What Happened to American Skepticism?

There was a time in this country when we believed in the idea of “trust but verify”. We understood that most people try to be good, but a lot of the time they either make mistakes or get seduced by power or money or whatever else they find enticing. There was enough of an understanding of history amongst the populace that we remembered the horrible wars and power grabs and terrible events that transpired to cause us to seek our freedom.

This was especially true in our media, who were the watchdogs for the truth. Fifty years ago there was a burning desire to find hidden secrets and expose the lies that our leadership was trying to feed us. Journalism was noble profession, respected by the average person and feared by the government. There was an excitement to picking up the newspaper or tuning in to the daily news broadcast as we looked forward to hearing about what was going on in our country and the world.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case for most of us anymore. The average American isn’t very concerned with the news anymore. We vaguely follow the major stories that get enough media hype to grab our attention, but for the most part there is no reverence for journalism anymore. This is not the fault of American citizens, but a result of an increasing bias in those charged with bringing us the truth. As they have pledged their allegiance not to the flag but to their ideological agendas, many of us have come to trust them less and less.

The title of this blog is a lack of American skepticism, but the issue is somewhat contradictory. I would say that there is certainly a healthy skepticism when it comes to information coming from our political or ideological opponents, but the word skepticism implies that you’re willing to accept what you’re being told and just need some verifying facts to confirm the truth of it. What we have today is flat out rejection of anything that doesn’t align with our pre-established viewpoints.

It is difficult to imagine how we can move forward in a healthy way into the future with minds so closed to things that don’t sit well with us. Many of the advances we’ve made in the scientific fields were completely counterintuitive at the time and were strongly opposed by the public at large. The difference between then and now is that once the facts were organized and presented in a rational way, most people were willing to hear what they didn’t want to hear and change their minds. This just isn’t so common anymore.

Extremism has become the norm in the world today. Not necessarily violent extremism, but a clannish grouping of people into ideological camps that removes any chance for finding a peaceful solution to anything. The crazy thing about it is that most people are both blind followers and rabid deniers all in the same breath. We are willing to blindly follow someone who says “all the right things” regardless of their competency or background, but turn right around and completely discount the most qualified and effective people from the other side of the aisle because we just don’t like what they have to say.

There is a lot of dichotomy in our society that is causing the division we see so strongly today. The polarization is quite strongly influenced by our inability to develop a healthy skepticism of the information we are being given. Discernment is a skill that must be taught, either by direct experience or by those who have learned it the hard way. It is the quality that keeps us from jumping into dangerous situations or making bad decisions, and we have lost it in the fervor of ideological propaganda. It seems now that the only way it can come back is for all of us to relearn it the hard way. If we don’t, then there is little hope for our future.

What do you think about being skeptical? Do you trust your media outlet, or do you look for facts to back up their claims? Does the sensationalizing of events cause you to pause and question the motives of the organization? We should never blindly trust anyone, and when the warning flags start raising, it is time to step back and start digging a little deeper. Until our media wakes up and gets back to their roots, it is up to us to maintain a healthy skepticism.

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