Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fifteen Questions that will Improve Your Thinking Skills

     A major part of thinking more reasonably—of judging our own best interests and the best interests of others—is knowing which questions to ask.  You've  heard some of these questions before.  Others, such as the first, are so basic that you may have never considered them.

  1. What are we really discussing?  (That is, what is the core issue?  Suppose, out of concern for the safety of a deaf child, neighbors wanted the local government to put up a sign reading, “Slow.  Deaf child playing,” but there’s no such sign that can legally be placed there.  That the child is deaf may tug at our heartstrings, but it has nothing to do with the issue that even hearing children can thoughtlessly run in front of cars.  A sign reading, “Caution: Children Playing” would serve the same purpose without labeling the deaf child as “different” from her peers.)
  2. Is this an objective reality or a social reality?  This is similar to #1, though it’s more specific.  It’s absolutely true that “the government wouldn’t lie to you” because government is a social reality; it exists only as an agreed-upon concept.  When most people use the word government, they’re really referring to politicians and bureaucrats; those people will lie like bed wetters.  Many social realities are based on false assumptions.  As an example, corporate logos are just marks; yet millions of dollars in advertising can convince gullible people that corporate logos are talismans that magically transform the wearer into worthy people.
  3. What difference does it make?  (Sometimes it doesn’t make any difference.  When it does, it’s vital to know just why it makes a difference—otherwise, you can be distracted by things that are interesting but not vital.)
  4. Is it true?  (Rule of thumb: If “everyone knows” that such-and-such is true, but no one seems to know how he “knows,” you’re probably being manipulated and the assertion is probably false.  Here's a familiar example of an is-it-true question: "How hot would office fires have to get before they can liquefy steel, and do office fires actually get that hot?"  Here's one I've never heard anyone ask before: "How is it possible for accidental fires to heat steel in perfect symmetry so as to cause every core column and supporting column to liquefy at precisely the same instant?")
  5. What are the underlying assumptions, and are they true?  (For example, the popular model of environmental responsibility is that we should do the same things in the same way, only do less of it.  This assumption leads to the belief that environmental responsibility must come at the cost of lowering our standards of living.  I have learned that, by shifting our focus from “what brand we should buy” to “what benefits do we want,” we can raise our standards of living, spend less money, make healthier choices, and become more environmentally responsible all at the same time.)  For further information, click here.  
  6. If it’s true (or false), what can we reasonably expect to see?  Do we in fact see it?  If not, what do we really see, and what’s the most reasonable explanation for it?
  7. Are there other explanations or options?
  8. How do people elsewhere—especially in other countries or cultures—handle similar situations, and how well does their method work?  (It’s amazing how this question automatically broadens our options.  I did a study of 31 “default” selections for our culture as compared to “alternative” selections.  To my surprise, even when I wasn’t consciously looking for better alternatives, Depending on what I was measuring and comparing, I found better alternatives 28.57% to 96.88% of the time—overall average, 75% of the time.  In every case, the alternative selection was as good as or better than the default selection.)
  9. Who benefits?
  10. Who had the motive, the means, and the opportunity?
  11. In deciding between A and B, what are the costs versus rewards of being right or wrong?  (Uncertainty in the abortion debate is an opportunity to use this model.  The issue hinges entirely on whether the human fetus is a person; and, though we may never know the answer for sure, the person facing this decision has consequences regardless of our beliefs.  If the fetus is not a person, and an abortion is performed, no harm is done; if the abortion is not performed, a pregnant woman may be inconvenienced without good cause.  If the human fetus is a person, and an abortion is committed, an innocent human being has been killed for the sake of convenience; if no abortion is committed, the life of an innocent human being is spared, perhaps at the cost of someone else’s convenience.)
  12. Does this rationale or explanation fit the facts?  If not, what does?  (For example, when a politician has ulterior motives—which they often do—he’ll offer a rationale that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  Most people will react to the discrepancy by thinking, “Oh, this issue is too complicated for me to understand,” which is exactly what the politician is hoping you’ll do.)
  13. What am I expected to do as a result of believing what I’m being asked to believe; and, if this belief were not an issue, would it be in my best interest to do it?  (For example, would you think it was in your best interest to allow someone to monitor your telephone calls if you weren’t convinced that the person monitoring your calls was protecting you from being murdered?  Chances are, the problem and the solution were concocted in the same laboratory and they’re both bogus.  As Edmund Burke said, “Men are seldom disposed to give up their liberties except under some pretext of necessity.”)
  14. In making this decision, what facts are essential?  (To avoid decision paralysis or confusion, leave out everything else.  Some years ago, a coronary care physician discovered that doctors could make right decisions in the emergency room twice as often if they reduced the number of factors considered from twenty to four.  His decision model is now standard procedure.  See question #3.)
  15. Does this version of events pass the reenactment test?  (That is, mentally reenact the received version of events in detail and see if it makes sense.  It’s amazing how easily a lie comes unraveled when the liar’s story is reenacted.)

