For those of us who try to live our lives with truth and integrity, these are trying and demoralizing times.
Never before has objective truth been deemed so irrelevant as we discuss and make policy decisions regarding some of the most crucial conversations of our time.
The most recent pinnacle: Donald Trump, claiming that the voice on the Access Hollywood tape, coming out of his body, is fake. Yes, most of us find that incredulous. But there is a segment of our population that undoubtedly believes him, who deny their own eyes and ears to believe the unbelievable.
Math and science are being denied as objective reality, and are instead subject to our point of view. Graphs, charts, data, analysis, experts, words, historical relevance—all of it, have been discarded in favor of more comfortable “information.” If it feels good, if it supports our worldview, we ingest it, even it it leaves behind unquestioned belief sets that could really use some questioning.
Nuance has lost its meaning in a world filled with nuanced issues.
We jam every issue into a category of left or right, good or bad. Even children’s healthcare and sexual assault are politicized.
Respectful and dignified dialogue and discussion about complicated issues have transformed into raucous battlegrounds of winners and losers.
For years, maybe generations to come, people will not have to be inconvenienced by facts, truth, or data they don’t like. If we choose, we can instead bask in the luxury of believing whatever idea we like best—in whatever reality we like best.
We can argue whether Donald Trump was the first person to use the term “fake news” like he claims he was, but I think it’s clear at minimum that he is benefiting from this concept, as it allows him to perpetuate his own reality and discredit anything that discounts it. (To my point, here is an article that catalogues, using charts and graphs, all of his lies as of July 2017.)
And now, frighteningly, other people—from citizens to politicians—are getting the hang of crying “fake news.”
Yes, politicians have always been dirty. They’ve always bent the truth to push along their agenda. But now, we are seeing boldfaced, naked lies coming from members of Congress, from political commentators sent out to repeat lies or at least muddy the truth, and even from lawyers whose entire job description is (or should be) about exposing the truth.
Whether we like it or not, I think it’s fair to say that “fake news” is not going anywhere soon. We may as well acknowledge it.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying we should go along to get along. I’m not suggesting that I’ve gone numb to the lying—these lies continue to horrify me. And I’m not becoming complacent, as I’ve never been more politically active and vocal in my life.
What I am saying is this: it’s time we lose our naiveté that things might soon, or ever, return to “normal.”
Not all that many months ago, I believed we would someday be able to look back upon this time in history with a wipe of our brow and a wiser outlook for our future. Now, over a year into this presidency, I believe we’ve gone too far down this road to find our way back easily.
Our culture has been irreparably warped.
History books, if they are one day written by honest people not under the sway of “fake news” or even misguided patriotism, will note these things as the underpinnings of the undoing of our society:
>> Our inability to discern truth from lies.
>> Our unwillingness to undertake discomfort in the interest of growth.
>> Our impulse to fight dirty, walk away, or stick our fingers in our ears when we hear information we don’t like.
>> Our vata-imbalanced, whats-in-it-for-me society.
This is serious. Truth is the building block of Western civilization; the loss of truth will knock it down.
Some might think I’m off my rocker. But I was also one of the voices who saw Trump’s potential to win, even as so many were dreaming of the first female president. So, I’m no longer worried about how my message is received. If I sound the alarms and we don’t end up needing them, that would be great. I’d love to be wrong about all of this.
I’m sounding the alarm, because still, too few people are.
Even yesterday, while discussing Trump’s unadvised decision to claim Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, someone on NPR said, and I paraphrase, “If Trump takes a nuanced approach to this, there is a possibility that this could, in the end, lead to peace.”
After observing Trump for the last few years, I would say it’s not people like me who are off their rocker. It’s people that put “Trump” and “nuanced” in the same sentence with any amount of seriousness. It’s people who keep waiting for Trump to pivot. It’s people who keep telling themselves that this craziness is all part of a greater purpose, and that we ought to simply trust that a positive outcome will surely emerge.
For at least some amount of time, we’re stuck together, traveling deeper into the woods of a post-truth society, a place where, as George Orwell said in the book 1984, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is truth.”
Allow me just a few examples that suggest we are already living in 1984:
>> Not “being forced” to buy health insurance is now touted as freedom.
>> Giving more people the ability to travel from state to state with concealed weapons makes a safer society.
>> Debunked “trickle-down” economic theories have been pulled out of the trash heap, dusted off, and presented as fresh, logical innovations. Many hard-working, blue-collar Americans agree that this is a valid way to increase their income and well-being, because surely, when rich people get richer, they will bestow it upon those below them.
