In last week’s column, I mentioned one of my primary sources of knowledge is works by accredited academics, so I’ll elaborate slightly.
Generally, when people use a word in the correct context, they mean the accepted definition of that word. That’s how language works.
For example, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” is a single-volume history of the American Civil War written by James McPherson, the Professor Emritus of American History at Princeton University. I can read the book with confidence that it will have an accurate account of the American Civil War.
On another level, “The Civil War: A Narrative” is a three-volume history of the American Civil War written by Shelby Foote, a novelist. However, Foote used historical method and his book is considered an accurate telling of the war.
However, “Everything You Were Taught about the Civil War is Wrong” by Lochlain Seabrook is not an accurate depiction of the American Civil War. I cannot find any qualifications for Seabrook other than he is an “unreconstructed southerner.” A more accurate title for the book would be “Everything in this Book about the Civil War is Wrong.”
By far my favorite phrase from the book’s preview is “just one of hundreds of thousands of blacks who fought for the south in the Civil War.” It should be rewritten as “just one of about seven blacks who fought for the south in the Civil War.”
Another example is “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” by Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, whose thesis is that geography is the primary factor in the development of human societies. I can read the book and accept all of Diamond’s argument, reject all of his argument or accept some of it.
I can say to myself, “Mr. Diamond has convinced me of the role of geography in human society development but I am not convinced it is more important than other factors.”
Of course, there can be multiple conflicting, yet valid academic theories. An excellent example of this is economics. John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Thomas Picketty may all present differing views on economics. That doesn’t mean they aren’t all experts or that only one is right.
To dismiss their arguments out of hand just because one disagrees with their political alignment is absurd, just like saying a political candidate knows nothing about economics even though those views are backed up by an economist.
Of course, when one is desperate enough and lacking information to make an argument, they can always use misinformation, out of context information and information omission. They can stoop even lower and accuse those of differing views hate America and wealth. Or that a candidate they don’t like has done nothing with his life.
As for me, I’m confident enough in my belief system to never make an asinine statement such as “Paul Ryan has done nothing with his life.” I may disagree with everything about Paul Ryan except his occasional beard, but I recognize that being a senator is a paradigm of how to do something with one’s life.
We all have different views on what makes a great democracy, and I accept that not everyone shares mine. My politics don’t define me; they’re an extension who I am. I’ve found that people who define themselves by their politics typically aren’t worth getting into discussions with due to a tendency to use ad hominems, self-righteous vitriol, and patronizing and vexatious language.