A sign outside a restaurant in this area reads: “Voted Best in the Nation.” It sounds impressive, but since we’re all inundated daily by such claims I hardly ever give them a second thought. But this one caught my attention for a specific reason. I once ate there, and if it really is the best in the land, then pity those who should suffer the misfortune of dining at their inferior competitors.

At that point I remembered the kind of critical questions I learned in a college course in logic. 1. Who voted, maybe a busload of Lapland tourists? 2. Who canvassed and counted the votes? 3. When did the vote take place — 1940, 1990? 4. And who saw to it that the results were reported honestly?

Naturally, I knew none of the answers because I hardly ever bother to ask critical questions about this or similar matters. And I wonder if anybody else does either, living as we do in today’s propagandistic soup. My suddenly aroused skepticism caused me to doubt that any such vote ever took place and led me to generalize how often we are swayed by such extravagant claims. We may think that they do not affect us. Yet psychologists tell us that we store everything we see or hear if not in our conscious memory then deep in our subconscious files that can be accessed under certain conditions such as hypnosis. This means that somewhere buried in my mind and despite what my old professor taught, the idea rattles around in my head that the nation’s best restaurant is just down the highway. And who knows? One of these days that subconscious conviction may overcome my experience and good sense and persuade me to go back for a second culinary disaster.

But as if commercial advertising weren’t bad enough, causing us to patronize second-rate establishments, buy inferior merchandise, and eat when we’re not hungry, things get worse when it comes to political products. Do you, like me, sometimes dread to attend public functions for fear of running into some deluded fanatic, a person stuffed with political fictions, guilty of every violation of good sense, and an insult to intelligence itself? Oh just my luck; here comes somebody like that now. But wait, what a relief! I know him. He’s a member of my party and that makes his silliness acceptable.

Or does it? Maybe it’s better not to get ensnared in political squabbles in which logic is unwelcome, passions are paramount, and common sense is our common enemy. Critical thinking is hard work that takes its toll of shoddy reasoning and clay-footed idols. Now and then wisdom tells us to take leave of the thundering political herd, and as a favorite poet of mine puts it, “stop to distinguish the voices from the echoes.” With that distinction in mind, maybe we could achieve things that really are “the best in the nation.” And best for everybody in it.

Harold Raley is a professor, linguist, writer and philosopher. Email haroldraley49@gmail.com.

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