Neil Postman - Responses

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Part I

On page 11, Postman quotes Niels Bohr as saying, "The opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement, but the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth." What does this statement mean? Do you agree with it? Why or why not? Opposition creates two points of view and provides a stronger meaning for both sides. A correct statement, “I like ice cream,” is opposed by the incorrect statement, “I don’t like ice cream.” If I only observe the correct statement, I have no reason to justify my liking of ice cream, but if I am challenged with the incorrect statement, I am forced to consider why I like ice cream—I like it because it’s cold, sweet, and creamy. A profound truth, deep and unyielding, cannot be proven false; therefore, the opposition to it can only be another profound truth that acts as any opposition would, creating another point of view that provides a force to clarify or strengthen both truths. When one can find greater clarity in opposing truths, it allows one to gain perspective to widen and justify one’s own beliefs. I agree with Postman’s claim, “it is better to have access to more than one profound truth…to hold comfortably in one’s mind the validity and usefulness of two contradictory truths is the source of tolerance, openness, and most important, a sense of humor…” (1996, p. 11). I consider Economic Utility, a profound truth that defines the purpose of education to “prepare children for competent entry into the economic life of a community” (Postman, 1996, p. 27). To oppose it, I consider the profound truth of Consumership that defines the purpose of education to provide students with the means to acquire goods. What does the former mean without the latter? It means simply that students should have jobs when they finish school. What does the latter mean, without the former? It means simply that students should be able to purchase goods when they finish school. When I considered both in opposition, Economic Utility became more about contributing to the productivity of the community, being able to provide the goods and services necessary for the well being of family and neighbors. Consumership became more about individuals consuming goods for the sake of independent wealth. “The similarity between this god [of Consumership] and the god of Economic Utility is obvious.” (Postman, 1996, p. 33). First glance reveals this much, but observing the opposition of the profound truths, reveals much more of the truth in each of them. I would agree with Bohr’s statement because I value the opportunity to observe differences in points of view, and to explore meanings beyond face-value. It is the recognition of another profound truth as the opposition to another that allows me to do this. If I accept a profound truth only because I’m told that it is a profound truth, I have not gained any perspective to make that profound truth worth following. Opposing it is the only way to create meaning in it for me.

Part II
Later on that page, Postman states, "Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly better to have one profound truth, one god, one narrative, than to have none." Postman admits that all gods are flawed. Why is it better to have a flawed god than no god at all?

I would analogize Postman’s view of a flawed god to being dropped in a forest with nothing but a compass. The compass is minimal, and hardly useful without a map. It doesn’t tell you where you are, where you came from, or where you’re going. It is flawed in many ways, especially if we hold it to the standard to which we have grown accustomed—the GPS device. Despite its flaws, the compass is a resource, something that provides orientation and ensures that the wanderer isn’t merely traveling in endless circles. While a compass can’t promise that the wanderer won’t be lost, it still affords him a sense of direction by which he may somehow choose a path to lead him out of the forest. Without orientation, North, South,...
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