"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Due for Another Age of Reason?

Jonathan Schell, a visting professor from Yale, wrote an article that parallels my own frustrations with those who warp language purposefully without interest in objective truth. To be clear, reasonable people can debate what language means and certainly some language is unclear. This is, however, completely separate from morphing language simply to avoid the conclusion from the written word that uses unwanted or inconvenient language to express an unwanted or inconvenient point of view.

It appears to me, people often twist language from any text that is viewed as authoritative, be it legal or religious or both, simply to introduce a "debate" into an issue that has a political side to it. This act of twisting language, instead of defining and embracing it, is indicative of a desire to sidestep that language and therefore the point of view of the text itself. Rather than take the honest, though politically more challenging stand, of acknowledging the text and its language and disagreeing with the text itself and its point of view, those who wish to maximize political capital while avoiding the conclusions of a text do so at the very peril of the document itself. It is not that they simply misrepresent what the text says, demeaning its value in one singular instance or maneuver. They damage it for life.

A once clear text becomes mired in "debate" whether credible or not, and continues to be for the life of the text with the potential to marginalize the text and its message. Even the most absurd "arguments" move the most ridiculous view point into the realm of "debate" where the masses happily defer to politics rather than language. It is much easier, safer, and more entertaining to watch a political battle than to consult the document itself. As we become less and less educated, a trend that appears real in our country, and as our "advanced" degrees are increasingly produced by elementary school institutions, it may increasingly become too much for the average American to simply read and reason without having their arguments supplied by sides of a political discussion.

What's next, science and math? 1+1=2? Well, I propose that 1 is not necessarily equal to 1 at all times, therefore it's debatable that 1+1 must equal 2. Says the citizen, "Well, there are two vocal groups with two passionate sides to this debate and they both get news coverage. Surely it's too complicated for me to figure out. I'll wait and see which side wins this,... debate."

While we may not all be concerned with such a scientific approach on first glance, we may become more so when that approach is used by the person constructing our bridges.

If our citizenry continues on this path, unaware of their American birthright and heritage and the power of objective reasoning that has preserved it, and unwilling to use their God given brains, Gail Wynand will make a killing. And we will lose everything greater Americans have provided us the opportunity to enjoy.

If we cannot agree on the basics of integrity, an honest approach to a text we are reading in order to determine what it says and not what we desire it to say, then we have lost our objectivity and we will lose our principles, our legal protections, our religion, our science, our technology, and the ability to defend ourselves. All are based on language, and all require objectivity. We will lose it all for the sake of political convenience and a citizenry too uneducated, too insecure, or too lazy to objectively read and reason for themselves.

For military Officers, recruited from our citizenry and part of our larger society, it is important that we demand from them the ability to read, reason, and discuss intelligently. Our military education processes must guard against censorship, politically motivated limits on acceptable speech, and mob rule to crush well articulated but unpopular views. It is one thing when Joe Citizen isn't able to distinguish the meaning of the written word, it is a worse thing when Joe Captain and his peers are not able to do the same. While Joe Citizen has the power to vote and lobby the government, Joe Captain is part of the government and must be able to understand instructions in order to stay accountable to the will of the People. Joe Captain is constructing the bridges we drive on.

I find that these simple language comprehension and reasoning skills are deteriorating, even among college educated government actors. Perhaps we are already due for another Enlightenment, another Renaissance, and another Age of Reason. Unfortunately, history has shown that even after the Age of Reason, the fruits of that age are threatened not merely by a lack of education or intellect, but rather by a lack of character masquerading as a lack of intellect. Education is important, but character is essential.


  1. Science and technology have been going downhill for at least 30 years, maybe longer. I watched biology become increasingly politicized in the 1990s even though the studies looked shaky to me.

    The USAF already has a problem with its education system - http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/06/24/ah_memories_of_the_air_war_college . The rot has settled in. It's up to people like you to have the courage to speak up and ask that it be fixed. The problem is one Upton Sinclair eloquently stated: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." You will be going up the chain of command fighting a fixed and unimaginative belief system that is likely impervious to reason or logic. This is counterintuitive since survival depends upon reasoning and imaginative cunning, and beliefs are generally detrimental to survival, i.e. the early doctrine that bombers were capable of defending themselves against enemy fighters. Physics is the law all pilots live and die by and its laws are thus far immutable and harsh. Physics is not forgiving, especially gravity. This is why the USAF and Navy have to be smarter than the Army and Marines.

    One can argue that we are losing the skill of arguing and debate for learning purposes. A society becoming an empire might want its citizenry to not notice the democracy becoming an oligarchic corporate state which is a form of authoritarianism and is a similar path that Rome took.

    Just because one has an education does not mean that one is intelligent. There is a difference. A higher education should positively select for gifted and intelligent people assuming all have equal access, but since higher education is so expensive, some intelligent people are left behind. The services have tried to cultivate that group as NCOs and officers if they are very bright. I do not know if that is still the case. Perhaps the best and brightest are leaving the services like they have science and technology for Wall Street since our science and engineering are being sent overseas with the exception of the defense industry.

  2. We do have an issue with our PME, and I'm glad TR is continuing to put the spotlight on it. The real problem is one of values, the Air Force doesn't truly value education. The key question in my view is why doesn't it? That's the essential puzzle piece.

    Love that Sinclair quote. You mention the Army and Marines. I tend to think I'd trade in the "smarts" of the Air Force for some of the character of the Corps. I think at the root of these issues is values, character, and principle and I think the Marines are way ahead of us there. If I could go back to college, I would have tried to fly for the Corps.

    The Air Force doesn't send bright people to school, it sends those it wishes to promote to school to check the "education" box. Back to the character issue. Perhaps when the rest of society treats Air Force "education" with the respect it deserves, the Air Force will actually try to educate those it wishes to promote. Based on what I've seen from AU, none of those programs should result in an accredited degree. It's just window dressing, it's not real.

    Thanks for the great comment as usual JB.