Facts in the Way?
The last caller on my radio talk show Saturday said, “I don’t know what to believe.” Then we ran out of time. Nearly always, I am able to draw out the right wing critics who call. Within 4 or 5 exchanges, their underlying motivation is exposed. I realize, though, that a lot of people, sincere and insincere, are saying that same thing during the Trump era of “alternate facts.”
The woman who doesn’t know what to believe launched her criticism against me by revealing that the Washington Post, which I had quoted earlier as one of my sources of news, is owned by the richest man in the world. In other words, whatever news I had announced was compromised, because it came from people who are under the control of Jeff Bezos.
If we had more time, I would have drawn her out. I’m pretty sure she would eventually have admitted that she does know what to believe. She just doesn’t want to believe it. More importantly, she doesn’t want anybody else to believe it. I’ve had similar puzzles written into the comment sections of my Facebook posts. Some of them say that the January 6th rioters weren’t really Trump supporters, but disguised Trump haters who were trying to discredit him! That’s too far fetched to even consider, but major spokespersons, including the Attorney General of Texas, are saying it.
Some of the other comments to my Facebook posts kind of try to chip away at the facts. “The rioting crowd included pro- and anti- Trump people” one guy said. But the biggest ruse of all is just to change the subject. In the discussion about the riot, one of my perpetual detractors accused me of being for gun control. Another one said that nothing I had to say could be right because I hadn’t “accepted Jesus Christ.”
I’m leading up to a point here. The point is that some Trump supporters, maybe most of them, just want to believe whatever they want to believe. Facts are just in their way.
This may seem like a digression, but I also noticed on Facebook that somebody from a national Catholic organization said that Catholics should take their share of the blame for the assault on democracy. I rather agree, but not because of the instances he quoted.
The problem of selective belief is much broader than Trumpism. There are lots of selective believers on the anti-Trump side, too. A lot of them are religious. Religion, all religion including the Catholic religion, encourages us to believe things that we know could not be true. They call it “faith.” I call it misleading, dangerous, and often hurtful.
Truth comes to us directly through our senses. “Not truth,” the nonsense people prefer to believe, comes to us through our imagination. We all develop a set of prejudices that we usually refer to as “common sense.” For most decisions, it’s pretty helpful. But it’s a great hindrance when things happen to us that haven’t happened before. We need to consult the facts, not our store of prejudices.
All philosophy falls under one of two headings: materialism and idealism. The materialist believes facts and science. The idealist believes whatever they want. Individuals cross the line between the two philosophies depending on what is at stake. They might believe science when stricken with a deadly disease; they might fall back on superstition when problems are less urgent.
But what does all this have to do with January 6th and the woman who called the radio station?
Everyone with internet connection has seen reams of facts from all kinds of sources about the January 6th riot. They know what happened, what happened beforehand and what happened afterward. For some, their layer of prejudices is more important than facts. So they challenge the information sources and say, “I don’t know what to believe.”
As for Jeff Bezos, surely the woman realizes that virtually ALL, not just the Washington Post, commercial media in America are owned by the very wealthy. It’s important to keep that in mind and be suspicious, but it doesn’t prevent people from being able to make up their minds about factual developments. They can decide what to believe. They just don’t want to.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast it, along with “Workers Beat Extra” commentary on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really believe, look at my old personal web site.
Thanks for your thoughtful discussion, most of which I wholeheartedly agree with. Your characterization of contrast between materialism and idealism gives me problems. I’m on the materialistic side of the argument, except that I’m highly idealistic in the sense of a hopeful, optimistic view that facts lead towards justice, equality, inclusiveness, and peaceful, nonviolent resolution that I consider to be realistic goals in a truly democratic society. Obviously, labels get tricky when you’re trying for wholistic understanding of truth. Keep up your good work!
I think the material facts lead to optimism. People have negotiated our way through great changes in our economic situation and, in general, life has gotten longer and better.