Truth, Post-Truth, Facts, Opinions and Other Nonsense

A few months ago I got involved in an online spat with a friend of a facebook friend, breaking my self-imposed etiquette of  not negatively engaging with someone I don't know on someone else's thread... But what had pressed my bells was that she was sharing some fairly awful anti-vax stuff about MMR on a thread read by people who have autistic children. Having worked both with autistic children and their families AND with children and families whose lives have been radically affected by rubella and measles I get a bit hot under the collar about such things, particularly when the people posting such things have no medical or scientific training...
But anyway, the unpleasant dialogue ultimately resulted in me saying something like "I'm going to stop because it's clear I'm not going to change your mind..."
To which she replied along the lines of "LOL No! Your not... But then were all entitled to are own opinions." (Smiley face, smiley face.) 
At that point something within me snapped and I wrote:
"Not when ill formed opinions like yours result illness, misery and death."
The conversation then ended and I found myself blocked from any further engagement... OOPS... Not my finest moment...

However, it was a discussion that came to mind when I was recently reading former President Obama's "The Audacity of Hope", which was written before his Presidential candidature, when he was still the junior Senator for Illinois. In it he tells the following story:
“There's a wonderful, perhaps apocryphal story that people tell about Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the brilliant, prickly, and iconoclastic late senator from New York. Apparently, Moynihan was in a heated argument with one of his colleagues over an issue, 
and the other senator, sensing he was on the losing side of the argument, blurted out: "Well, you may disagree with me, Pat, but I'm entitled to my own opinion. " To which Moynihan frostily replied, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."
Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope 126
I wish that had been my response...
But he goes on to say...
"Moynihan's assertion no longer holds. We have no authoritative figure, no Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow whom we all listen to and trust to sort out contradictory claims. Instead, the media is splintered into a thousand fragments, each with its own version of reality, each claiming the loyalty of a splintered nation.”
Now remember that this was before his candidature, 8 years before Trump and his post-truth, fake-news nonsense... If it was as true then it is infinitely more true now. What Trump is currently saying about re-writing history (a trope that gets run out on this side of the Atlantic in our little part of the world) is not so much resistance to a careful re-examination of history and what is celebrated or repudiated in history at certain times and why, as him projecting on to others what he does on an almost daily basis - attempting to re-boot what he has said on done yesterday, last week, last year or twenty years ago. Not admitting what he said or did in the past and saying "That was then and this is now - we move on!" but rather attempting to actually re-write his personal past. But he is not alone in that... Politicians and others in the public eye attempt to do it all the time, and despite the written and visual record, too often they get away with it because they and their followers simply swamp the historic truth with their re-edited version of it...
Again Obama aludes to this an the contemporary news media's complicity in this on the following page:
"Today's politician… may not lie, but he understands that there is no great reward in store for those who speak the truth, particularly when the truth may be complicated. The truth may cause consternation; the truth will be attacked; the media won't have the patience to sort out all the facts and so the public may not know the difference between truth and falsehood."

Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope 127-8
But then, as Pilate said to Jesus many years before Trump or Obama, 
"What is truth?"



Andy Boal said…
Perhaps inevitable from me, but thank you for sticking up for autistic people - as you know, the association with MMR is highly offensive.

I wouldn't want not to be autistic. I'd lose too much of who and what God has made me.

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