Beneath the Surface

A quality that is disappearing from the world is the ability to see and understand what lies beneath the surface of an issue. People seem increasingly content to swallow headlines hook, line, and sinker as if the story could be no deeper than the tallest letters in bold print. This sort of naivety is the very thing that makes a people easily manipulated or even oppressed.

People in other ages have also been naïve, but the current naivety is unique in that we seem to be willing to remain naïve. Modern conveniences are also enabling and supercharging the naivety of the current age. Why are we content to believe superficial, surface level sound bites without going to the trouble to look deeper, to get the back story, to do some fact checking like the Bereans of old? Francis Schaeffer in his classic How Should We Then Live says that Americans in particular are rarely interested in doing anything that disrupts our “peace and affluence”; in other words, if it disrupts our lives or costs us anything, we might just ignore it.

It takes some doing to get beneath the surface of an issue; it takes work. What we learn might be troubling, might disrupt our peace. What we find beneath the surface might require a response, and that response might cost us something. In short it is easier to remain ignorant, to continue being entertained by the screens illuminating our faces and isolating our humanity than it is to do a little digging, a little thinking, and make some kind of commitment or take some kind of action.

I recently heard a couple of radio interviews I thought good examples of just how naïve Americans in particular have become. Both of the interviews were based on issues that might be labeled “political.” I am not taking a position on either side of either issue. I want only to use the examples to demonstrate a point.

In the first example, the guest on a radio show confessed that most Americans are actually against gun control. “What can we do to change that?” asked the interviewer. “We have to convince them that their children aren’t safe,” responded the guest who was an editor at a prominent magazine. The editor went on to say that this is exactly how “we” convinced so many people to stop smoking: by making them think their children were unsafe when exposed to cigarette smoke. He boldly proclaimed that “we” have to make people think their children are unsafe if there is a gun around.

Whether we are for or against gun control is not the issue here. The issue is that this editor is convinced that he and his colleagues (“we”) can make a better choice for the American people than the people can make for themselves. Forget about making a well informed argument and letting the people decide what is right for them; rather, his remarks imply that the media has to find a way to spin the issue that manipulates people into doing what they think people should do. Sadly, when people fail to do a little investigating of their own—when they do not look beneath the surface—they may be susceptible to such manipulation.

The second interview was more about knowing how the people who represent our interests in government are making decisions. There were two representatives being interviewed, one D and one R, about a new artificial intelligence committee in the US House of Representatives. They were lauding the lives that self-driving cars will save. The interviewer cautioned that there would still be some fatal accidents and that the public might argue that human drivers could have avoided such accidents. One of the representatives dismissed that notion with the quick assertion that we would simply settle such accidents with lawsuits, as if lawsuits were as simple and fun as a cup of tea. Again, no matter what an American may think about self-driving cars, to learn that our representatives are making big, important decisions with the assumption that lawsuits are a good tool for cleaning up any messes their decisions may create is eye opening at least. Here again, people will have to look beneath the surface of this issue (and others) to find out to what extent lawsuits are considered an acceptable solution by our representatives in government. The headline will not tell that part of the story.

Education is not a savior. Jesus in the only Savior and is, in fact, the answer to every question—not just Sunday School questions. Our Heavenly Father gave us brains, however, so our remaining willfully naïve or ignorant on important issues is not an option. One of the primary goals of a classical education is to produce thinking students, students who will look beneath the surface. The Trinitas Vision expresses this classical school’s desire to produce students who “think clearly and listen carefully … are well prepared in all situations, possessing both information and the knowledge of how to use it … equipped with and understanding the tools of learning.” While these qualities will not save our students, they will make them people who will look beneath the surface of issues, and who will cry foul! when someone needs to stand up and cry foul! They will be the kind of people who right ships as they make the world a dangerous place for manipulators and oppressors. No, education does not save—only Jesus can do that—but solid, classically educated people who look beneath the surface just might save us…a future of oppression.

Mr. Ron Gilley