Truthiness: of Rights and Wrongs

Truthiness feels good

Truthi­ness feels good!

Truthi­ness.  I love this word.  It encap­su­lates all that is wrong with the Amer­i­can Reli­gious Right.  I’ve been think­ing around how to talk about this scourge and received insight from a com­mon (for me) source: The Econ­o­mist has a book review of “The Bat­tle for Yel­low­stone” by Justin Far­rell. The essence of this book, accord­ing to the review (I real­ly need to read the book), is to talk about the prob­lems with pol­i­tics in Amer­i­ca with­out actu­al­ly talk­ing about pol­i­tics in America.

It is absolute­ly true that the best ways to talk about a dif­fi­cult top­ic is by talk­ing about some­thing else entire­ly.  I’m not just talk­ing about avoid­ance (a viable strat­e­gy — a head in the sand is worth two in the bush), but about the sub­sti­tu­tion inher­ent in most good fic­tion and espe­cial­ly sci­ence fiction.

The book, accord­ing to the econ­o­mist, dis­cuss­es how each group in the vari­ety of dis­putes sur­round­ing Yel­low­stone frame their argu­ment as truth against false­hoods while they are real­ly argu­ing moral right ver­sus moral wrong.  The Wikipedia arti­cle on Truthi­ness echos this point where Col­bert (wide­ly con­sid­ered to have coined the term in com­mon usage) dis­cuss­es the way each fac­tion desires to bring it’s own facts to the polit­i­cal debate, rather than all fac­tions argu­ing the cor­rect action against an accept­ed set of facts.

I had actu­al­ly cho­sen the word Truthi­ness before I had read the Col­bert quotes and cog­i­tat­ed on how they meshed with the theme.  I’ve been cog­i­tat­ing for some time on the inap­pro­pri­ate­ness of Truthi­ness.  I see the prob­lems: that things have become com­plex enough; so far beyond most peo­ple’s edu­ca­tion and expe­ri­ence that they are eas­i­ly duped by those who would manip­u­late their views.  The prob­lem is not that some peo­ple will attempt to manip­u­late oth­er peo­ple — that will always be true.  The prob­lem is that so few peo­ple in soci­ety as a whole have any qual­i­ty of horse­hock­ey filter.

The stat­ed goal of pub­lic edu­ca­tion is to pre­pare each child for the life of a cit­i­zen.  In gen­er­al­ly avoid­ing class­es in civics, they have failed this task. The Huff­in­g­ton Post has a good primer on the sub­ject of pub­lic school pol­i­cy.

How did we get here, or more per­ti­nent­ly, how do we get out.  For good or for ill, large groups of politi­cians and vot­ers dis­trust sci­en­tists.  Has the dai­ly bar­rage of issues become to fierce for san­er heads pre­vail­ing in inves­ti­ga­tion and debate?  How did it come that argu­ing about right and wrong was not enough for some to invent new “facts” so as to be able to argue about what is truth?

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