Last evening before dinner, I spent a few spare minutes watching the Billionaire Businessman (BBM) address a crowd of thousands in Kansas City, Missouri. I found myself sucked in more than I expected, or wanted. What was the draw of this spectacle? I listened to him weave one of his stories. Part of me could not stop listening and watching, mostly out of amazement and wonder. I felt embarrassed that this “expert provocateur”* was capturing my attention. He has developed the skill of keeping the camera lights on himself.
This “magic” of the BBM reminded me of the Wizard of Oz. One of the lines that the BBM threw out to the Kansas City crowd was a reference to the “lyin’, thievin’ press.” For some reason, this particular line at this particular time stood out to me more than others I have heard. It was not only the line itself, but also the crowd’s enthusiastic shouts of approval and derision. Then I thought: the whole press? Everyone who works as a journalist, regardless of which organization employs them? His lumping all of the press into one handy package took me around yet another corner in my assessment of these public events.
The crowd’s excited applause at such simplistically critical opinions made me wonder. How much different was my being drawn in than theirs? Sure I was at home about to eat dinner and they were in the arena gorging on harsh statements, but we were all being sucked into something exciting, something harmful.
Then I began to see the drug-effect of these rallies. People who flock to the frenzy are getting high. They shout, and jump, and say “yessir!” They want more, and the dealer gives them what they have come to believe they want. After all he is a BBM. He knows how to create and satisfy conspicuous consumption. He can turn a want to a need. He can make them need him.
Next my mind turned to the United States’ epidemic of opiod addiction (see just one set of statistics below). Facts from the CDC show that many people struggle with, and even die from, addiction to artificially induced excitement. I am starting to sense a parallel situation with those who attend rallies designed by BBM and “my [his] people.”
Finally, to the main subject of this post: critical thinking. As a career teacher of teenagers, I worry. Any formal schooling they receive must develop skills of critical thinking. For example, an alarm must go off when they hear someone express an opinion about a whole spectrum of professionals with a blanket reference like “lyin’, thievin’ press.” Critical thinking involves such skills as making distinctions and asking questions. When students develop even just these two basic skills, they are equipped to keep themselves and their communities healthy.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
(Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality File. (2015). Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics and Heroin: United States, 2000–2014. Atlanta, GA: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/AADR_drug_poisoning_involving_OA_Heroin_US_2000- 2014.pdf.)