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What's Truth Got to Do with It?

Oct 9, 2009

On a recent evening I was talking with a good friend, retired from many years as a government attorney, when he reached out to bend my ear forward and peer behind it.

"Yep," he said, "still wet."

I laughed and protested, but in my heart I knew he was right. Despite everything, I am still wet behind the ears.

I remain shocked by the recurring evidence that so many highly privileged Americans value money so far above truth, justice or "The American Way" (as I came to respect the concept back in Civics class in 1976). They seem to have no qualms justifying absolutely any means they use to acquire money. Nor do they seem at all bothered by the collateral damage they cause in that singleminded pursuit.

And despite the fact that Gordon Gekko declared "Greed is good" way back in 1987, effectively firing the starting gun on a 20-year bacchanal of rich-getting-richer, it still surprises me that so many who have so much money believe themselves entitled, even ordained, to get their hands on ever more of it.

I was raised to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48)

In the intervening years, this maxim has been replaced with a far different cultural mantra: To whom much is given, much more is entitled.

Too many Americans who move in these exclusive circles of entitlement have come to believe that those who don't share their extreme financial success--and that would be most of us--simply aren't deserving of it. If we deserved such riches, we'd have them. Since we don't have them, clearly, we don't deserve them.

To the great detriment of our democracy, this less-deserving status has translated into a lesser-order of being.

Many among the current super-privileged have come to see all the rest of us not as fellow citizens, whose constitutionally-guaranteed rights must be respected, but as a commodity to be exploited.

They are the Chosen. The rest of us are cannon fodder.

In such a desperately unequal dynamic, is it any wonder that, not only are the "true facts" remarkably difficult to come by, but they've also lost almost all cultural resonance?

We've established a societal dynamic where the "true facts" whether economic, scientific, cultural or historic, must compete, head to head, with the repetition of lies that serve a corporation's financial interests. How can the "true facts" get any traction in the American psyche when such facts must compete with virtually endless advertising dollars spent in service of any message that happens to serve a company's bottom-line?

Let's be honest, if a message is attractive and both authoritatively and entertainingly presented, the first thought that springs to mind isn't: "I need to fact-check this information."

It should be, but it isn't. Too many of us, taught to respect authority and honor success, simply believe the messenger. After all, we want to be aligned with the winning team, even if the up-side of such alignment is more a product of wishful thinking than of empirical reality.

Wind energy interests, financed I believe by T. Boone Pickens, are running an ad on CNN that states "our dependence on foreign oil must end." The ad cites the fact that our dependence on foreign oil has increased from 24% in 1970 to 70% today. With photos of wind turbines throughout, the ad strongly implies that wind power will reduce American dependency on foreign oil, when, in fact, virtually all of the foreign oil we purchase is used as fuel in vehicles. According to the Department of Energy, less than 2% of oil (foreign or domestic) consumed in the US goes to the manufacture electricity, and that 2% is mostly for back-up emergency generators.

Wind turbines generate electricity.

There is virtually no relationship between more wind power and less foreign oil.

But who ya gonna believe, me, or the attractive, "go-green" ad repeated endlessly on CNN?

It has since been revealed that there was virtually no relationship between Iraq and September 11 or between Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, but lack of any evidence in support of such claims didn't keep CNN, or all of the other advertising/media companies on TV, from spreading those messages either.

At this, our present cultural moment, the "true facts" have lost out to the highest bidder.

We don't have public discourse, not really. We don't have informed debate, no.

Instead, our lives are full of screens. Screens where the corporation with the deepest pockets pays to present whatever version of the truth suits them best. A version that, more and more frequently, turns out to be nothing other than a self-serving lie.

How can We, The People, defend against such an onslaught?

Two words: Fact check.