Searching For Reality In Unreal Times
The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and must therefore be treated with great caution, J. K. Rowling.
My title and subtitle come from the cover story of the September 2019 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The title appeals to me because that is what I have been writing about. Also the news for the past several years and my blogs have included discussion of fake news, post truth, alterative facts and of course lies every day. Uncertainty has also been a common theme. The magazine makes the point that confronting the unknown requires first acknowledging the unknown.
This point is crucial. For some people, searching for reality is simple, because there are no unknowns. They believe to be true what they want to be true. It is well accepted that the truth today is hard to identify. Also lies today are expected to be part of public discourse. And this, of course, contributes to, or should I say, requires uncertainty.
The political reality today is perhaps the best example of truth, lies and uncertainty. Truth requires honesty, and it is well-known and accepted that honesty is not the best political policy. If you ever injected truth into politics you would have no politics, Will Rogers. Our current president has actually gotten us to accept that lies are to be expected every day. And uncertainty doesn’t exist in political dialogue.
The reason all of this is happening in politics is because that is the definition of politics. The reason this is happening in the public is because of the internet and social media. And I think we can add the confirmation bias: the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. People don’t like uncertainty so they seek common ground — some place to confirm their certainty. This, of course, has been described as “tribalism”: a very strong feeling of loyalty to a political or social group so that you support them whatever they do, Dictionary.
Social media and the internet make it possible to get information immediately and impossible to determine if it is true. Tribes can communicate with only their tribe, which of course confirms their beliefs. Searching for reality in these unreal times of today is easy; it just isn’t reliable. So we rely on our tribe and our confirmation biases for our truths. Lies don’t help but uncertainty does. Lies lead to answers, uncertainty leads to questions.
A lie travels round the world while truth is putting her boots on. French Proverb