I am fond of saying that truth has a way of shifting under pressure. These days it appears that the very concept of truth is under assault and becoming irrelevant. What’s true no longer seems to matter. What does is, “Does believing this please me?”
Despite universal free public education and 24-hour news, the American public is amazingly misinformed about a wide range of topics. Recent polls suggest that over one in five people support the provably false idea that President Obama is a Muslim, but that is hardly the most bizarre widespread belief.
A poll by the Associated Press revealed that 34 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, and nearly as many in UFOs. Nineteen percent believe in witches and witchcraft, and 23 percent claim to have personally seen a ghost.
We won’t even go into the one-in-10 people who believe the sun goes around the earth. It just gets sadder and sadder, doesn’t it?
I try not to get too holier-than-thou, because I have a wide range of unsupported and childish beliefs my own self. I think that cole slaw and chicken salad are as deadly as sarin poison gas. Burritos were originally made from burro meat and if you chew a cookie very carefully and slowly, you can shatter the calories and thus turn a macaroon into a diet food.
Walt Disney is alive. Ann Coulter is a man. Hair spray causes deafness.
What makes people believe in such foolishness? It makes them seem to have inside information or secret knowledge. You can always spice up conversation at a gathering by remarking “Did you know that Katie Couric has a Scientology tattoo on her stomach?”
The latest thing is to use a made-up quote to drive home a political point. I’ve run across this twice in the past two weeks, and when you call them on it with proof of its falsehood, the reaction is illuminating.
“Well, if he didn’t say it, it sounds like something he would say,” comes the rejoinder. And then their “crusher” — “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Imagine that. Make something up and use your invention as evidence that it’s probably true, anyway. We are truly in a wonderful age. History and science have become obsolete. The subjective has triumphed completely. Anything is true if you would like it to be.
This kind of appeals to me, in a perverse way, but it does open the door to all kind of wingnut notions.
Disease is caused by demons, or alien invaders. “9/11” was a government conspiracy. The earth is flat. The moon landing was a fake, shot on a Hollywood sound stage. The income tax is illegal. Italians are bad lovers.
Apply this to your personal life. I am adopted: my real parents are millionaires who will leave me a fortune when they die. My spouse is probably cheating on me, so I am justified in chasing after [insert name of chasee here]. The teacher is giving me bad grades because he/she doesn’t like my politics/race/haircut/shoes.
Admittedly, the concept has some appeal; you reshape your world so to excuse all your failings, ignorance or belligerence. You need never use critical thinking or employ humility, because you are so self-evidently right.
That person just looked oddly at me. He probably wants to kill me. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Or as Gandhi once said, “Shoot first and ask questions later.”