Truth, Post-truth, Fake News, Lies and Opinions

“The strong belief can make things out of imagination. But that can also make facts as if they were fairy tales.”

― Toba Beta

It’s getting harder and harder to know what – or who – to believe anymore. Is the climate changing because we humans are causing it or making it worse, or is it just a naturally occuring thing? Did Putkin really interfere in the U.S. election to benefit Trump, or is that a sour-grape fantasy of liberals? Are Islamic terrorists attacking the West just because certain passages in their Holy Koran call for Jihad and killing the unbeliever, or is it just in retaliation for our political and military intrusions into their country’s affairs for decades? Do judges really apply the law in accordance with the Constitution, or are they bending it according to their own wants?

But, more importantly, are we being lied to, intentionally, or is it just that we think so?

It’s quite possible that it’s just what we think, what we believe.

Much is being made now over “Fake News”, “Post-truth” and other euphemisms that connote lies. What we are really experiencing might simply be what’s known as “cognitive dissonance”, when facts counter our beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance can occure when you’ve invested in a particular political party or religion, or an economic ideology, or any kind of belief that really matters to you. These become your foundations, the core of who you are, how you define yourself – “I am a Liberal” or “I am a Conservative”, for example.

While truth is objective – something is factual or it isn’t  – how we individually perceive truth is pretty much subjective and is therefore a matter of opinion, not necessarily fact, because it is in our nature that when two or more people agree on anything it must be, therefore, true.

And any counter-evidence that what you think, what you believe, might not be true, threatens your very identity.

Furthermore, studies demonstrate that challenging someone’s beliefs activates the same areas of the brain involved in personal identity and emotional response to that threat.

In fact, studies show that when a belief is strongly held, any attempt to dissuade the holder using facts will cause the person to “double-down” and hold on to their belief even stronger.

So it’s understandable if people get all upset and call each other liars when, in fact, they are not lying, just describing the truth as they believe it to be, and are offended when someone sees that truth differently and dares to present evidence to the contrary.

One or the other may be totally, absolutely wrong, but that doesn’t mean they’re lying.

It’s okay to believe anything a person or group wants. The problem occurrs when one attempts to force acceptance of a belief unsupportable by factual evidence – an opinion – on another. Which results, in the minimum, friendships lost, and at most, war.

President Kennedy once observed, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic… We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

So what is one to do, when confronted by some other’s statement of “fact” that is at odds with one’s own belief? Do you double-down, hold on to what you believe even more so?

Or, as an intelligent, thoughtful person, do some research to find the truth, to discern fact from fairy tale.

– Bill

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