     These questions have been quite valuable to me.  I hope you’ll also find them useful.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Diaoyutai/Senkuka Islands Conflict and a Way to Peace, Part 2 of 2

     In part 1 of this article, I said elliptically, “Peaceful solutions to the Diaoyutais/Senkukas controversy and other lingering controversies from Japan’s militarist past are impossible without the support of the great Japanese people.  Before any such peace movement can gain critical mass, however, the matter must be deemed important to the world at large.  That would require, as I said earlier, raising the diplomatic stakes to a new level.  It would require capturing the imagination of the world in a way that would gain the peace movement international support and demands for a peaceful settlement.”
     In part 2 of this article, I suggest a strategy for capturing the world’s imagination to the degree that the people in Japan, Taiwan, and throughout the world should demand an international settlement.  First, let me point out some of the shortcomings of earlier attempts to bring the issue to the world’s attention.
     Over the past decade or so, activists have openly challenged the Japanese government’s claim to the disputed archipelago. They have been content merely to land on the main island and plant a flag claiming the island in the name of their respective countries.  The Japanese government has always met force with force, and the activists have always been foiled. 
     Every attempt was a tempest in a teapot, little worthy of anyone’s attention.  As a consequence, not one of the activists’ attempts ever drew the attention of more than a few people within this immediate vicinity.  It was nothing more than local news that the locals soon forgot, or as Shakespeare wrote, “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
     What activists need is a narrative that transcends narrow self interest—one that resonates across national and cultural boundaries in a highly visible and positive way.  The event would have to fit a narrative that is familiar, popular, and pre-existing.
     Let me give some examples of what I mean by resonant narratives.
     Of all the stories told of World War I hero Alvin York, one of the most memorable concerns his marksmanship in a turkey shoot.  Two shots hit the bull’s-eye dead center, the second entering the hole made by the first.  The tellers of that story probably told and retold it because it resembled stories that were already well known and popular.  Davy Crockett and Robin Hood had performed similar feats.
     The David-and-Goliath narrative is popularly retold.  How many times have you heard of conflicts described as David-and-Goliath struggles?  The comparison is made and catches on because it resonates.
     Similarly, people are thrilled by narratives of brains over brute force.  Odysseus, the Swamp Fox, and the Gray Ghost come to mind.  People are also inspired by “feel good” stories in which idealism triumphs over (especially if it wins over) cynicism and opportunism.  People are also fascinated by quest stories.
     Here’s what I envision:
     Instead of resorting to a full frontal assault, about a half dozen people from different backgrounds and persuasions can secretly slip onto the island.  (What about the Japanese Coast Guard, you wonder?  Well, a guard can cover only the ground beneath his feet.)  Instead of trying to plant the flag of one of the national claimants on the main island, they can claim the islands in the name of the rightful owner of the archipelago: the Creator Himself.  Nothing is really ours; everything is on loan from our Creator. 
     Activists can do this in a strikingly visible, memorable, and environmentally friendly manner.  Nothing would be polluted or defaced, and nothing brought to the island would remain on the island.  It would also be done in a way that is startling to all who see it or know of it—and in a way that few could imagine or think is possible.  It would also be something that no one should be able to undo without incurring international scorn.
     Who would those intrepid souls be?  They should number at least five but no more than eight.  They should be as varied as the legendary Eight Immortals. 
     There are two reasons I believe they should be this varied.  First, their combined talents would be needed to make the project a success. 
     Then there’s the question of resonance.  A more disparate crew would increase the chances of each newspaper reader identifying with at least one of the volunteers.  They should include young, middle aged, and older; male and female; professionals and trade, prosperous and poor.  It should include someone of each Taiwanese ethnic group (Hoklo, Hakka, “mainlander,” and aborigine) and probably others.
     There should be no government policymakers involved.  Nor should the Alliance for the Defense of the Diaoyutais be involved; I’m fully convinced that the ADD is a government front group, though I won’t say for which government.
     Here are some areas of important skills:
1.      A naturalist, biologist, chemist, or all three
2.      Someone who is skillful at all aspects of sailing a small boat (No sailboat will be needed—only the skills are desired.)
3.      A sea woman (that is, a woman who lives along the coast and makes her living from the sea)
4.      A fisherman
5.      A cameraman or video journalist
6.      A farmer (no, not for planting—just for harvesting)
7.      A craftsman (for example, someone who can weave palm fronds, make braids, or transform fibrous plants into rope.)
8.      Three or more people with effective communication skills in one or more of these languages: English, Chinese, Japanese
9.      A medical person.
10. A person with skills as an outdoorsman.
11. A computer geek.
     That’s more than eight, but some people can claim skills in more than one of those areas.  Volunteers should be prepared to live off the land for a few days.  Behind the scenes, someone would have to have the money to finance the enterprise.  From what I’ve read in the papers, boat captains have been pretty mercenary, charging more for activists than for tourists. 
     I’ll be happy to advise those whom I trust.  I expect I must be content to be the penman of this peaceful revolution (or as some activists like to spell it, r3VOLution.)
     Taiwan is not my country, but it is my home.  The Japanese are my neighbors across the creek.  They’re good neighbors to Taiwan, and not simply because of good fences.  We’re having a difference of opinion; but if we hunker down and jaw it out, I’m sure we can see things eye to eye.  Apart from government, the people of all three countries, in their private capacities, are perfectly capable of answering to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” 
     The politicians are another matter altogether.  If the politicians won’t see the light, citizens of all three countries may have to hold their feet to the fire and help them to feel the heat.

     The key to peace, then, is in the hands of the good people of Taiwan, Japan, and—to whatever degree they can speak for themselves—China.  The people of those three nations can be reasonable enough and open hearted enough to make an end run around narrow-minded politicians and do what is best for all of us and most pleasing to heaven.  In the end, each of us must stand before a just God and answer for our stewardship over His creation and to whatever degree we have loved our neighbors.