Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SEEING THINGS – Meeting the Invisible Halfway

Seeing this grimy sawtooth snowbank this morning reminds me how many
things in this wondrous world we can “see” only because of their effects on
something else.

Upwelling, wave-dampening “fluke prints” evincing a whale swimming out of sight below the surface. The jostling of larger subatomic particles by otherwise invisible “ghost particles,” or neutrinos. Tiny puffs of air on one's face from bat wings deep inside a pitch-black cave.

And this, a mound of snow poked by the invisible rays of a quickening late-
winter sun.

Though there's surely more to life than meets the eye, what a miracle how much more of it we can behold if our seeing is generous enough to meet it halfway.

Friday, February 9, 2018

TELLING THE TRUTH – How to Outlast the Fake News Scourge

If a person claiming to tell the truth includes any reference to either God, the Bible or patriotism, chances are their convictions come not from fact, nor from any rational thought process, but from belief. Same goes for Allah, the Koran or Sharia Law, or any other religious or nationalistic reference.

Though I’m a great believer in the power of positive thinking, beliefs are not 

facts. Without any impartial standard of veracity, anyone’s beliefs are as valid 
as anyone else’s.

      These folks are more interested in the cer- 

      tainty of knowing than in learning anything 
      they don't already think they know.

Beware the tellers. These are the people about whose ideas, after you spend a couple of hours with them, you know a great deal, but who’ve not thought to ask a single question of you. These folks are more interested in the certainty of knowing than in learning anything they don’t already think they know.       

Anyone who’s absolutely cock-sure about everything they say is not to be trusted. Tune them out. (If such a person is your friend, you’d be doing them a great favor by letting them know you’ve done so.)

Be suspicious of generalizations. When someone issues any kind of blanket statement, whether in support of or opposition to your own beliefs, your first reaction—after conspicuously rolling your eyes—should be “How do you know that? Show me the facts.”

Don’t even listen to absolutes. The truth is hardly ever black and white, but various shades of gray. Depending on your point of view, the very same facts can be seen to support differing truths. This is because folks rarely have open enough minds to explore any more than the angles that support their beliefs.

(If someone’s open to acknowledging the imperfection of his/her “truth”—which an ideologue or inveterate liar won’t be—this shades-of-gray notion may be a good place to start a balanced, respectful discussion.)

Pathological liars tend to be bullies. When their version of the truth is challenged, they’ll often double down on the lie, repeating it, amplifying it, perhaps discrediting you for being either stupid or smart—they might call you “elite.” Liars in positions of power will routinely try to intimidate you if your calling them on their falsehoods threatens their agenda.

    It’s like coughing uncovered in a crowded 
    elevator and claiming it’s everyone else’s fault 
    for making you sick in the first place.

They'll often attempt to preemptively discredit your pushback. This is why the current U.S. reality-star president, as cover for his routine, reckless dishonesty, throws his “fake news” accusation out there virtually daily. It’s kind of like coughing uncovered in a crowded elevator and claiming it’s everyone else’s fault for making you sick—and obnoxious—in the first place.

Try to look between and through a person’s assertions to see exactly how loosely they’ve played with the truth in the past. If she or he is in the public eye, have they conducted themselves with decency, credibility and class? Or have they, their lawyers and their public relations shills spent an inordinate amount of time and money trying to put out the fires of their deceit?

If any of these is true, chances are very good this person knows no other way of communicating. There is little if any truth here.

Finally, when you wonder about someone’s honesty, follow the money. Anyone—especially a politician—who advocates for a position or policy that benefits him/herself and small numbers of her/his wealthy patrons at the expense of most others is not very likely to be interested in the truth. 

So, with all these caveats, what is one to believe?

We have only a couple of ways of determining whether one person’s “truth” is any more true than another’s. (None has anything to do with whether or not one agrees with the other unless there is a discussion based on verifiable facts.)

One touchstone of truth is science, which, though far from incorruptible, has a long, mostly honorable history of observing and measuring not what someone hopes or prays will happen, not what bolsters one’s existing beliefs or serves one’s personal interests, but what actually happens. We would not have gotten as far as we have in understanding how the universe works if science were not worth its salt.

If some blowhard refutes scientific consensus, hold their feet to the fire. Ask what other discipline they rely on for their facts—and prepare to laugh and walk away.

The other way of finding out what really happened—or what someone really said—is through one of the very pillars of our great democracy, a free and independent press.

        You might be tempted to say that the 

        ultimate guarantor of truth is having 
        actually witnessed the purported event 
        with your own eyes. But you’d be wrong.

Determining exactly what is free and independent is getting difficult these days. During the past couple of decades journalism’s fringe elements have mutated into monsters of misinformation, deliberately spewing whatever their political base wants to hear. In those circles there is no longer the slightest shred of journalistic integrity—no attempt to independently corroborate assertions or purported quotes; no impartial oversight by editors, no professional discipline, no accountability.

But there are ways to more or less verify what a reporter or news medium says happened. Google it; see if there are other sources—including some you know to be relatively unbiased—reporting the same thing.

Check out one of the reputable fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes or Fact Check.  These and a few others have proven they have no axe to grind.

You can also refer to this wonderful graphic mapping dozens of media by both their political leanings and the rigor of their reporting practices: MEDIA BIAS CHART.  I now temper my trust of most news reports with a glance at this chart.

You might be tempted to say that the ultimate guarantor of truth is personal observation, having actually witnessed the purported event with your own eyes. But you’d be wrong.

Countless studies have shown that even direct real-life observation is fraught with errors—of both commission and omission. As much as we may think that seeing is believing, the fact is that quite often the opposite is true; human beings have a strong tendency to see what they want to see. In other words, what their beliefs suggest they should see.

And this takes us full circle, back to my initial suggestion that, if a person can’t convince you of their truth without referring to their higher power, some unassailable allegiance or other requisite of blind loyalty, that may be the only clue you’ll need to tell the difference between opinion and fact.