We live in a weird time. A time where nearly anything can be ‘true’. And, well, I’m a little conflicted over how I feel about it.
The big example in the current world is, obviously, what is lovingly referred to as fake news. Spin doctors aren’t anything new. For as long as we’ve had tales to tell about someone that aren’t exactly positive, we’ve had people trying to turn those bad stories into good stories, to make someone out to be better than they really are. But the past few years have seen a transition from this turd polishing process into simply denying the truth entirely. It’s not an artform of bullshit, it’s denying reality often enough that people actually start to believe it.
Like, for instance, the claim by a certain former President of the United States that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged against him. Although countless investigations have been performed to find no evidence of any form of misconduct (at least on the scale necessary to have an election stolen such as is suggested), he still proclaims it as a fact that he won the election. Even a year after he left office, he still tells his supported about how they won. He doesn’t provide any actual facts to support this claim, just says it over and over again. And there are a not inconsiderable amount of people who full believe him.
Does the fact that he has tons of people believing this story make it any more true?
Well, actually, I guess it kinda does, right? Because what is truth except what people believe to be true?
I know, every single one of you reading this is already mentally raising your hand to say, “Um, Adam, you’re talking crazy talk. Facts are facts.” And yeah, obviously there do appear to be some undeniable truths in life, right? Right now, my computer is on and I’m typing out this post. That’s a truth. But, well, I mean, is it though? I could give you all sorts of proof that I’m currently writing this article, such as the fact that you are reading the article that I’m currently writing, but, there could still be questions about the legitimacy of that truth. You’re not watching me type it. And also, technically, I’m actually editing it, just writing an entirely new section to my original draft which expands my thoughts on something. That’s a fact that, I guess changes things. Also, by the time you’re actually reading this, I’m not actually writing it. The fact, in this situation, actually changed, because at some point I’ll have finished writing this and you can’t actually read it until I have it written.
But some facts don’t really seem like they should change, right? Like the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Well, I mean, I guess we hold that to be true today, but obviously Galileo had some struggles when he presented this new fact to the Catholic Church back when the fact was that the Sun revolved around the Earth. In that situation, the facts didn’t actually matter unless they were the facts that the people in power wanted everyone else to believe.
Let’s take it one step further and bring up a concept that I know everyone can relate to. Creationism vs. Evolution. The majority of the world today believes one truth over the other and are convinced that the people who believe the other truth have been duped.
The truth is, we’re all a little confused about the truth. Even in the situation of Creationism vs. Evolution, we’re all forced to take the truth on a little bit of faith. Most of us haven’t done the research to be able to verify either of those options. We follow what we consider to be the most likely scenario. The one that makes sense to us. The truth that feels right.
Even in situations where we might know the truth that is “true”, that might not actually cause us to change our personally held truth. The idea that airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel won’t get those who are afraid of heights to consider them safer than cars. And I don’t think there is a single thing on this planet that can convince Terrence Howard that 1×1 doesn’t equal 2. I honestly don’t think you have to look very hard to find your own illogical logic that causes you to completely ignore the facts and hold to your own truth.
There’s an interesting book that you may have heard of, called 1984, which explores the concept of doublespeak. This is the idea that something you held to be true yesterday might not be considered true by the people in charge today. So, for instance, if we were fighting a war against China yesterday, it’s possible that today the government would tell us that we have never been at war with China. And we would all be expected to not only consider that the fact, but to believe it to be the truth.
The truth in that story is that we should be concerned that there are people who are withholding the truth from us. That reality might not be what we are told it is and that we are all being duped into believing falsehoods one way or another. While I think it’s a fantastic book, it’s also one which fully supports the concepts of conspiracy theorists. It one hundred percent tells us that the truth is not true.
And eighty years after Orwell published his most famous book, here we are, debating truth. Convinced that the people in power are pushing a lie, no matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on. And, let’s be honest here, there are definitely lies that are being pushed. Truths that aren’t as true as we are being told they are.
Which leads to situations like that of the COVID vaccines. While they have been proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19 and its many variants, we still have countless people unwilling to take the jab because they simply can’t believe that truth. While masks have been proven to reduce the risk of infection of this disease which recently surpassed the one million infections a day in our country, we have those who choose to believe this is an attack on our personal freedoms.
And if you’re completely honest with yourself, can’t you entirely blame them? We live in a world of doublespeak. We have an ex-President who led the charge for getting people vaccinated who, when the time came, wouldn’t even acknowledge whether he was willing to get the vaccine or not. He was vaccinated in secrecy. Why would this man, who should be given a great deal of credit for getting these vaccines out quickly, not want people to cheer at him getting vaccinated?
While I’ve talked at great length about how I believe everyone should be vaccinated, if you ever needed a reason to question the truth, it’s when a man who is known for his love of putting on a show, takes a big moment like taking the vaccine that he is responsible for, and doesn’t put on a show about it. In a presidency that ended on a sour note (you might argue that it was all sour notes, but even for his supporters it has to be a truth that ending a presidency with a pandemic isn’t exactly a great thing), why wouldn’t he want to go out with a bang, or, in this case, a very visible jab?
The truth is relative. And this is both a scary and a freeing thing. While it can allow for people to be who they feel they are inside, regardless of what they look like or what equipment they were born with, it also allows people to say that they don’t feel like they need to protect themselves (and more importantly, others) from a virus that has had absolutely tragic consequences across the globe and will for years after we manage to get it under some semblance of control.
Even more of note is how few of us actually care about finding the true truth. We don’t like to hear opposing viewpoints, and we like to present ours angrily as though we’re already at war with those who disagree with us.
Which, I guess isn’t all that crazy of a metaphor. We’ve been at war with the truth for forever. That’s why we can get mad at people like Bush Jr. for starting a war in Iraq while ignoring Obama’s implementation of unmanned drone strikes which were notorious for killing civilians. That’s why we can get mad at Obama for bailing out the automotive industry while ignoring that Bush Jr. did the same for the banks just a year earlier. This is why we can absolutely freak out at the allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump and Kavanaugh while electing a man into office who also has sexual allegations against him, by simply saying, “Well, it wasn’t as many”, or “They backed off the allegations”, or whatever other excuse I’ve heard about the thing.
Because we hold our own truth. And in many of the above cases, the truth on display is that “the other guys are evil”.
So, what do we do with this information? How do we go forward knowing that the truth is what we make of it?
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer, because I think the truth will always be different for different people. But perhaps, knowing that even your own held truths require a bit of faith, you can take a step back when someone is proclaiming their own truths to you and at least listen. Maybe your truth won’t change, but you could at least get a better understanding of why that person’s truth is true to them.
Like the truth that I’m finishing this post now and will schedule it for being on the blog next week.
Or am I?