Kevin Baldeosingh 

A nation cannot progress when its educated and liberal individuals form their opinions in the same way as the ignorant and regressive.

In T&T, backward people are still dominant and, therefore, exercise significant influence over public policy.

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But it may be that their influence is declining.

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The poster boy for ignorance, the Inter-Religious Organisation became a whipping boy last month, but this did not prevent the IRO from last week re-electing its leaders who support child marriage.

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However, the IRO’s slow societal suicide will not necessarily correlate with any rise in enlightened opinion, if the people who hold such opinions are just as ignorant, albeit in a different way. 

For example, atheists tend to be leftists.

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They are very good at pointing out the many ills, falsities and contradictions of religion.

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Yet, when confronted with equivalent historical and economic arguments showing that socialism always leads to political oppression and failing economies, these atheists react exactly like religious believers.

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Their rebuttals typically include the No True Scotsman argument (“No real Muslim would kill people/That system in Grenada wasn’t real socialism”); blame shifting (“It is Satan/It is capitalism”); tautology (“If people would obey God’s commands/If people would work for the larger good, everything would be good”); and so on.

Such people hold their views almost accidentally, rather than as the outcome of reasoned analysis.

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Now it might seem that having the right views (by which I mean views which are ethically and empirically defensible) is more important than how you reached those views.

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The problem, however, is that if progressive people are not rigorous in defence of their liberalism, then they become just as untrustworthy as the conservative groups, whose status quo is exactly what needs to change for social progress.

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This is a place, however, where the educated elite is often just as ignorant as the untutored masses.

I can draw three examples from the last week alone.

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Author and culture critic Raymond Ramcharitar, in a column about education, asserted that there were a “slew of studies” which showed that mediation helped improve academic performance and emotional well-being.

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Ramcharitar has made this claim on sundry occasions, yet has never bothered to investigate any of the studies he references.

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Had he done so, he would have found that these “mindfulness studies” suffer from poor methodology, such as not controlling for the placebo effect and self-selected samples, as well as publication bias.

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The consensus among psychologists is that meditation has no significant effects for cognitive functioning.

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Ramcharitar’s lack of rigour is demonstrated by his citing a New York Times article by journalist Bobby Azarian who writes that, in a study of adults and children with Attention Deficit Disorder, “mindfulness meditation significantly improved attention and impulse control in both groups, but the improvements were considerably more robust in the children.” But the authors of the study itself make no such claim; instead, they caution that “we cannot ascertain that the observed improvements can be attributed to the specific treatment procedures, instead of non-specific treatment factors or expectancy effects of parents.”

Then there is obstetrician Sherene Kalloo, who in a newspaper column asserted that children who use social media can get short attention spans, poor socialising skills and mental illness.

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But the authority Kalloo cited was Baroness Susan Greenfield, who she described as a “top neuroscientist.” Greenfield, however, is actually a pharmacologist, which is a field that is related to neuroscience only in that drugs affect the brain, and she has made outlandish claims about computer games causing dementia and the Internet causing an increase in autism.

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Greenfield has never published peer-reviewed papers on any of these issues.

Even worse, Kalloo went on to quote Psychology Today columnist Pamela Rutledge out of context, as saying that, “Preoccupation with selfies can be a visible indicator of a young person with a lack of confidence or sense of self that might make him or her a victim of other problems as well…” But what Rutledge actually wrote was that this might be an indicator of emotional problems that caregivers could look out for but, for most young people, “Selfies are fairly harmless ways to identify with a generation.” 

Lastly, there’s gender feminist Gabrielle Hosein who in her Guardian column last Friday asserted that, “The numbers regarding women’s lives do not show a transformed reality.”

Hosein provided only one number in her entire article to support this contention: that only 15 per cent of women own property “in their own name.” This is quite ironic, not only because Hosein continually swipes at capitalism, which is based on property, but also because property is at best a crude measure of well-being, and she doesn’t say how many men own property “in their own name.” If Hosein had instead used the standard indicators of well-being-longevity, health, relationships, education, violence, mental illness, indigence-she would have shown that men are worse off than women.

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Which, presumably, is why she didn’t do so.

Now you might argue that such claims are, literally, academic.

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Yet these bogus ideas can affect children’s education and, indeed, in some respects have already done so.

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And if the next generation is being trained to be just as ignorant as this one, what hope is there for a better tomorrow?

Kevin Baldeosingh is a professional writer, author of three novels, and co-author of a history textbook.

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