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Truthiness

05/31/2011

It’s 4:28 a.m. and I’m awake. Have been since 2:40 for no good reason that I can tell, and I’m thinking about the truth.

Drove home after dinner tonight with spouse, daughters #2 & #3, & future son-in-law, looking at all the downed trees in Bloomington. Gawking, actually, awestruck at Mama Nature. One thing (climate change) led to another (the new South Park musical about Mormons) that led to another — and we all had a good laugh about the failed end of the world on May 22. We poked fun at the true believers, but it got me to seriously thinking: what must they have felt last Sunday morning when the world was just as they left it the day before? When they weren’t on their way to heaven? When they had used up their retirement savings or kid’s college education money to get ready for the Rapture?

Did they change their minds when faced with the truth? And what makes people believe stuff, anyway?

For your general reading pleasure, I offer several mildly related bits of evidence. That’s the best I can do. I actually feel a yawn coming on.

1. Stephen Colbert’s take on “truthiness,”  i.e., the human capacity to confuse thinking with feeling, brain with gut, fact with “knowing”. What I love about this 2 minute & 40 second video is that the word he coined 6 years ago is now in the on-line edition of Merriam Webster.

2. Just in case you think Colbert is being flip, check out this article in Mother Jones on the science of self-delusion. Seems that all of us (no surprise) are hesitant about changing our minds. Fight or flight response? Not only does it apply to predators, but to facts that we deem dangerous to our internal ordering of the world. Seems those who base their politics on fear & innuendo will do far better precisely because rational explanation is too threatening. People really don’t like to be forced to deal with what’s real.

3. Courtesy of my friends at Jewdayo, this tidbit: On this date in 1665 (in Gaza, no less), Shabbatai Zvi revealed himself as the messiah. After suffering the slaughter of tens of thousands of Jews in Poland in 1648, his claim brought a measure of comfort to Jew & their leaders in Cairo, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Venice, Livorno and other cities.Unfortunately, the following year, Zvi was given a choice by the Turkish sultan — convert to Islam or die. He chose the former, along with 300 of his followers’ families. This group, btw, became the ancestors of the “donmeh” of modern Turkey, an economically and politically influential subculture & the subject of many conspiracy theories.

4. As Roger Cohen says in today’s column in the NYT (you read it here first!) on said conspiracy theories, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the fact that large numbers of French – including some of the country’s best known intellectuals – believe charges that DSK (a known philanderer and sexual harasser) assaulted a maid are absurd and a result of anti-French bias: Bin Laden is dead. The Jews went to work (on 9/11). Suite 2806 is just a number. Facts count. 

I’m going to sleep.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    05/31/2011 5:31 pm

    I love the truthiness concept. (Never heard of it before.) So much of the news makes sense now! As for The Truth, what if different books and competent authorities have different “facts”? That is the universe I, personally, inhabit, and it’s confusing.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      05/31/2011 6:45 pm

      Ah, 2 conflicting sets of equally compelling “facts.” Maybe both are true, maybe neither — it sort of depends on the question needing to be answered. It’s much easier to have one’s facts straight with mathematics or certain of the sciences or actual factual events that really took place than it is with the social sciences or attempts at interpreting human behavior. That wasn’t really helpful, I know, but that’s all I have.

  2. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    06/01/2011 7:25 am

    My solution on the ambiguities these days is to live with them, and, unless I achieve some closure, to keep my mouth shut, which is very hard to achieve in my case, but I’m trying.

  3. Dan Price permalink
    06/02/2011 9:31 am

    Madi Hirshland and I routinely work together on environmental issues. We have a common view of the need to reduce energy consumption and to move toward greener methods of energy production. Aside from this, I neither know nor care how she feels about various political issues. We may even disagree on global energy policy matters; I wouldn’t know because we’ve never discussed such things. In this context, the facts are paramount; we respect each other so we are willing to engage each other’s concerns and even change our own views when the other makes a convincing argument (or presents new facts).
    However; I have no respect for someone who hides behind the facts when their real objective is to destroy my world. I am willing to incorporate new information into my world view; I am not willing to negotiate with those whose own words mark them as my sworn enemies. If you question my use of the word enemies, read any of the reader’s comments on any political commentary and see if you can find even one comment that doesn’t refer to the other side as a bunch of stupid evil liars. People who refer to me as a stupid evil liar do not have the right to talk to me with any expectation that I will listen.
    If someone’s real objective is to focus on the facts, then I suggest they focus on the facts and put aside the polemics. If someone’s concern is for environmental conservation, or social justice, or world peace, then we can talk; if they simply want to use these issues to promote their political agenda, then we can’t.

  4. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    06/02/2011 11:49 am

    When I was a student in overcrowded public schools we learned a little about debate. One of the lowest forms of arguing was called ad hominem, which was, basically name calling. For years that seems to be the level of political discourse in the US. I very much share Dan’s distaste of this practice. I also wonder why these “adults” never learned such things when they were in school. And, why don’t more people complain or boycott coverage of such nonsense. Is it any wonder that truthiness has overcome the truth?

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