Rethinking Cultural Assumptions

Responsible Thinking: Appendix


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Sacred cows make the best hamburger - Mark Twain

Rethinking common problems and cultural assumptions

These topics are relegated to the appendix because they are specific issues, not general-purpose principles of the type addressed in the main body of the book. However they can serve to illustrate the possible results of rejecting past practice as a reason to believe things are true. They would not be very appropriate for inclusion in a public school discussion of responsible thinking, since they are likely to be controversial. It is important to note, also, that suggestions in this section do NOT follow inevitably from the principles advocated in Responsible Thinking. The fact that past practice does not prove something true certainly doesn't prove it false. Rethinking these topics on their own merits might still support the prevailing views, or it might lead to new insights and better practices.

State government is essential

Maybe its functions would be better divided between federal and local jurisdictions and we could eliminate one portion of the bureaucracy.

High voter turnout is good for democracy

Perhaps those people who normally do not vote do a poorer job of selecting people to hold office than those who normally do vote.

Lawyers should be available for hire

People hire expensive lawyers because they expect this to improve their chances of winning. Few doubt that this works. This seems to be in rather sharp contradiction to the idea of equal justice under law, which implies that your chances of winning should not depend on how much money you can invest in the case.

Justice is giving people the punishment they deserve

It might be better to view the purpose of justice as improving society by reducing antisocial behavior through rehabilitation, imprisonment and threat of punishment rather than "evening the score".

Our educational system is reasonably well structured

Our educational system seems to descend from a system for teaching the nobility skills for social interactions with other upper class people. While it has been modified to be more practical, perhaps it should be redesigned from scratch.

Patriotism and ethnic pride are virtues

If we regard "good" to apply to humanity as a whole, attaching our loyalty to some subgroup of humanity may sometimes undermine that goal.

The Constitution's Bill of Rights must not be tampered with.

While the framers of the American constitution were outstanding men, they were not infallible.  For example the fifth amendment might be more sensible if it were to allow testifying against one's self but disallow confessions made outside of the courtroom, since inappropriate coercion would be more likely outside of a public courtroom.

You can't put a value on human life

Every time we decide some safety feature is too expensive or medical research is not funded or someone takes a risk for money, there is a chance a life will be lost in the interest of money. Recognizing how much it costs to save a life in different situations could mean we can save more lives for the same amount of money we spend now.

Love is perfect

Love, especially romantic love, is considered the ultimate in good things. Often it implies duty, jealousy, and ownership in addition to liking and caring.  In some cases "liking" a person might have less undesirable baggage than "loving" them.

Marriage is a great institution

If people want to share their lives with each other, they don't need a binding agreement to do so.  If they want to split up, being married makes it more difficult. As long as parents have a strong commitment to providing a nurturing home to their children, it is not clear that being married makes them better off.