware of political rhetoric.
* Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

* Recognize that no one thing remains the same for very long.
* Find evidence first before making up your mind, not the other way around.
* Don’t equate your ideas with yourself.
* Study creativity itself.

* Play thinking games.
* Recognize that everything is subject to criticism.
* Become more familiar with history.
* Beware of mass movements and the herd-behavior that they encourage.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Education

Did You Stay 33 Feet Away From Everyone?

Once even a bogus rule is put in place it’s difficult to eliminate it

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This Christmas, did you stay 33 feet away from everyone? I didn’t think so. How about six feet, does that seem more reasonable? Guess again. Once a rule is put in place it’s difficult to eliminate it even though the original reasons for its generation are long gone, according to author Roger von Oech. His prime example:

In the 1870s the leading manufacturer of typewriters at the time received complaints that too many of the typewriter keys were sticking together if the operator went too fast. In response to this, the company produced the QWERTY type keyboard — a configuration standard on all keyboards — to slow down operators so that the keys wouldn’t jam together.

Today, technology permits us to produce typewriter keyboards that can operate much faster than any human could possibly type, such as Dvorak keyboards, but the QWERTY configuration still dominates and likely will for the foreseeable future. Concurrently, six feet of social distancing is a farce, held over from some bogus rule years ago.

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Anthony Fauci should know better, but he has been compromised and corrupted in so many ways, and has lied so often to Congress and the media about his projects and funding objectives, that his advice and proclamations are valueless; actually less than valueless. A cough or a sneeze, even through many types of masks, can travel 28 to 33 feet.

The nugget for us all: introduce new rules, new regulations, and new procedures carefully, and scientifically or analytically monitor their long term effectiveness.  Otherwise you’re selling snake oil.

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Education

To the Left, Even Math is Racist!

The false bill of goods that Leftists peddle will haunt their advocates and apologists for decades

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Picture a young Isaac Newton, Madame Curie, Henri Poincare, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, or, for that matter, Pythagoras, Euclid, or Archimedes as newly enrolled in a Portland, Oregon grade school. Exposed to this state’s edict regarding how math is to be taught, would any of them have achieved prominence? Would the world be the same?

Consider the ladies profiled in the movie Hidden Figures, including Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. Without them, we probably still would have made it to the Moon, but maybe with more difficulty and more delay.

Racism! It’s Everywhere!

The Left relentlessly seeks ways to dumb down education so that anybody, at any time, can get a passing grade regardless of what they know. If black lives truly matter, as well as white lives, shouldn’t students be competitive in the workplace? Otherwise, how are they going to land decent jobs?

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‘Social justice’ warriors detect racism, real or imagined, all day long, everywhere they look, particularly in education. Achievement tests, end-of-grade testing, report cards, and the mere act of assigning letter grades to a student’s performance are all absolute signs of racism according to the Left.

Nevertheless, if a student — any student — has been attentive and diligent and has applied himself or herself, not one single quiz, achievement test, final exam, or end-of-grade test precipitates undue concern. Such tests do not represent a stumbling block for students who have been appropriately taught, been attentive in class, done their homework regularly, and appropriately studied for tests.

Even in ‘poor’ schools, a decent teacher and a motivated student can yield academic success.

Measuring Tools Matter

Those on the Left prefer to cast aspersions on American education, stop all testing, apparently for all students, for all time. So, no more SATs for high school juniors and seniors. No more ACTs. After all, the tests are hopelessly biased against anything but the Caucasian majority. Although Asians seem to do well…

To the Left, testing, academics, and the English language, in and of itself, are merely tools of oppression and must be abandoned – now.

Isn’t it odd that the Left never pushes for more rigorous standards? “Why are tests needed at all?” they demand to know. “Learning takes place on many different levels. Why conform to the white man’s version of what represents academic achievement?”

Let’s assess the ramifications of such assertions.

The Very Long Way Home

How confident would you be driving across a high bridge, over a wide river, knowing that the bridge was designed by engineers who ‘learned’ math in Oregon, or didn’t take any final exams in college? Knowing the academic credentials of the bridge designers, or lack thereof, could change your driving habits.

What if you need brain surgery? Among a handful of brain surgeons in your area, you learn that some never took final exams in medical school, or any exams at all! These same surgeons turned in no college papers, took no quizzes, and perhaps spent little time in class.

Suppose they’re all good surgeons and have successfully operated on others? You’ve got this nagging suspicion, nonetheless, that your best choice would be among the brain surgeons who attended class, did well on quizzes and tests, passed final exams, and proved to be academically superior.

Would anyone find you to be discriminatory? Can we find fault with your decision to seek a formally trained and tested brain surgeon?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Mechanical and structural engineers, and brain surgeons, do not represent the brunt of society; everyday people do. Whether it’s receiving change at the grocery store, having your car fixed, hiring a masseuse, or any of dozens of other product and service options, as Ghostbusters fans would say, “Who ya gonna call?”

The lifetime economic curse that Leftists advocates bestow upon those who follow their edicts is crippling. Suppose you attend a university, such as Rutgers, where proper English is not required, exams are not given, and graduation is all but guaranteed? Knowing the background of students who matriculated from such an institution, what future employer would choose such students over others who have bonafide academic credentials?

Haunted for Generations

The false bill of goods that far Left groups peddle will come back to haunt their advocates and apologists, not merely for years, but for decades to come.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Based on what the Left deems to be sufficient, anyone who thinks he or she will be able to compete for jobs is in for a lifetime of rude awakenings.

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