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The Honest Pursuit of the Truth is a Moral Virtue

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The capacity for independent, critical thinking is crucial to the ability of Americans to protect themselves from that form of exploitation to which a democracy is most vulnerable --deception and manipulation.

It matters whether the people are taught to have contempt for scientists and other experts and scholars and responsible journalists all those professions whose purpose is the search for objective and factual truth. If people can be isolated from independent sources of genuine information, they can be led to their own destruction.

It matters whether people can be conned into false belief by well-funded propaganda campaigns. If people get their opinions about climate change from the oil and coal industries, about health care policy from the pharmaceutical industry, about labor unions from the manufacturing industries --then their legal power as citizens in a democracy gives way to their actual bondage to people who have no genuine concern for their welfare.

But there 's more to it than servitude to untrustworthy authority.

It matters whether people believe things because they want to, or whether they believe them because the evidence shows them to be true.

We may not want for it to be true that this war is a disaster, or that we were deceived about it. We may not want it to be true that other nations can teach us a thing or two. We may not want it to be true that responsibility to future generations requires us to change our ways.

But we will suffer greatly at every level if we are incapable of facing such truths.

A Moral Responsibility of Citizenship
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It is such habits that are at stake in that supposed "nondebate " about evolution, and these habits are of deep moral import. For the conning of Americans has been facilitated by the same intellectual habits that have enabled a majority of Americans to reject biology 's major organizing idea.

"Marching on, " says David Brooks. If these past five years have not been more of a downhill march than any in American history at least since the march toward the Civil War --I don 't know which years were. And when we connect the dots we see that the refusal and inability to seek the truth honestly, and follow it wherever it leads, has been a central part of this descent.

The responsibilities of citizenship are moral in nature, and developing the habit of pursuing the truth with integrity is a moral requirement of being a citizen of a democracy --particularly a democracy so powerful that its military power is virtually unchecked and its ecological impact is far out of proportion to its numbers.

That the discipline of the truth is a moral virtue is even clearer when we look at the how our present leaders (or misleaders) pursue (or avoid) the truth.

A Leader Who Will Not Bow Down to the Truth
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One website displays prominently the headline, "George W. Bush. Seldom right/ But never in doubt! " The more we learn about the information-gathering and decision-making processes of this president, the more clearly this headline points to a deep moral defect in the man (and his circle).

The depth of this moral fault in the realm of "truth-seeking " is revealed by how deeply connected it is with the core moral defects that have defined this dishonest and destructive presidency.

The core of his relationship with the truth is his arrogance. He already knows, so why ask? He is God 's special emissary, so he cannot err. Certainty can be the enemy of knowledge, and this president has chosen the former.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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