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?