In a previous post, I discussed the way that science deals with truth. There’s truth with a capital T – eternal, universal certainty. And there’s truth with a small t – provisional truth, open to new information or new perspectives. Science deals with the latter. And therein lies an irony. Because truth, with a small t, is very, very important in science.
Precisely because science places tremendous value on truth, it is EXTREMELY careful at every point in its process, from the acquisition of data to the development of broad conclusions. There is such a thing as bad data, and science recognizes this. That’s why we have brutal, rigorous methods to minimize bad data – quantification, replication, double-blind protocols, and so on. But at some point, we have to put our foot down and say, these are facts. There is such a thing as pathological skepticism. Very few people, scientists or otherwise, refuse modern medical treatment because they don’t trust the mountain of data backing it up.
Most people (including me) have jobs, bills, car trouble, and retirement concerns. Most people face real-life struggles. When national surveys ask Americans what they worry about, very few of them say, “Why, nothing at all.” American household debt is at record highs. This alone stresses many people out. Americans, even when they are pretty well off, worry about their financial future – because they know full well that the safety net is weak in America.
But for a small minority, basic survival is simply not a concern, and never has been. Take a household that pulls in $1,000,000 a year. They could easily set aside $500,000 a year. In 10 years that would come to 5 MILLION DOLLARS. Any reputable stock broker could take that money and make an average annual gain of $500,000 PER YEAR. In another 10 years that would come to 13 MILLION DOLLARS. Even a decent money market account pays at least 1% interest – a guaranteed annual income of at least $130,000 without raising a finger.
In fact, I have been quite conservative. With a little financial sense, the household could make much more than this. My point is that for a fortunate few, survival is not an issue. Even if they “lose” everything, they can’t really lose the basics – things that most of us worry about and struggle every day with. For these few, what most of us call reality is something that others worry about. They dine in the finest restaurants, stay in the finest hotels, buy expensive clothes, they always fly first class. You won’t see them at Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree.
It’s difficult for such people to really understand what most of us call reality. But some of them at least make the attempt. Franklin Roosevelt proposed a second Bill of Rights:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad
- The right of every family to a decent home
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment
- The right to a good education
For a person who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, this is pretty strong stuff – that every person has the right to the basic necessities, a decent home, adequate medical care, and a secure retirement. That they have a RIGHT to these things, as much as they have the right to speak their mind, worship or not worship as they choose, and to enjoy due process of law.
Unfortunately, Roosevelt was exceptional. That’s understandable, because it’s difficult for any of us to really understand something that we don’t experience directly. Which brings me back to my basic point. Many journalists have a tough time getting their brains around our current moron-in-chief. What does he really believe? Why does he contradict himself so much? Why does he insist on shooting himself in the foot so often?
Most journalists, regardless of their ideology, have a basic attachment to reality. That’s their job – to report on what’s happening in the world. But our moron-in-chief doesn’t. He never has. He really doesn’t see the world in terms of what most of us call reality, because it doesn’t affect him. He DOES see the world as a contest. His skin is very thin.
He is in fact very much like his “nemesis,” Kim Jong-un, the current dictator of North Korea. Kim is extremely thin-skinned and very much sees life as a contest. The only difference is that he IS able to control his people’s access to information and succeeds in maintaining a powerful cult of personality. There is no free press to reinforce reality.
For both men, truth, with either a capital T or small t, does not exist. Of course, they both realize that it’s important to say “stuff.” But what “stuff” you say is completely and totally manipulative. There is no “reality anchor.”
It might seem strange that since most of us DO have to deal with reality, anyone whose world view is so divorced from reality can ever reach a position of power. But consider this. For the last 25 years, crime rates have been dropping in America. Yet every year, consistently, most Americans report that crime is increasing. In terms of actual risk to your person, terrorism is virtually inconsequential. Yet Americans rate terrorism as one of their biggest concerns. Manufacturing and resource extraction encompass only about 10% of American jobs. Yet manufacturing fetishism is absolutely pervasive.
Earlier this year, psychologist Andrew Shtulman authored an article entitled “In Public Understanding of Science, Alternative Facts are the Norm.” He pointed out that 80 PERCENT of Americans support mandatory labels on FOOD CONTAINING DNA. It stands to reason that people are afraid of “genetically modified foods” if they don’t even understand that VIRTUALLY ALL FOOD CONTAINS GENETIC MATERIAL – DNA.
Considerably less than half of Americans can name the 3 branches of the federal government. About a quarter of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Almost 30% cannot find the Pacific Ocean on a map. It’s one thing to be “grounded in reality,” in the sense that you have bills to pay. But when you’re ignorant of even the basics of how your government works, when it comes to politics, when it comes to issues of education, finance, health, and security, when it comes to making a choice that has an enormous effect on your well-being – well, that’s where a different reality takes hold.
Recently, in a survey of American beliefs about discrimination, 55% of white Americans stated that discrimination against whites exists. Yet in the same survey, these people were asked whether they themselves have been discriminated against. Less than 20% said yes. Even for those who said yes, many could not come up with a specific example. Why? Because on issue after issue, we see that people’s “facts” come not from their own personal experience, but from the media. Their actual perception of reality, the risks they face, the consequences of their choices, are distorted by their diet of so-called news.
In such an environment, it’s not surprising that someone can come along who is completely divorced from reality, tell them what they want to hear, and garner their support. That he flip-flops on specifics is quite irrelevant. That he lies blatantly is quite irrelevant. What’s important is that he reinforces their prejudices, their parochialisms, and their media-distorted world view.
Journalists look at polls with astonishment, when they report that Trump supporters rate him as honest. But being honest, to many people, means telling them what they want to hear. If I believe that white males are at a disadvantage, and you tell me the opposite is true, you’re just being “dishonest.” You’re being “politically correct.” And don’t try to confuse me with “facts.” I have my own, provided by “honest” media.
I used to work in supermarkets. Many times in training sessions, we were reminded that perception is reality. It doesn’t matter how clean the store actually is, how good the food actually is, or how fast the cashiers actually are. What matters is how the customers perceive these things, and this can be highly distorted. If one of the toilets is a mess, or one employee needs a shave, it can dramatically affect people’s perceptions of everything else. If people’s perceptions of something so mundane and straightforward as this can be highly distorted, it’s not surprising that their perceptions of broader issues like education, health care, finance, and security can be incredibly warped. Especially when the educational system fails to do its job.
This is exactly why someone like Kim Jong-un can maintain his grip in a country like North Korea. When “reality” is what the media tells you it is, and you don’t have an independent press…well, other “realities” just have to step aside. But it won’t work here. In America, that pesky thing called reality has a way of intruding.