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'Twelve Angry Men' in the post-truth era

As a high school English teacher, I live in a "post-truth" world.

Many teenagers have a particularly difficult time separating their heads from their hearts. They live in a world in which "facts" and "truth" do not necessarily intersect with the mysterious machinations of their emotional and intuitive selves. Although usually well intentioned, many adolescents react viscerally to information, particularly when it concerns the people and issues that are closest to them.

In this way, they are not altogether different from the millions of citizens who in the past year have let emotional appeal outmaneuver scientific fact, economic reality, and historical veracity – and in so doing, voted to put up walls around themselves and their respective nations.

Most of my days are spent trying to negotiate students' knee-jerk responses and to force them to articulate their thoughts in a way that makes sense to others. And on most days, my classroom feels like the jury room that is the setting of Reginald Rose's classic 1954 play, "Twelve Angry Men."

In that play, 12 denizens of New York City are gathered to decide if a young man is guilty of the murder of his father. At the beginning of their deliberations, the jury's vote is nearly unanimous: all vote "guilty" save one juror, Number 8. He asks each of his fellow jurors to explain their thinking. A few of the jurors make salient points, but the majority do not; they, like Number 2, "just think he's guilty."

Over the subsequent 45 pages of the text, the jurors debate the fine points of the case. The discourse becomes (like the room itself) heated, contentious, and at times intensely personal. Each time the jury re-votes, however, more of the jurors have changed to the "not guilty" camp. Eventually, at the end of Act II, all 12 jurors vote "not guilty" – some whole-heartedly and some more reluctantly.

Juror Number 8's steady push eventually yields a unanimous verdict. Perhaps more importantly, Juror Number 8's willingness to go out on a legal and social limb earns him the respect of his peers – and saves the life of the young man on trial.

Sometimes when I become mired in the muddy anecdotes of sexism, racism, homophobia, and general bigotry in the news and on social media, I find myself replaying the words of the eighth juror to the ninth: "He [Number 7] can't hear you. He never will."

The reality, however, is that Juror Number 7 and the others like him do eventually hear him. In the end, Juror Number 8's measured approach prevails. He respectfully and confidently interrogates the beliefs of those around him, engaging them all in a way that pushes them far out of their comfort zones but much closer to the truth.

He listens and does not always talk; he poses questions instead of giving diatribes. He never denigrates those with whom he disagrees. The deliberation process in the play is messy and cumbersome and takes bizarre tangents, but ultimately it works.

In an era of pronounced social division, in a time in our nation's history in which people have become emboldened to spread messages of bigotry without considering scientific fact, economic reality, or historical veracity, I am empowered by Juror Number 8. In this time of misinformation and dangerous groupthink, we must all commit ourselves to rationality.

We must all be Juror Number 8.


Stop thinking short-term

Pay me now or pay me later! In their policies, the Trump administration and Congress continue to choose the latter. The various tax reform plans all contain more tax cutting than tax reform, and most of that cutting benefits corporations and the wealthy.

Most economists believe that these tax cuts will add significantly to the national debt, possibly juicing the economy in the short run but hurting in the long run by making the US less competitive due to higher interest payments and rates.

Similarly, on climate change the administration is promoting oil and gas to help save a few jobs now, but it is conceding the clean-energy field of the future to other countries and is ensuring that the economic costs to the US of enhanced weather disasters will mushroom. At the recent UN climate talks in Bonn, the UK, Canada, and Mexico led a coalition of 50 countries pledging to end the use of coal, while the US continued to be the only country threatening to drop out of the Paris accord.

To truly help the economy and environment for the future, the US needs to enact a carbon-fee-and-dividend plan such as the one proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby. Economic modeling has shown that this would significantly boost US jobs while reducing the negative health and environmental effects of climate change. There is hope in the form of the 60-member bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives. It's time for Congress to act to preserve our future.


Opting out of Sinclair

WHAM folks: Sorry, done watching Channel 13 news after all these years. The propaganda "Full Measure" segments are a joke. I know: not your choice but Sinclair's. Like watching Fox. A recent one showing an "interview" with our president was a thinly veiled attempt to make him look presidential. 

I love Don Alhart and Ginny Ryan, but I can't participate with the sham of "Full Measure" and the stupid Sinclair "Updates."

You've lost your rep.


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