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Ian I. Mitroff Headshot

The Constant War Within: My Daily Struggle Between Reason and Unreason

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Like many Americans, I suffer from a constant tug of war going on deep inside of me. On the one hand, I believe deeply in reason and scholarship. Why else would I have been a professor my entire life and currently be working on my 30th book? I also believe deeply in tolerance and forgiveness. On the other hand, I feel the constant surge of anger, and even hate, that pulses through me daily. It's not politic to say that one hates certain ideas and people -- I fervently wish it weren't so -- but in the spirit of honesty, which I prize, I can't deny it.
Let me pick just one out of the many "statements" by the current crop of Republican candidates that makes me lose it totally. Santorum said recently:

"It is a parent's responsibility to educate their children. It's not the government's job. We have sort of lost focus here a little bit. Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can. That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be. I am against that."

The reasoned side of me points out how terribly flawed this "argument" is. First of all, even calling it an "argument" is a stretch.

It shows a complete misunderstanding of American history and the arguments of the Founding Fathers of which conservatives are so fond of quoting and reminding us constantly. First of all, in their genius, the Founders noted that no republic ever survived for long without an educated people. Widespread education was an absolute necessity if the republic was to endure. Second, public education was also necessary if a disparate group of people were to become bonded and thus share a common heritage. In short, public education served a two-fold purpose both of which were equally critical. In fact, each supported the other.

Santorum's statement also ignores the fact that early, preschool programs have proven especially crucial, indeed essential, in lifting children out of poverty. Early in life, poor children face enormous hurdles in surmounting the numerous educational and developmental gaps between them and middle, upper class children. This is not only true for poor children of color, but for all children. It has been the case for each wave of immigration, a fact that Santorum forgets so conveniently

The thing I find so objectionable about Santorum's statement is its unabridged paranoia about government and the implication that if government is the feared "bad guy," then home schooling is the "good guy." A simple-minded division of the world into "good and bad guys" is enough for me to automatically disqualify anyone from even being considered for president.
But then, all of us are subject to splitting the world into "good" versus "bad guys." That's why we always have to be on guard against it, for to a certain extent, I am doing it just by talking about it.

The other side of me -- I don't like to call it the "emotional side" for neuroscientists have shown that reason and emotion are inseparable aspects of the mind -- feels pure disgust. The deep disgust and utter contempt I feel emanates from the fact that I was one of the poor kids who made it out of poverty because of public education. Public education from K-12, and college through graduate school, which was relatively cheap when I went to the university in the 1950s and 60s, allowed me to have a career that I still love deeply, and eventually, to become relatively well off. Although I strongly support the "Occupy Movement," I'm not quite one of the "99 percent." I'm certainly not one of the "one percent" either.

Santorum's statement triggers deep disgust and contempt because it literally strikes at the very heart of my existence. It wounds me to very core of my being. I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of the government. For this reason, I don't begrudge paying one iota of taxes if it can help to lift one more soul out of poverty.

It's not nice to admit, let alone express, that one hates certain ideas and people. I know all the bromides: hate is not good for one's constitution; it hurts he or she who hates more than it does whom one hates; it doesn't change anyone's mind, etc. To a certain extent, the bromides are true and even help. I don't hate as much as I once did. Still, it's a never-ending battle. It's like fighting an addiction that is always there.

One thing I know for sure. If you want to get over something about yourself that you don't like, don't engage in denial. Don't pretend that it isn't there. Face it and try to deal with it. Hardest of all, try to find the humanity in those with whom you disagree so deeply.

Ian I. Mitroff is an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley. He is the co-author of "Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely" (Stanford, 2009). His latest, and 37th book, is: "Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping with the Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes" (Stanford, 2011). He is one of the founders of Crisis Management as a discipline.