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What if we tried thinking instead of screaming?

It’s September 2020, and you’d have to be living as an anchorite in the deserts of New Mexico if you are unaware of the turmoil in American society. The coronavirus crisis, the riots in various American cities, the daily bombardment of charges and countercharges from candidates for political office, members of the mainstream media, bloggers, and anyone else with an ax to grind: all provide evidence that we are as deeply divided a country as possible without actually engaging in civil war.

Maybe it’s time we took a deep breath and stepped away from the circus of shrieking voices and pointing fingers. Maybe it’s time we look to reason and evidence for our salvation rather than sinking into a bog of emotions

In Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason (Sentinel/Penguin Random House, 2020, 224 pages), Dave Rubin urges readers to listen to others with different viewpoints, to ask questions, and perhaps most importantly, to bring facts and evidence to these debates. Host of The Rubin Report, where he interviews guests from all manner of political and cultural camps, Rubin tells us how he moved away from the prejudices of his own beliefs to inquiry based on data and facts, and shows us how we can do the same.

In what he describes as “the biggest defining moment of my professional life,” in January 2016 Rubin interviewed Larry Elder, an African American conservative radio host, columnist, and author. Rubin, who at that point still considered himself a progressive, asked Elder about “‘systemic racism’ in America — a social theory I presented as fact.”

“Give me an example,” Elder asked him. “Tell me what you think the most systemic issue is.”

Throughout the rest of the interview, Elder tore him to pieces. 

When Rubin brought up cops shooting blacks, Elder unleashed a barrage of facts and statistics demonstrating Rubin’s false premises. Using these same weapons, Elder discussed popular misconceptions about black life in the inner city and the problems in black families. 

Though Rubin ended the interview feeling as if his viewers, including the cameramen taping the show, had witnessed his “intellectual execution,” he nonetheless nobly insisted on the interview with Elder being run without cuts. 

And from that point on, Rubin began to regard himself as a classical liberal. Not a liberal like Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, or Lyndon Johnson, or Bill Clinton, but a classical liberal of the nineteenth century who believed in individual freedom and a very limited government. He also became a man hungry for facts and evidence in argumentation.

After recounting the circumstances of this conversion, Rubin explores different hot button issues in American culture: gun control (he supports the Second Amendment), gay marriage (he’s married to his husband David, but understands why some might disapprove), the war on women (“Western women are not oppressed. There, I said it”) and other topics. As a classical liberal, he tries to approach each subject with facts and reason, knowing all the while that others will disagree with him. 

And some of his friends, as he relates, disagreed vehemently, cutting off long-time relationships, accusing him of sexism and racism. Conservatives, too, will find some of his ideas as disagreeable as do his progressive friends.

But here’s the objective: Rubin wants us to think again, to converse with each other, to use reason and facts in our arguments, and to agree to disagree civilly when no consensus can be reached.

Near the end of Don’t Burn This Book, Rubin makes this most important observation regarding our current cultural chaos: “As we have progressed in terms of freedom, rights, and tolerance, we have regressed in defense of what got us here in the first place. Postmodernism, now the main school of thought at so many of our academic institutions, has rejected objective truth in exchange for subjective feelings.”

Don’t Burn This Book offers excellent advice on how to bring some semblance of peace to our culture wars. I didn’t agree with everything Rubin wrote, but that’s exactly his point. We don’t have to agree. But it does help if we’ll at least listen to one another and make rational arguments. 

Highly recommended.

•••

For those parents teaching at home, or guiding students through distance learning, a few reminders and reassurances:

If your children are learning to read, to write, to do math, and to explore history and science, then they’ll be fine academically. With competence in those fields, students can master any subject whatsoever.

For grades K-6, let me again recommend the E.D. Hirsch “The Core Knowledge Series.” Hirsch, a professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, produced books for each of these grade levels: What Your Kindergartner Needs To Know, What Your First Grader Needs To Know, and so on. Each volume is packed with myths, poetry, stories, history, and lessons in science and math. You can learn more about the Core Knowledge Foundation at www.coreknowledge.org.

Middle-school and high school students might want to follow some advice once offered by C.S. Lewis: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one until you have read an old one in between.” Old books, like some old people, are treasure houses of stories and wisdom from the past, offering perspectives different from our own. 

Happy reading, everyone!

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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