We have a truth problem, America. Fake news is retweeted and Facebook-shared as if it were real. And a large percentage of Americans believe shit is true that’s completely not true. Like 67% of Trump voters think the unemployment rate went up under Obama — when it actually improved drastically. Like 39% of Trump voters think the stock market went down under Obama — when it actually improved drastically. Like 40% of Trump voters think that Trump won the popular vote — when he actually lost it by almost 3 million votes. And so on and so forth.
What this points out, I think, is that for a lot of Americans, truth is not something you seek out. Truth is not a hypothesis that is constantly tested against reality to validate that it’s true. Truth is an absolute, handed down by an authority figure. When they were a small child, truth was what their parents said it was. When they were in their sad little K-12 schools, truth was what the teacher said it was. If they went to college, usually to learn a trade of some kind, truth was whatever the professor said it was. But of course that’s not, well, true. A lot of what we were told back then turns out to actually not be true. It was the best that they could do with what information was available to them, but continued testing found that their hypothesis was, well, false. Pluto is not a planet, it’s just a big Kuiper Belt object, for example…
What is sad is that in today’s world, it’s ridiculously easy to actually go the sources of information and get the information directly. I don’t need to trust news reports on the stock market. I can go to NASDAQ’s web site directly and look up what the current stock prices are. I don’t need to trust that the news media did the job on the Sandy Hook shooting. I can look up the phone book for Sandy Hook and call people directly and ask them if they heard about the shooting and if they knew any of the people who lost children there. I don’t really have to trust anyone other than my Internet Service Provider and my phone company, though it makes it easier once I find secondary sources that do this work for me and who have proven trustworthy once I test some of their work against my own work and other third party sources that have also proven trustworthy in the past. But it seems like most people think truth is something handed down by authority figures, rather than something you explore and find out for yourself, and they choose whatever authority figures tell the “truths” that they want to hear. Facts have become whatever we want to be true, rather than something continually tested against reality to validate that they’re true. No wonder we are so fscked.
Conversely, there are things that you can’t really test. At that point, you can’t make any statements. You wonder why I haven’t posted anything about what’s happening in Aleppo, for example? Simple: I can’t validate a damned thing except that there’s a lot of fighting and people are dying, something that every side admits. Beyond that, all I have are the statements of the various sides and of refugees who’ve fled, all of whom have their own agendas and most of those that don’t have an agenda know little more than what I’ve already said — that there’s a lot of fighting and people are dying. I can’t condemn things that I can’t verify are happening. There’s no way for me to test any of these statements coming out of Aleppo. It’s certainly too dangerous for me or any citizen journalist to go there and see what’s happening for myself, and there’s no working phone service there even if I spoke Arabic (which I don’t). Thus I assign them all to the “unverifiable, thus won’t say anything about it” bucket. Which is a big-ass bucket, BTW — there’s a *lot* of things I don’t talk about because of that.
Remember: Truth is something you test by testing it against reality. It isn’t something that’s handed down to you by an authority figure. If you can’t test it, it isn’t truth, it’s just an interesting hypothesis. Bigfoot is helping Hillary Clinton with the recount in Wisconsin. How do you test that statement? You can’t say it’s true or it’s false until you say, “how do I test that statement?” And then either do so, or find multiple trusted people who themselves have done so. Until you test it, all it is, is an interesting hypothesis. \But simply accepting a statement as fact because it came from a trusted person like me, who would never lie to you about the recount process in Wisconsin? Dude. Stooo-pid! Just sayin’.
– Badtux the Reality-testing Penguin