The political turmoil we are going through right now has certainly vaulted the very idea of “The Truth” to center stage. On the surface, the whole idea of True/False would seem to be an instance of black and white rather than a thousand shades of grey with an occasional bit of color thrown in for variety. Other than the certainty of “Death and Taxes”, some people seem to feel the black and white variety of “Truth” is impossible to find in our complicated and complex world.
“Trust but Verify” is a phrase often attributed to Ronald Reagan, but it was actually an old Russian proverb that was taught to Reagan by one of his advisors on Russian affairs: Suzanne Massie, who was preparing the President for a meeting with Gorbachev.
I am of the opinion that “climate change” is something that mankind’s use of fossil fuels has ushered in at a much faster rate than otherwise: and I feel it has the potential to have an effect on the planet that at the very least will end in suffering for a great number of humans . But I’d be lying to you if I said that I actually understood the science behind that belief well enough to verify that on my own. I happen to feel that it’s a much safer bet to trust climate scientists than climate-ignorant politicians, oil company executives and talk show hosts: but I have to admit my opinion is based on “trust”, not “fact”. The fact that the entire planet (save for the US) seems to agree with me also provides a sense of comfort that I’m not on the wrong side. A little short of “verification”, I know, but sometimes a little faith isn’t a bad thing.
I’m always amazed at the usual responses to accusations of dishonesty by a political figure, which are “Well, what about: _______?”, or “They All Do It!” or, occasionally “How can you know who to trust?”
This is scary. If being able to ascertain the truth is now beyond the ability of the average voter, then democracy is doomed. If we expect politicians to lie, cheat and deceive us and fail to bring them to account whenever they do just that: it surely must lead to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter to us.
The principle of “Truth” is an important one in our government, our entire justice system is based on it’s existence, the concept of “freedom of the press” is predicated on the existence of truth and faith in the concept that we can recognize it when we see it. The idea that what goes on in Congress is part of the public record is to insure thorough debate on the theory that deceit and lies grow where the light of truth never shines.
How many of you watched Ken Burns’ Veitnam War on PBS? It’s obvious that we had been lied to many times over by both our government and military concerning the necessity of our involvement over there, and they didn’t even mention our involvement (meddling) in Vietnamese elections.
Or maybe we can look toward the second Gulf War that was “sold” to us on the basis of the existence of weapons that were never found. And how quickly the “media” jumped on board.
One can think of many other examples, but these are just a couple that stick out to me, off the top of my head. This certainly isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to one end of the political spectrum and the argument that “Both sides do it.” certainly isn’t a valid excuse for this sort of behavior. You are indeed on a slippery slope anytime you adopt the concept: “I need to lie, because the other side surely will be.” This is something I see all too often in the media that pervades Facebook. Usually it’s in the form of half-truths, where they don’t quite tell you the entire story. I think the rationale is “We’re doing this for their own good.” All this manages is to do is erode trust in our institutions.
I think it would be an amazing coincidence to not connect our current political climate and level of polarization from the changes in how people inform themselves concerning the world that exists beyond the range of our senses. When people get their news primarily through “social media”, and then mainly from perusing the headlines we end up with a very limited view of what is actually going on. Belief in any sort of “objective truth” plummets. For example, I get fed up with sensationalist and misleading headlines about Donald Trump as I think they make it harder to determine the truth.
A difficult situation to solve, but we have not made the transition to the 24/7 cable news cycle and the emergence of the internet without erosion of faith in our information system. We adopt a posture of ignoring this or pretending this is not the case at our peril, which I don’t happen to think is too strong a word. The “information age” has a dark side to it. As has every technological revolution the planet has witnessed. You can’t divorce the industrial revolution from industrial warfare and the 123 million people who died due to war in the 2oth Century. You also can look to the relative peace we’ve enjoyed in the years since 1945 and not think we’ve learned at least something—for now. We’ve also taken a few halting steps at rectification of the environmental damage that we caused by that same industrial revolution—for now.
Another thing I do know for certain is that society is only going to get more complex. All sorts of new issues are going to present themselves with increasing frequency. (How the US will manage to continue to use about 1/4 of the non-renewable energy resources of the planet with only 5% of it’s population is only but one.) Somewhere around 50% of the planet is now “online” in some fashion or another and I honestly hope we learn lessons on how to deal with the inevitable fallout from this “revolution” before it impacts the “other half”.