I hope that one day, we find our footing again as a society. It is true that we’ve seen people rise up like never before, and we might very well experience a wave of rebuke in the 2018 midterm elections.
I’m following Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation with near-rabid attention, and it looks like the circle is tightening.
But, and this is key: even if Donald Trump resigns tomorrow, or is impeached in six months, or is voted out in 2020, the damage to our country is baked in—it is both incontrovertible and irreversible.
The brave, courageous, American society that we have taken for granted our whole lives, the one we studied in school, the one called a shining “city upon a hill” by many politicians past, is in the slow process of death and dying.
Here’s the silver lining.
We all know that life is circular, not linear. Every death ushers in new life. Civilizations have, throughout our human history, risen, believed for a time that they would never die, and then, of course, died at the feet of their own arrogance. Death always sounds like bad news, but each new civilization builds itself upon the lessons of previous civilizations. We evolve, and as we do, we develop and hone new tools we will need in the changing world.
In a post-truth society, one human tool we will need to bring with us is a new and improved, highly-sensitive form of human intuition.
Intuition is what arises when we can’t trust, on its face, the information presented to us. Intuition is closely aligned to instinct, which means no one needs to teach it to us. It’s just there, waiting for us to tap it.
Intuition is not the same thing as clairvoyance or psychic abilities. Intuition is our natural, inborn, and too-often underutilized way of “knowing,” without anyone else’s assistance or interpretation, what is true and what is not.
Intuition is often passed off as something fickle and untrustworthy. Something for women only, or belonging to the realm of raising children. Not anymore. What’s fickle and untrustworthy is the world in which we live. And intuition is for all of us, in and for every realm.
We haven’t always needed intuition in a world filled with facts we could trust. But as we look to navigate a post-truth world, we’re going to need it like a flashlight in the dark. Where we’re going, our intuition will serve as our highest form of truth-seeking. Intuition will help us discern right from wrong when the news and government no longer can be trusted to do so. Intuition will help us stay true to our values and principles when these are no longer modeled by our leaders. Intuition will scout out genuine decency and kindness, and reject their imitators. If enough of us gather together with our flashlights of intuition, we might very well find ourselves, down the line, stronger together indeed.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” ~ George Orwell, 1984
It is exactly that command that we must disobey if we do not wish to be prey. Accordingly, here are four steps to developing our intuition:
As an example, listen to, rather than watch, Al Franken’s resignation speech. Listen to the cracks and shakes in his voice. Pay attention to the emotions he leaks even as he’s trying to stay level. Emotions don’t lie. Whether or not he is guilty of the accusations, he speaks with an authenticity I can’t deny. Then, for contrast, listen to Roy Moore as he calls his many female accusers liars. He spews anger and hatred, all meant to frighten away the truth-tellers and truth-writers. There is nothing in his voice that portrays truth or authenticity (or even humanity, to be honest) to me. Our intuition knows the truth behind a facade of strength.
Watch people’s bodies—how they hold their arms in front of them, how they cover their mouths with their hands, how they reach up to hide their faces with their hair, how they inch their bodies away from people they don’t trust. Bodies don’t lie. Re-watch, if you can stomach it, the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and see how he stands behind her, to intimidate, to violate, to diminish her. Watch how Hillary, practiced and expecting this behavior, steels herself against it with a turn of a shoulder, or a lift of her chin. Watch with the sound off, and you’ll see the truth, no matter how others might try to spin it.
When I watched the debate I mentioned above, I felt sick to my stomach. For hours, I could not fall asleep. I knew what he’d done to her, how he’d violated her, and I felt the effects in my own body. It was undeniable. So, when Trump tried to turn this around and say that it was Clinton who invaded his personal space, I relied instead on my own bodily reaction to tell me the truth.
Take in the information, and then let it sit for a while. There is nothing wrong with staying in a place of not-knowing for a few hours, days, or even longer. But when we draw conclusions, we must draw them with all the evidence at our disposal—what our own eyes tell us, what our own ears relate to us, how our body responds. Draw conclusions; even if they take us to somewhere that’s uncomfortable, trust them anyway. Human intuition must fill the vacuum of truth the fake news environment leaves behind.
If we never see objective truth return to power and glory, then at least we’ll have some personal guide to help us measure truth. If, by some miracle, objective truth does make a comeback, then our developed and keen sense of intuition will help us recognize it. It’s a win-win, and I, for one, could use a little more winning.
Author: Keri Mangis
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis