Monday, November 6, 2017

Truth Be Told

I’m always on a search for truth. I feel I have something in common with someone when I learn they are also searching for the truth. So I get interested when I read a piece that declares the value of the search for truth.

But then, I get to reading, and find out they define truth as their viewpoint, and everyone who differs is some sort of sub-human that should be dealt with unmercifully.

I’m trying to be certain that I do not do the same. But what I’m finding is that the self-proclaimed truth seekers who disdain dissent are on one side of the spectrum—what they call left, but here at the Spherical Modelwe call south, into tyranny, poverty, and savagery, rather than freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

So the argument isn't new. But I sure miss
the congenial way he said it.
I’m not saying they are purposely and knowingly choosing tyranny, poverty, and savagery; they think they are choosing something good. But there’s a closed-mindedness that keeps them stuck in their misconceptions.

I’ve collected a few pieces to illustrate what I mean.

This first I saw in the Houston Chronicle opinion section “To some, ignorance has become impervious to fact” by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (It’s his column from October 5, although I think it appeared in the Chronicle October 8.) He begins with an anecdote from 2010. Some reader named Ken refused to believe that an African-American soldier was a World War I hero—even after being sent multiple credible sources of documentation.

I would call that an anomaly. I don’t personally know any person who would refuse to believe such a thing. It would require both racism and ignorance—to a degree of self-assuredness that drives the person to challenge the story repeatedly. Seriously, who is both that ignorant and energized in that direction?

But, instead of dismissing the guy as a crank, self-described truth seeker Mr. Pitts extrapolates to a very broad spectrum of people:

It’s not just Ken who makes me doubt [that efforts to improve journalism will help]. It’s also Fox “News” and talk radio. It’s Trump’s lies, his war on journalism and people’s tolerance for both.
I use a pretty wide variety of news sources, only occasionally including mainstream media. That’s because the mainstream media—the Houston Chronicle, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, etc.—are so obviously biased, they are a waste of time for anything other than big events of the day. That has been so for a long time.

A decade or more ago I read a piece by Orson Scott Card, the fantasy writer. He was doing a column for his local North Carolina newspaper that got picked up by an online magazine I read. He is a Democrat. But he is also a Mormon, so on a number of issues, usually social issues, he is surprisingly conservative. His piece covered a front page of the news, pointing out the numerous biases evident in a casual read, on a random day. The list was astounding.

I occasionally highlighted my paper that way too. [Here’s one example.] Eventually I mostly stopped reading beyond the food section.

Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, included a piece on the demise of journalism earlier this year, by Michael Goodwin. His evidence is unassailable.

So claiming this is because of Trump's “war on journalism” lacks self-reflection at minimum.

Another “you have to believe what I believe or you’re not a truth seeker” article showed up a few days ago on Vox. As Pitts did in his piece, David Roberts lists a number of “crazy conservative fairy tales.” These include “Pizzagate”—a supposed Democrat-run prostitution ring in a pizza parlor, which I never saw taken up in any source I go to for news, and:

Hillary Clinton has had multiple people killed, that Obama is a secret Muslim who wasn’t born in the US, that Trump had millions of votes stolen, that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump’s White House, that Seth Rich (the mid-level Democratic staffer who was tragically murdered) was assassinated for stealing DNC emails and giving them to WikiLeaks, or that Antifa, the fringe anti-fascist movement, will begin going door-to-door, killing white people, starting on November 4.
I suppose you can find these stories on sensationalist sites with only occasional ties to truth (maybe Alex Jones, although I haven’t gone there to look, because I don’t go there). But it’s not part of any talk radio or podcasts I listen to, including Glenn Beck, Ben Shapiro, Hugh Hewitt, Larry Elder, Michael Medved. I haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity lately, but I have in the past, and they just didn’t peddle stories like that. I typically have talk radio on in the background during my workday, so I get a pretty large sample.

Roberts and Pitts are painting with a very broad brush, so far out of the lines that a typical conservative like me does not even encounter what they say “millions of Americans fervently believe.”

I do agree with Roberts on this assertion:

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with how we know things and what it means for something to be true or false, accurate or inaccurate. (Episteme, or ἐπιστήμη, is ancient Greek for knowledge/science/understanding.)
The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know—what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.
Yes. But his sense of where this comes from is about 180 degrees wrong:

The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy)—the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.
In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.
No. The primary source of the breach has been the media and academia being so biased that people cannot and should not trust them any longer as sources for truth, and must therefore search for truth elsewhere.

Writing with a different opinion this week was Erick Erickson. He tells of a question a friend asked on Twitter:

He just wanted to know how many political reporters know anyone who owns a pickup truck.
It seems like a rather mundane question. After all, the top three best-selling vehicles in America are the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado and the Dodge Ram. All three are trucks. Very few political reporters gave a number. Most actually raged that it was an unfair question or they dared to pull the "how dare you" card suggesting their questioner dared to suggest they were out of touch. Their reaction proved just how out of touch they are.
Erickson recounts this story: In heated political rhetoric, a Democrat in Virginia called Republicans “evil.” Not just his particular opponent, but all his voters. And the Democrat ran an ad showing a “typical” Republican, with a Confederate flag on the back of his truck, “trying to run over Muslim, Hispanic, and black children.” That’s how that side views those of us who don’t see the world the way they do.

Erickson comments:

The contrast between the fever dreams of the Democrats and reality could not be more striking. In Democrat rhetoric and dreams, Republicans in general and Trump voters in particular are the racist, evil monsters who run over Muslim children. In reality, a Muslim terrorist ran over a diverse group of people in New York City.
Why are conservatives viewed in this unrealistic, untruthful way? Maybe because the Pitts, Roberts, and other media from that side haven’t ever met us:

In their mostly large cities, progressives and the press have isolated themselves from others. It is far easier for a progressive to avoid daily contact with a conservative than it is for a conservative to avoid progressives. It is also far more likely that a Republican will encounter more diverse voices in his party than a Democrat will.
Another story popped up recently, about former NPR head Ken Stern, who decided to do field research, by planting himself among the regular people, and then became  a Republican. (He has written a book about his conversion):

Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.
He tells a story from Texas, where a store owner defends himself from an armed robber, and then says,

It is an amazing story, though far from unique, but you simply won’t find many like it in mainstream media (I found it on Reddit).
It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.
It’s why my new friends in Youngstown, Ohio, and Pikeville, Ky., see media as hopelessly disconnected from their lives, and it is how the media has opened the door to charges of bias.
Truth comes from diverse sources. There’s that “diversity” word we get thrown at us so often. But, as Erickson says,

Democrats talk a great game on tolerance and diversity, but they increasingly view anyone who thinks differently from them as evil. They can do so only because they have chosen the superficial diversity of color and gender over the more complex diversity of thought.
Roberts thinks the way to truth is to stomp out the sources of opposing voices. Pitts thinks it may be hopeless, because people who disagree with him are too stupid to accept his “facts”—even when biased fact checkers like Politifact tell you what the facts are.
image found on Pinterest

They think I’m evil in all kinds of ways I’m not. For some reason that attack doesn’t make me more willing to believe they’re right. Especially when there’s so much evidence that almost no one out here among us is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful. Evidence: Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

But I’m willing to think those people might benefit from some time among diverse thinkers, like myself. After all, we handle standing up for ourselves in school and public discourse all the time. We’ve had practice. And that’s one way we know our beliefs—what we believe is truth—stand up to scrutiny.

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