Thursday, June 01, 2006

Measuring Social Pollution

Ideas are as important as the air and water that we depend on. Wihout a steady stream of ideas that are new, at least to the individual, life would be pretty miserable. Luckily, many ideas are good, or relatively harmless. Unluckily, the more powerful an idea becomes the more damage it can cause.

My last couple of posts described a network of community groups that could fight those powerful and harmful ideas. This post is about a tool the groups (or a solo fighter against bad ideas) could use to evaluate ideas, policies, proposed legislation, and other sorts of ideas.

(Maybe our traditions should be scrutinized using this evaluation tool. That's another post though.)

What sort of evaluation tool do I have in mind? I'm thinking of a worksheet and checklist that would guide people through evaluating a book, speeh, essay, radio broadcast, or whatever. Use this tool to as part public education or social change efforts in your community.

Now, what would be in my Social Pollution Evaluation Guide? Four elements are important to evaluating the quality of an idea.

1. Logic - The Guide would include a list of common logical fallacies, such as the slippery slope, "red herring", ad hominem attack, and unspported assertion.

2. Facts - Are all cited facts relevant? Are they used correctly? Can you think of/dig up any facts, that if they existed, would weaken the idea? Can you think of relevant facts that have been omitted?

3. Values - Some ideas won't be relevant to any of the major/fundamental values like health and material sufficiency. What about the idea under consideration? Do a little thought experiment? Might the idea undermine one of the values?

4. Assumptions - What are the assupmtions? Are they valid? Commonly used assumptions that are often wrong include: We know the source of the problem. The government must intervene. We had better not look to the government for a solution. The many variables that contribute to this problem are both understood and controllable.

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