Chris Christie’s “Bridge-Gate”: A Dangerous Lack of Critical Thinking

At first glance there might seem to be no connection between Defusing the Nuclear Threat and the current controversy over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridge-Gate.” But a closer examination reveals a dangerous lack of critical thinking on the part of the media and society as a whole. As argued in my Stanford class handout, “Critical Thinking, War, and Nuclear Weapons:”

Eliminating the threat posed by nuclear weapons is such a huge task that critical thinking may seem too small to be of any real value. Compared to other proposed goals, such as arms control or nuclear abolition or world peace, how could something as subtle as thinking things through more carefully possibly make a difference?

Those advocating more concrete goals such as arms control, nuclear abolition, or world peace are not necessarily wrong. But none of those larger, more concrete steps is possible until society adjusts its thinking to the realities of the nuclear age. … By itself, critical thinking does nothing to change the concrete reality of how many weapons we have or the war fighting plans that are in place for using them. But, by rooting out incorrect but deeply held beliefs, critical thinking creates a firm foundation for concrete changes to occur. In the incorrect world view, those changes look dangerous and could never occur.

Almost all of the discussion of “Bridge-Gate” has focused on whether or not Gov. Christie knew in advance of this asinine, political dirty trick – with the implicit conclusion being that all is well so long as he was ignorant of what his aides were doing.

But, with Gov. Christie being a presidential contender, we need to recognize that our nation would be equally bad off either way. If Gov. Christie were to become Pres. Christie, it would not matter whether he did similarly stupid things to nuclear-armed nations which annoyed him, or whether his staff did so without his knowledge. “I didn’t know they were playing dirty tricks on the Russians for no good reason,” would not matter once a nuclear crisis had occurred – especially if it led to a nuclear catastrophe.

It is high time we started demanding more intelligent coverage from our media!

Martin Hellman

Note added the next day Today’s Wall Street Journal had an editorial which was a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Here are the key parts:

The big question concerning Chris Christie since the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal broke open in January is whether he knew it was ordered by his state aides. He has denied it, and this week a report from a team of investigators he appointed for the task backed him up. … Republican primary voters will want to render their own judgment on his credibility if he decides to run for President, and based on what we’ve learned so far they may get that chance.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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