by Tony Wyman
It has never in the history of humanity been easier to know the truth of things than it is today, yet Americans chose to believe things that are easily disproved with just a few clicks of a keyboard.
Have we grown lazy and stupid, too distracted by the drama of reality TV shows, too transfixed by our social media world to know much about the real world that exists off the web? Are we, as the Daily Beast put it in 2017, in a cult of ignorance, where “…people denigrate intellectual achievement and reject the advice of experts.”
Or is that we no longer value the truth, preferring, instead, lies that validate our preconceived notions about the world? That back up our prejudices and validate our choices? That, as the Pew Research Center said, “align with our views.”
Singer Donna Missal wrote a song called Keep Lying about a woman involved in a destructive and toxic relationship with a man who keeps lying to her. But, despite knowing her lover is a liar who is emotionally abusing her, she prefers to stay with him, rather than face the truth and being forced to re-evaluate her life choices.
Keep lying, keep lying to me
Just keep lying, keep lying to me
Don’t go f***ing with my fantasy
Keep lying to me
Is that where America is today, in an abusive, destructive and self-perpetuating relationship with lies we prefer over truths we find discomforting? Have we entered a post-truth moment in our nation’s history where a pleasing, but false, narrative is prefer over a painful truth that requires us to confront our faults?
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great New York State Democrat who also served as an adviser to Republican President Richard Nixon, once said, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” But, in the Trump era, is that still the case? It seems now that facts are as fungible as opinions. As Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani said, in response to CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s statement that facts are not in the eye of the beholder, “Yes, they are. Nowadays, they are.”
Facts are now opinions.
Obviously, this is utter nonsense. But it is nonsense Americans in growing numbers believe. We are losing fealty to truth in disturbingly high numbers. And not just in political truths, but in other areas, as well. For example, science.
Despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists that genetically modified foods are safe, 57% of Americans believe they are not. Millions of American parents refuse to vaccinate their children from easily-preventable diseases because they buy in to the misinformation that vaccines are unsafe. Only slightly more than 50% of Americans believe in evolution, about the same number that believe humans play a role in global climate change.
And what is replacing American belief in truth and facts? According to a poll conducted in 2016, gut instinct. University of Michigan professor Dr. Brian Weeks found that 50.3% of Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” In other words, more than half of us rely on our emotional response to information rather than on factual evidence considered logically or scientifically. We believe what we choose to believe, not because we know it to be true because of knowledge gained by research, resource and reason, but because it feels right.
Perhaps Stephen Colbert captured this sort of thinking best during the first episode of his TV show The Colbert Report when he, portraying his fictional talking head commentator character, discussed the word “truthiness.”
Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.
And that seems to be where much of the “truthiness” lies in America today, in the gut. We know, for example, that Hillary Clinton didn’t sell our nation’s uranium to the Russians. The facts disputing this lie are overwhelming. But our guts tell us otherwise.
We saw the airplanes crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the facts back up that it was Osama bin Laden who masterminded that horrible crime, but, for some of us, the conspiracy theories espoused by raving lunatic Alex Jones surpass the logic of the facts and reach us at the core of our guts.
There is no truth to the president’s allegation that “millions” of illegal aliens voted in 2016, but, when asked if he thought repeating his false claim was dangerous for the country, Donald Trump replied, “No, not at all, because many people feel the same way that I do.” He added, “Millions of people agree with me when I say that. If you would have looked on one of the other networks, and all of the people that were calling in, they’re saying ‘We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.’ They’re very smart people.”
In other words, in Mr. Trump’s view, it doesn’t matter if he is right about millions of illegal aliens voting, it matters if people believe he is right. In their guts, nearly 50% of Americans agree with Mr. Trump that massive voter fraud happens regularly. More than 50% of Republicans believe he won the popular vote over Mrs. Clinton. And, of course, the facts say they are wrong.
The problem with “truthiness” replacing truth is it much easier for conmen and propagandists to move a nation through emotion than it is for them to move it with fact and reason. If we abandon our belief in truth, if we reject fact and reason in favor of gut instinct and passion, we will be susceptible to the marketing schemes of unscrupulous men who desire office and power, not to right a wrong or to lead our nation upon great paths, but for their wicked and venal purposes.
As Albert Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters, cannot be trusted in important matters.”