Tuesday, December 13, 2016
What the Hell Is a Post-Truth World?
There's an old saying that there are three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth.
This saying is not to question the honesty or integrity of any individual perspective, it's just an acknowledgement that we do indeed have individual perspectives that can color how we perceive data or how we remember things. Ultimately, however, despite those individual perspectives, we must accept the truth of the actual facts. That's why we have laws, courts and journalists, to drill down to the core facts independent of the inherent biases of individual perspectives.
But lately, truth is taking a beating.
This assault on the truth is coming from two different directions:
1) Denial of facts
2) Creation of new "facts"
Take for example the recent vote totals in the Presidential election. Hillary Clinton's lead in the total popular vote exceeds 2.5 million. Of course, that's not how we choose our Presidents; we do that through the Electoral College and Donald Trump won the Presidency through that. Which may not be fair but it is square so there it is.
But a President-elect who wins the Electoral College but not the popular vote should recognize they have outreach work to do. Instead, Trump and his surrogates have denied the facts of the popular votes, referring to Trump's victory in terms like "overwhelming" and "landslide" which even in the context of just the Electoral College is overstating that range of success a bit much.
But denying the existence of the popular vote is not enough. Trump later went on to say he did indeed win the popular vote if you didn't count the millions of votes that were illegally cast. Do I need to tell you that there is zero evidence of that happening? Well, I'll tell you anyway: there is zero evidence of that happening.
But the thread has been picked up by Trump's supporters and surrogates who insists in the face of absolutely no facts that there was wide spread voter fraud that padded Clinton's numbers.
Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” as the word of 2016, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Stephen Colbert coined the word "truthiness" a decade ago which covered the same ground, that what we feel in our gut is more important to what we know is true than any facts.
Whether we call it truthiness or post-truth, we're full on into an era where truth is malleable to the whims of our emotions, not solidly given form by facts. Trump says whatever comes to his mind and people rush to his defense. News reporters armed with facts are visibly frustrated as they engage these Trump supporters empowered by their passions. There's an expression about not bringing a knife to a gun fight. But what happens if you bring guns to a gun fight and the opponents on the other side are bullet proof?
But maybe truth is not the issue. Perhaps its another 5 letter word beginning with "T" that's at the core of this problem. Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio had this to say:
Facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It's better to call this a post-trust era.
Business, government, churches and the media have fallen in public esteem. These institutions paid a price for an entire generation of wars, scandals, economic convulsions, and cynical politics. We're left with fewer traditional guideposts for whom to believe. The spread of fake news from fraudulent sources is only a symptom: The larger problem is that many Americans doubt what governments or authorities tell them, and also dismiss real news from traditional sources.
For more on Steve's take on this, click here.
But I think Steve is on the right track here. We have a decided lack of trust in what we're told unless it conforms to our expectations, to our world view. But the world doesn't always conform to our perspective which makes trusting our emotions a very dangerous thing indeed.
But if the institutions we're supposed to trust in are to earn, stuff like this can't keep happening.
Slate posted a piece recently with the headline “Kellyanne Conway Suggests That Women With Kids Shouldn’t Take Jobs in the White House.” Conway is Donald Trump's campaign manager.
Here’s the quote from Conway that inspired the story:
During her earlier conversation, Conway said she intends to remain connected to Trump once he takes office but implied that it would be nearly impossible for her to take on an official White House role and be a mother to her four children, all of which are younger than 12, at the same time
“I do politely mention to them the question isn’t would you take the job, the male sitting across from me who’s going to take a big job in the White House. The question is would you want your wife to,” Conway said, describing conversations she’s had with male colleagues. “Would you want the mother of your children to? You really see their entire visage change. It’s like, oh, no, they wouldn’t want their wife to take that job.”
In context, it appears Conway was saying that the men she spoke to said they wouldn’t want their wives taking a White House job, and that she might not want a White House job because of her children. She never said or even implied that all women with children should not have role in the White House, as Slate’s headline would indicate.
This was called out by CNN host Jake Tapper who has no love lost for Trump or his staff including Conway. But facts are facts and the Slate headline fit an expectation of it's decidedly left leaning demographic that the forthcoming Trump administration is a bunch of throwback men looking to leave women and especially working mothers behind.
You see, this bias can go both ways.
What the hell is a post-truth world? It's where my side or your side carries the day. Which is fine if we're in a state of war. But we're all citizens of one nation. We are all residents of one world. We can't be at war with each other if we want to survive or prosper. We need to work together and to do that, we need a leader we all can follow, we all can trust.
And there is no better leader than the truth.
In 12 hours, another post goes live at 5 AM Eastern Time with Disney Daze - Part Two as I continue my account of my family's recent visit to the Friggin' Happiest Friggin' Place on Friggin' Earth.
And if that's too much friggin' happiness to deal with, come back 'round at 5:00 PM Wednesday when I post about actress Emmy Rossum (for some reason) and what might be a penis statue.
Everyone, be good to one another.
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