Monday, June 22, 2009

Frenetic, Distractible, Unfocused Minds

This is a big problem: (what seems to me, anyhow,) the growing lack of ability of young people to maintain focused attention upon one item for a prolonged span of time.

Not everyone has the same intellectual potential. But, among those who are at least average or above average in intellectual gifts, a very important part of becoming adult and a good citizen of our democratic society is developing the virtue of well-reasoned argumentation. This requires first the mental facility to engage a subject in a deep, significant way, to scrutinize it in one's mind against what one already knows, adding in the wisdom of experience and common sense, and thus to come to a reasonable conclusion about something which can then be articulated and defended competently in dialogue with others. This virtue of sound thinking and the effective communication of one's ideas to others is vital for a healthy democratic society. Without it, we cannot have real arguments. And arguments--authentic arguments (not the same as the alternating closed-minded monologues and empty personal attacks that often falsely pass for argumentation)--are crucial. If a democratic society cannot effectively engage itself in the sharpening of mind against mind that takes place with genuine argumentation, the replacement may eventually be some form of totalitarianism.

Witness in evidence of this negative trend: the mass media. Now, the major TV news shows have never been remarkable for their depth. However, it seems to me that in recent years this has been getting worse. One struggles in vain to gain significant context from the frenzied, here-there-everywhere "reports" as they jump around, presenting the viewer with a jumble of visual images along with word phrases that often do not contain complete sentences. The style of media reporting seems to increasingly assume that viewers do not want to think about anything, they just want a smattering of things thrown out to occupy the mind for a brief time. This passes for taking in the news.

What has brought us this decline in clear thinking? Many things, I'm sure. But, certainly one significant factor is the way we use the electronic communications media and how this impacts our habits of mind. Young persons, especially (say, under 30 or so?), have spent a significant part of their formative years attuned to electronic media (internet, texting, etc.) that specialize in packaging information into tiny snippets. Seldom do they, say, read an entire book; more likely to scan headlines, exchange cryptic texts, or watch a one minute video on You Tube. Such habits mitigate against being a people of sound reasoning and argumentation.

Among the many goals that are critical to curtailing the negative cultural drift in America is to raise up our youth to be men and women who can think clearly--who can focus upon something with their minds in a sustained and serious way. How to do this? How to stem this surging tide of ever more unfocused, easily distracted, unfocused minds?

[The post at Inside Catholic, "Turning Conservatism Into a Grunt," got me to thinking along these lines]

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