How is it possible that after more than two months of continuous lies 77% of Republicans believe President Trump is an honest man? Just as perplexing is the contrast with Democrats. Living in the same country and with the same information available, 90% of them have concluded that Trump is not honest.
An article I read recently (sorry I can’t remember where) gave an answer that made sense to me. People who want to believe something look for reasons they may believe it; those on the other side want to know if they must believe because the evidence is overwhelming.
If there is a silver lining in the current political cloud of scandal, chaos, and lies, it is that the more responsible American media outlets are making unprecedented efforts to educate the American public in how to distinguish truth from falsehood.
It started with the first moments of Trump’s presidency. He grumped that the press had deliberately misled the public about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The New York Times reported Trump’s attack under the headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout Size and Intelligence Rift. When have the media ever begun a headline about a president’s first day with the words “With False Claims”!? This is a new focus on truth.
In the last two posts, I’ve suggested that within 10 years, reliable, affordable, unobtrusive lie-detectors will be as much a part of life as smartphones are now. This could take our society in either of two directions: openness as we all learn to stop hiding from each other, or paranoia as we try harder and harder to keep our secrets. As with all the incredible technology coming at us faster than we can imagine, it’s impossible for us, in our relatively primitive world, to predict the social outcome.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to try. This time I’d like to consider the following dystopian question:
Will there be a guild of professional liars?
A certain percentage of today’s population is able to lie so convincingly that they seem absolutely convinced by their own lies. You’ve probably known such people. Even when caught dead to rights, they look you square in the face and tell you it isn’t so. One can imagine that people who can apparently evade their own conscience will be able to fool the external lie detectors of the future.
If you’re the sort of person who can spend several minutes at a time staring at unbelievably large numbers being incremented at an unbelievable rate, check this out: Internet Live Stats.
As I write this at 9:30 am, the counter of blog posts written today is at roughly 1.8 million. It is incrementing at roughly 3,000 per minute. This in the same neighborhood as the rate at which an A-10 Warthog’s very impressive Avenger gun fires its rounds, except that according to Wikipedia, “In practice, the [Avenger] cannon is limited to one and two-second bursts to avoid overheating and conserve ammunition; barrel life is also a factor…” By the way, each of those roughly 3,000 rounds per minute weighs nearly a pound. Can you imagine!?
And that’s just the blog posts. It does not count all the stories at news sites, propaganda at campaign websites, YouTube videos, and on and on.
With all that ammunition being fired at us, how can we tell which are the good guys (the truth-lovers) and which are the bad (the liars and BS artists)?
Last time, I promised a simple way to detect which ideas are full of baloney. The technique I’ll share has kept me from being taken in numerous times, one of which I wrote about in the post, A UFO Nut’s Truth-Loving Test. As in that case, the technique is particularly effective when you have a pet idea that you think is above refutation.
Use your favorite Internet search engine to search for
When you were a kid, I’m sure you wished for a superpower. Aside from the obvious ones, like the ability to fly, the superpower I wanted most frequently was to be able to extend my reach across a room without getting up. This was in the days before remote controls for TV, if you can believe there ever was such a time!
During the current presidential election cycle, I’ve added another superpower to my wish list: the ability to convince people of my political opinions. That leads to the question that is the subject of this post.
Which of these superpowers is best?
- The ability to control other people’s thoughts so they agree with us.
- The ability to make the most sound argument possible for our views, even if our audience won’t necessarily be persuaded.
I’m a few days late to the party, but today I found myself rereading Frederick Douglass’s magnificent oration, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? As with all great texts, you come away with something different each time you read it. Last time, its applicability to LGBT rights struck me. This time, I noticed his closing thoughts on the positive ways the world is changing.
Writing 164 years ago, he noticed trends which have happily extended to this day. They are some of the same themes Stephen Pinker sounded in one of my favorite books, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
For your encouragement, and without further comment, I turn this post over to Frederick Douglass: