Abuse, Alienation, Alienation From Self, Authenticity, Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Being True To Yourself, Capitalism, Class War, Consumerism, Cultural Traits, Culture, Free Spirit, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Fundamentalism, Human Nature, Ideologies, Jackie, Liars Lies and Lying, Life, People

And the Coyotes Yearned in the Night

(About a 4 minute read)

I have risen in the night
To see Mount Elbert on fire
With the white-blue light
Of the moon to turn it
Into a distant ghost.

It seemed in the peace
Of that night
Wisdom became visible, tangible,
And beautiful;
Passion for life became life itself,
And our audacious authenticity
Became the sole Truth,
More real than the true gods.

But I know that we are apes
Equidistant
From the wisdom of the bonobo
And the foolishness of chimps.

I have risen in the day
To see your self and spirit
Defeated and yoked
By the obscene demand
Of your being forced
To make a living
On the rich man’s terms.
Your authenticity is dead

Though you haven’t eyes to see the fact,
Your authenticity is dead.

You have bought the lie, my brother.
You have bought the lie, my sister.
That you cannot be yourself.

Now even your holy desire
To lie with each other’s bodies
Is sold back to you twisted,
Perverted by the merchants
Of fashion and entertainment.

By the merchants
Who are the new Shakespeares,
The new Goethes, the Rilkes,
The Einsteins, the Darwins,
The Sidharthas, the Lao-Tzus.
The sages have become prostitutes.

Even Jesus has been weaponized.
The fundamentalists
Have crucified him again,
Enslaved his ghost
To their corrupt and unholy ends.
So that now the one who came
That you might live
Has become your pallbearer,
The gravedigger who
Each day buries
Your authenticity afresh.

They tell you not to be true
To you yourself and to love,
“It’s a world-destroying sin —
Your moral duty is to go along.”

Everything good in this world
That your humanity can touch
Sooner or later is turned
By the people for whom power
Means more than truth itself.

Turned, and twisted, and perverted.
Raped, debased, and oppressed.
Sold back to you as organic,
As natural, as the truth at last revealed —
But by the painted maws of diseased whores
That you call your leaders
And your friendly billionaires.

And you, my friend, believe them —
That’s what I don’t understand.
It’s a mystery how you always believe
The old and ancient lies are never lies.

Once up among mountains
On an evening when a comet
Hung in the bejeweled sky,
And the coyotes called
(Yearning voices in the night),
I sat naked with Jackie,
My honest nude body touching
Her honest nude body
As we sat side by side.

She was seventeen that year.

Troubled with the challenges
Of any young life.
She asked for clarity and guidance
From a much older man.

I told her be herself.
In six ways and seven times,
I told her be herself.

And the coyotes yearned in the night.
The coyotes cried out to her that night.
A comet hung in the sky.

Allies, Brotherly Love, Capitalism, Citizenship, Community, Competition, Consumerism, Cultural Traits, Culture, Fairness, Free Market Capitalism, Friends, From Around the Net, Giving, Human Nature, Life, Morality, Obligations to Society, Philos, Society, Values

Never Break the Circle

(About a 1 minute read)

Years ago, there was Mike,
A Native American man who belonged
To the people of a Southwest nation,
And who was trying to teach his son
The people’s traditional values.

Can you imagine how tough that was?
Maybe the values are the same
But the world is not.
No, it’s not the same at all.
But Mike was determined,
Still made the effort.

Each weekend he drove his boy
Eight hundred miles South
To the villages where
He could play with his cousins,
Talk with his grandparents,
Learn from the whole village
How to walk with one foot on the earth,
And with the other foot firmly planted
In the spirit world.

His son made Mike proud.
Once the whole community
Gathered to share candy —
I think Mike called it,
“Halloween, Hopi style.”

Forming a circle of young and old,
The people tossed the candies around
For several minutes, catching and tossing
Back the candies, the people shared
A good thing in life, and stopped
Only when everyone had something sweet.

Everyone.

“Cooperation”, Mike told me,
“It’s how the people live.
Not like what he learns in school.
There it’s fight for yourself,
Live for your close kin alone,
And screw all the rest.”

Consumerism, Education, Happiness, Intellectual Honesty, Late Night Thoughts, Learning, Life, Reason, Thinking, Truth

Late Night Thoughts: Intellectual Honesty, Social Engineering, Meditation, and Sex Lives (July 1, 2018)

(About a 7 minute read) 

A couple weeks ago, I looked out my door to see a doe trailed by two spotted fawns passing through my yard in broad daylight — quite an unusual time of day to spot deer moving about so near to the center of the city.

A day or so later, presumably the same doe and fawns — but I’m not sure about that, since I didn’t get their names the first time around.

Since then, just the usual three or four raccoons, and those at night — nearly every night.

♦♦♦

The truth isn’t neutral, is it?  I don’t mean “neutral” in the most important sense — in the sense of being objective.  But rather how we so often feel emotionally about it as being either for or against what we believe or are willing to accept.  As everyone from Plato to the present has known, emotional attachments or aversions can distort rational thinking.

On a perhaps more abstract level, we are subject to cognitive biases — Those are genetically inherited, systematic ways our brains function that cause us to deviate from rational thinking.  The most famous of them seems to “confirmation bias” — a tendency to  “search for, interpret, focus on, and remember information” in a way that confirms our existing notions and expectations.

So far as I can see, there are only two practical remedies.  First, a good education in critical thinking skills,  beginning early in life, and very much including the effects of cognitive biases on us, but also including logic and semantics.  Still, I don’t think that would be enough.

To me, the key is to recognize how much  easier it is for us to notice that someone else is gone off the rails in their reasoning, than it for us to notice we ourselves have.

And then build on that.  Teach the kids to seek out and find people through-out their lives who they can reliably trust to give them honest and accurate feed-back or reality-checks on their reasoning.

I suspect a likely side-effect of that kind of an education would be a general awareness of the importance of intellectually honesty.

Yet, I have little hope any such education will become generally available — at least not anytime soon.  We don’t have the best tradition in America of funding schools well, for one thing.

♦♦♦

July Fourth.  I do not know how far we have departed from the concept of “citizenship” that folks like Alexis deTocqueville noticed we embraced back in the early days of the Republic, but I suspect it’s a great deal further than most of us would be comfortable with — assuming we were to fully grasp what we have lost.

Volumes can and have been written about that, but I would like to focus on Edward Bernays and what he called, “The Engineering of Consent”.

As Bernays believed back in the 1920s, when he founded the public relations industry in America, that the social and psychological sciences had advanced to the point they could be used to engineer consent — or systematically get folks to “support ideas and programs”,  as he sometimes put it.

Not just through normal, more or less amateurish, means of persuasion, but through greatly more effective and reliable “scientific” means.

Now, despite his goals, Bernays was not the evil villain of Hollywood melodramas.  For one thing, he urged professionals in his newly created field to guard against any temptation that might involve them in such nefarious things as undermining the Constitution — especially, the “freedoms of press, speech, petition and assembly”.   Moreover,  his motives seem decent enough in some ways.

Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, a Jew, and quite aware of how mobs could quickly turn into pogroms against innocent people. Like many people, he thought democracies were especially susceptible to mob rule and violence.  So, it seems that one of his goals was to find ways to defuse those mobs before they even happened.

Yet, regardless of his motives, Bernays made what I regard as more or less a pact with the devil, for his strategy to make democracy safe for everyone has now had a hundred years to bear fruit — and what fruit!

In a nutshell, this was his strategy: Persuade people to seek self-fulfillment through consumerism so that they would be so satisfied with the acquisition of ever more and more material goods and services, they would not feel any need or desire to “take on” or change the status quo.  In short, they would be content with their lot.

Put differently, he sought to change the American culture and mindset from a people intimately concerned with politics as a means to at least create the best possible conditions under which people could seek self-fulfillment, to a people intimately concerned with consumption as the best possible means.

I think if deToqueville can be at all relied on for a glimpse of the political activism of the early Republic, then a comparison of that activism with today’s relatively insipid and dispirited activism is instructive.  We have, to some large extent, realized Bernays’ dream of turning us from a nation of citizens into a nation of consumers.

Should you be interested to learn some of the details, I recommend the award winning documentary, The Century of the Self.

♦♦♦

I read a startling statistic awhile back.  About 40% of married, middle-age women in America report no longer being interested in their sex lives, and that their husbands no longer satisfy them.

Perhaps it’s selfish of me to have immediately thought of myself, but it’s just a fact that I do take pride in how satisfied my two ex-wives were during our marriages.  A whole lot was wrong in both marriages, but not so much the sex.

I often heard them say the sex was “extraordinary”, “mind-blowing”, or even once or twice, “Had never been better”.   At least, those are the sorts of things they would tell me on the nights they came home very late.

♦♦♦

There are so many hard things in life, and I think most of us are all too aware of at least the big ones.  Raising kids, saving up enough money for the rainy days that come too soon and too often, being laid off,  looking for work, struggling for a promotion, and so forth.  The list just goes on.

One of those things, though, is especially curious to me.  As fully as possible appreciating people we are profoundly familiar with.  Most of  the time, I think I do.

But sometimes I meet a new person, and after I’ve gotten to know them a bit, I have the strangest moment of discovery when I realize that I quite likely appreciate them more than most anyone greatly familiar to me.

What to do about that?

New Years resolutions and other self-admonishments just don’t work for me here.   They’re ok up to a point, maybe.  So long as I keep reminding myself of them, I seem to make some progress, but then within a few short weeks, I fall off the bandwagon.

Trying to make a habit of appreciating someone also doesn’t work.  When I get into a genuine habit of “appreciating” someone, it soon becomes artificial.  “It’s Tuesday — time again to tell my brother how much he means to me.”

About the best thing I’ve found has been meditation.  Meditation seems to sharpen my senses a bit, making me more aware for at least a little while of what’s going on inside (e.g. hunger) and outside of me (e.g. the raccoon crossing my yard, a shadow in the night).   In an analogous manner it seems to sharpen my awareness or appreciation of people on the days I mediate.

Moreover, if I meditate frequently enough, then appreciation seems to become, if not permanent, at least somewhat more lasting than the other methods I’ve tried.

Last, it can have the peculiar effect of my seeing someone, not just in terms of what he or she means to me, but somewhat more objectively.  Perhaps.

♦♦♦

Colorado Springs is a conservative town.  It also has quite a few “city deer”, and they are so numerous now that they are viewed by many of us as a problem.

A while back, there was a serious proposal put before the City Council to solve the deer problem by legalizing hunting the animals within city limits.  With rifles and shotguns.

Not all my conservative friends are just as bonkers as I am, but it’s sometimes reassuring that at least some of them are.  So long as they don’t make the rules.

Business, Consumerism, Economy, Education, From Around the Net, Goals, Happiness, Internet, Learning, Life, Meaning, Outstanding Bloggers, Play, Purpose, Quality of Life, Stolen From The Blogosphere, Talents and Skills, Vacilando, Work

Vacilando: “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”

(About a 7 minute read)

In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all.  If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.   — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

Traveling can sometimes be a straightforward, grim business of getting from one place to another as efficiently as possible.  The goal looms large then, it becomes the lens through which everything else is seen.

Is the airport crowded?  The goal sees the throngs of people as nothing more than an obstacle to it, certainly not an opportunity for people watching.  The flight is delayed?  The goal is annoyed, irritated, and in no mood to fully enjoy the chance to finish reading a novel.  At the hotel, there’s just enough time to shower, change, and then for one last time prepare for the business meeting.  The goal doesn’t even think of exploring a nearby restaurant.

As a rule, the more efficiently one pursues a goal, the more ruthlessly one turns chance opportunities into distractions, annoyances, obstacles, or into things ignored, completely unseen.  In the end, one whittles down traveling to the point its only reward is attaining the goal.

Vacilando is almost the opposite of straightforward, grimly efficient travel.  It still has a goal, but the goal does not dominate the journey, it is not the lens through which everything along the way is single-mindlessly seen.  Vacilando, so to speak, is travel with a sense of humor.  The chance opportunities are not the obstacles of straightforward traveling, but rather the punch lines of vacilando.

It seems to me that vacilando, as a concept, should not be confined to merely labeling one kind of traveling.  For I believe the concept is more broadly applicable to life itself.  When we vacilando through life, we have some destination in mind, but we are in no efficient rush to reach it.  We are open to chance opportunities, detours, explorations, adventures.  And why shouldn’t we be?

In a discussion of vacilando over on the blog, Singledust, Frank Hubeny remarks:

It seems to me best to be more concerned [in life] about the means rather than the ends which we may not understand and which may turn out differently (both better or worse from some perspective) than we anticipated.  [bracketed material mine]

Indeed, no matter how firmly we believe in our life’s goals,  no matter how fixed an idea we have of them, life all so often plays with our expectations, throws back at us something that is not quite what we had in mind.

I remember a friend of mine, Al, who in his sixties perfectly reconciled himself to ending his life as a single man.  Then at 66 or 67, he had a heart attack.  That landed him in the hospital where a much younger 34 year old nurse took notice of him.  The two ended up moving in together.   And I’ll wager there’s not a person on earth over the age of 15 who doesn’t have dozens of such stories.  Stories of our firm and solid expectations knocked to pieces by life’s apparently endless fascination with messing with us.

To attempt to journey through life as straightforward as a bullet shot at a target is perhaps a species of insanity.  It certainly sets one up for disappointment, which if not entirely inevitable, is surely the odds on favorite bet of the gods.  But worse than any disappointment at not reaching one’s goals, might be the missed opportunities for exploration, discovery, growth, and unexpected fulfillment.

I have read of psychological studies that find people towards the end of their lives value the experiences they’ve had far more than the possessions they owned.  If they have regrets they are usually not for failing to own a bigger house, a faster boat, more jewelry, or finer clothes; their regrets are for missing their kid’s performance in Arsenic and Old Lace, failing to take that trip down the Amazon, so seldom eating as a family, forever putting off the dance lessons, making excuses not to attend the family reunions.

But those are merely regrets for what one knows one missed.  Whole new worlds can be closed off to us when we wear the blinders of too efficiently  pursuing a narrow goal in life.  It is both tragic that today’s economy forces so many of us to almost single-mindlessly live as if enslaved to financial goals.  We work longer and longer hours to meet the obligations of our mortgage, our kid’s higher education, our retirement fund, and so forth, taking fewer and shorter vacations, spending less and less time with our family and friends, ruling out so many life enhancing things that we no longer have the time for.  For far too many of us, the journey through life is becoming an unending business trip.

That’s unlikely to change unless and until enough people rise up to demand a more equitable share of the world’s wealth — for we live in an ironic age:  The world economy is the richest in the history of humanity, and grows leaps and bounds by the minute, yet because those riches are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the average person in most developed countries now struggles harder than his or her parents and grandparents did forty or fifty years ago, when the global economy was a fraction of what it is today.

Is vacilando still possible?  Surely to some extent it is, but I wonder whether it is a realistic option on a large scale.  I spent five and half years at university, taking courses not only in my major and two minors, but in nearly every major field of science with a little English literature thrown in for the fun of it.   Yet, tuition was low back then and I graduated virtually debt free, and with an education that has endlessly enriched the quality of my life.  Today’s graduates, however, must “rush” through university in four years, least they rack up too big of a bill, and yet, they still graduate with an average student debt of $37,172 .  Vacilando on a large scale might be all but dead.

Dead or not, it still strikes me as a worthy ideal, and it still seems obtainable on smaller scales — How one spends a weekend, or even a single day.  Even, if one has the time, how one approaches an activity, such as a hobby.  Are you planning out what you wish to accomplish as if your hobby were a military campaign, or are you meandering through it, exploring as much as progressing?  On a small scale, vacilando still seems possible.

D. H. Lawrence somewhere in The Virgin and the Gypsy writes that the challenge for youth is to find the “unexpected and undiscovered door” to their future fulfillment in life.  An implication is that that door is different for different people, for it cannot be found once, it’s location marked, and then maps to it distributed to others.   Yet, discovering it, and then passing through it, is essential to living a fulfilling life.  Lawrence’s door, I think, represents the juncture where our talents meet the needs of society, for it is there that we find our bliss in life.  And I believe, based on my experience, that life has a way of leading us to that door when we respond sensitively and inquisitively to the chance opportunities life offers us.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a discussion of vacilando going on over at Gina’s blog, which can be found here.   Or you are more than welcome to comment on it on this blog.  Either way, please let me know what you make of the concept!

Last, J. R. R. Tolkien reminded us that, “Not all who wander are lost”.  That seems to me to capture something of the core spirit of vacilando.  To wander, but with a sense of direction.


Hat Tip to Aayush, who’s explanation for the name of his blog, The Vacilando, got this whole thing started.  Aayush is an admirable 16 year old blogger whose clear, easy-to-read prose could be that of a 32 year old.

Authoritarianism, Capitalism, Class War, Consumerism, Economy, Equality, Equality of Opportunity, Greed, Oppression, Political and Social Alienation, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Quality of Life, Quotes, Society

The Peasants versus the Uber-Rich and the Coporations (In Three Short Quotes)

“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.”

Mayer Amschel Rothschild

“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”

James Madison

“If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant.”

Wendell Berry

Consumerism, Emotions, Fear, Honesty, Liars Lies and Lying, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Sales, Talents and Skills, Village Idiots

The Two Ways of Selling

When I was in sales, I discovered there are — for the most part — only two basic ways that people sell something.

  • Either they sell their product,
  • Or they sell against the other guy’s product.

In theory, it’s simple to sell your product.  You find out what your client wants so much that he’s actually willing  to do something in order to get it, then you explain to him that your product will give him what he wants so much to have, and you ask for the order.

In practice, it often takes a few skills to sell your product.    For one thing, you’ve got to be at least half of a detective to figure out what some people want.  You must know how to actively listen.  You’ve got to know how to communicate clearly and persuasively.  You need to be familiar enough with your product that you can be justifiably confident it will do what you say it will do.   It helps mightily if you really do give a genuine damn that your client gets what he wants — or at least you do on Tuesdays.  And so on.

Fortunately for brand new sales people, as well as other such perverts, there’s a much easier way to sell something.  Just sell against the other guy’s product. For one thing, it requires fewer skills to sell against the other guy’s product.  For another thing, you need not be tops in the few skills it does require.

Instead of finding out what your customer wants and then giving it to him, you simply persuade him he’s somehow getting screwed by his current vendor. Persuading him he’s getting screwed is the easiest way of doing it, but you can also finesse it by playing to other negative emotions as well.  Yet, no matter whether or not you finesse it, the common theme is that you are not really selling your product — instead, you are persuading your client to reject the other guy’s product.

Realistically speaking, there are enough fear based people out there — people who are habitually more scared of doing something wrong than they are desirous of getting what they want in life — to keep you in business forever.  So, it’s by no means an impractical way of selling something.

So far as I recall, selling against the other guy’s product only has one drawback from a purely bottom line perspective:  It’s very difficult to do it and charge a premium price.  You almost always need to position your product as lower priced than your competitor’s product. That can cut into profits.  Or worse, commissions.

I used to know some very competent sales people who simply would not touch selling against the other guy’s product.  For the most part, they had well established relationships with their clients, and most of their sales came from repeat business.  Also, for the most part, they believed in themselves as able to make a difference.  As Chuck, one of the best sales people I ever knew, told me, “I honestly don’t know if our service is that much better than everyone else’s.  But I do know that if you buy from me, you get me as part of the deal, and I work very hard to make that count for something.  When someone has a problem, I get it fixed.  No excuses.”

And then, too, I’ve long suspected some of the sales people I once knew were all but criminally guilty of setting ridiculously high personal expectations for themselves.  Patently absurd stuff like: They will not run over old folks in crosswalks even when it’s necessary to make an appointment on time, they will not set fire to a school even when their client has expressed a craving for roasted marshmallows, they will not bad mouth the competition even on Sundays when they have their client over to watch the big game and she’s a captive audience.

It’s been ages since I was in sales and I no longer know many salespeople.   Nowadays the people that put me most in mind of selling against the other guy’s product are pundits, politicians, and (fundamentalist) preachers.   From what relatively little I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh, for instance, it seems he devotes most of his energy to tearing down his political competitors.  But then, I think that’s true of many pundits, politicians, and (fundamentalist) preachers these days:  They seem to lack any vision, any “product” of their own that is genuinely something more than a thinly disguised excuse to attack their competitors.

Thank goodness we’re above all that at Café Philos!  Other blogs may be out to get you, but you can rest assured we’re not.  And a new scientific study just out shows that we actually cost you less in time per sentence read than our nearest competitors.  Only here at Café Philos are you and your loved ones guaranteed the safety and peace of mind you deserve — now at a reduced price!

Belief, Citizenship, Consumerism, Culture, Evolution and Creationism, Fantasy Based Community, Ideologies, Late Night Thoughts, Obligations to Society, Reality Based Community, Reason, Science, Society, Thinking, Truth

How Truth Became Optional?

Yesterday was the 23rd of October.  The 23rd of October, 4004 B.C., is the date that James Ussher, once Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, mistakenly determined to be the very first day of creation, as reckoned according to the Bible and the Julian Calendar.  That makes the world 6,013 years old as of yesterday, in Ussher’s false chronology.

I don’t know how many people nowadays believe the earth is merely 6,000 years old, but a series of Gallup polls spanning 24 years from 1982 to 2006 found consistent support among American adults for the notion that “humanity was created within the last 10,000 years or so”.  Over time, the percentage of people who believe in the creationist view that humanity was created relatively recently has ranged from 44 to 47 percent of those polled.

It doesn’t get better when it comes to evolution.  According to a 2009 Gallup poll, only 39% of Americans accept the Theory of Evolution.  Sixty-one percent either don’t believe in the Theory (25%) or don’t have an opinion either way (36%).

When Gallup asked in yet another poll, “As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun or does the sun revolve around the earth?”,  it discovered that 18% of Americans incorrectly believe the sun revolves around the earth.

The answers Americans give to political questions are just as strange as the answers they give to science questions.  For instance: Fifty-eight percent of Republicans either think Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US (28%) or aren’t sure (30%).

Moreover, in February 2003 (.pdf),  57% of Americans believed either that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or that Iraq gave “substantial support” to Al-Qaeda.  At the same time, 22% believed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) had been found in Iraq, and 56% believed world opinion favored the Iraq war or was evenly divided.

It would be supremely easy to go on like this for hours.  On issue after issue, large numbers of Americans hold opinions that are as worthless as a counterfeit coin.  But why is that?  Don’t people care about the truth?

The most often offered explanation for the phenomenon is that the quality of American education either has declined or has never been high enough in the first place.  Although it is not impossible to be both a well educated American and an American who rejects the Theory of Evolution, the more educated one is, the more likely one is to accept the Theory.  Consequently, there seems to be some merit to the notion that the phenomenon is a sign of the failure of American education.

Yet, please allow me to suggest that another factor might be at work here, too.   For it seems to me there has been a shift in the psychology of the average American.  In the past, as I understand it, Americans thought of themselves as citizens and they were concerned with and cultivated the values that would make them good citizens.    At least, that was the ideal: A good American was a good citizen.

I think all that began to change around 1920 or so.  From circa 1920 to the present, the American psyche, it seems, underwent a change from good citizen to good consumer. But citizens and consumers are in so many ways very different creatures.

Take their respective attitudes towards truth, for instance.  While a good citizen might think of himself as having a duty to his fellow citizens to be honest and truthful in his dealings with them, no such sense of duty seems to exist in the mind of the good consumer.

Instead, the good consumer thinks of truth as a product or commodity to be bargained for and purchased according to which version of it represents the best value for him.  If you were to suggest to him that he has an obligation to his fellow citizens to be truthful in his dealings with them, he might think you’re nuts, for suggesting that, to a consumer, is very much like suggesting that he has a moral obligation to his fellow citizens to buy a particular brand of soap.  “How can he possibly be morally obligated to society to buy that particular brand of truth”, he thinks, “for isn’t truth a personal choice? Just like every other consumer good?”

That is where we are today.  Over the past 90 or so years, we have progressed from the old notion that we as citizens owe it to others to be truthful, to the new notion that we as consumers owe it to ourselves to get the best possible deal on truth.  But please be careful here!  I am not saying that any of us are necessarily conscious of our attitudes.  I am not saying that, a hundred years ago, any of us ever sat down and declared, “I owe it to my fellow citizens to be truthful.”  (Maybe a few people said something along those lines, but I would think not many.)  Instead, I am saying that people behaved as if that was what they thought.   In the same way, I am not saying that the average American today has ever sat down and declared, “I will treat truth as a mere commodity and shop around for the truths I want to believe.”   Instead, I mean that is exactly how people today behave: Increasingly, they treat truth as if they think it is a consumer good just like cars, soaps or T-shirts.

In January of this year, the Public Policy Polling organization ran a nationwide survey of registered voters  to discover which news media outlets they most and least trusted.  In analyzing the findings of the survey, PPP President Dean Debnam said, “A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news. But the media landscape has really changed, and now they’re turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear.”  Indeed.  Americans are becoming good consumers of that strangest of all consumer good, the truth.  For like good consumers, they have learned to shop around for what satisfies — not the criteria of some cold and abstract methodology for determining what is or is not truth — but rather their personal desires.

“The world is 6,013 years old today because that is what I want it to be.”  “Humanity was created within the last 10,000 or so years because that’s what I want to think.”   “Saddam Hussein was one of the masterminds behind the September 11 attacks because I feel he must have been.”  “In 2003, he had weapons of mass destruction because it makes personal sense to me that he did.”   In today’s America, we need not be alone in our beliefs.  No matter how seemingly outrageous our beliefs are, we can find one channel or another in this media rich world that will assert what we choose to believe.   The channels that back us up in our beliefs might be, on the one hand, as rich and renown as the Fox News Network, or they might be, on the other extreme, no more than a collection of minor internet websites championing some exotic belief seemingly held by no more than a dozen people.  But this is a case where size might not really matter.  What might matter more than size is that our nonsense is supported by others.

The support is two-fold: The media channel that shares our views not only supports us by asserting much the same things as we believe or want to believe, but the channel also guards us against conflicting and critical views either by isolating us from them or by downplaying such views.  It is both a cheerleader and a security guard.

To put the situation a little bit differently, what makes 44% to 47% of those polled believe that “humanity was created within the last 10,000 years or so”?  I posit it is not merely that they heard it said by their pastor,  or read it on some website, or listened to it on some talk radio show, but it is as if their criteria for deciding whether it is true or not has shifted from that of the citizen who feels an obligation to his or her fellow citizens to decide the issue by some objective standards of reason and evidence — some standards accessible to all — has shifted from that criteria to the criteria of the consumer who feels no such obligation to others and instead feels within his or her rights to shop around for whatever truth or reality personally suites them.  I think without positing this largely unconscious shift in standards, it is difficult to see how our present situation came about.

Of course, I do some speculating here about how truth became optional.  I do not think my speculations are especially wild, but neither do I expect them to be accepted by everyone.   They are meant more to provoke thought than to prompt consensus.  So, what do you think?  Is there any merit to the ideas I’ve presented here? Or should I put another pot of coffee on and think about these things some more?

NOTE:

For an excellent and more comprehensive discussion of how accurate and truthful Fox News is, see Frey v. Frey.