Friday, August 31, 2018

Reality Check: Practical Tools for Finding the Truth

Our Own Set of Facts? 

Those of us who live in democracies are facing a couple of crucial questions: Are we going to keep allowing ourselves to be "played" against each other by sophisticated hacker-propagandists who distort our reality with cherry-picked half-truths and outright lies? Or will we take responsibility for finding verifiable truths so we can make good decisions as well-informed voters?

As we've learned from the experiences of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, these propagandists (aided by our own media's sensationalist, ratings-seeking talking heads and exploitative politicians) weasel their way into our conversations and ingeniously string together ideas that are kinda/sorta true, but frequently inflammatory. They push our prejudicial buttons and get us all riled up against each other. And, as we've all seen, angry voters can make some very bad decisions!

Democracies depend on clear-thinking, well-informed voters -- voters that share a common understanding of the facts.  And while voters can (and do!) differ in their interpretations of what any given set of facts mean, they must be able to trust in the reality of those facts.  As former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said to his would-be debating opponents, "You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own set of facts. "

The Truth: Not Always What We Want to Hear

When we are swimming in a stormy sea of "breaking news" headlines, half-truths, opinions and outright lies, it's difficult to figure out what is actually real and true! So, frustrated and confused, we reach for the most comfortable version of reality we can find -- the one that re-affirms our world view, our biases and our solidarity with our family and friends. But while this version of reality may be comfortable, it may also simply be wrong! Indeed, sometimes the truth can be challenging and push us out of our comfort zone. There are times, as Gloria Steinem points out, that "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off."

Yep. Despite what bloggers, media talking heads, politicians and your crazy Uncle Harry would have us believe, not everything is subject to debate!  Sometimes there is a right answer -- an accurate, defensibly true description of reality. Unfortunately, as political temperatures rise, alternate "realities" woven together with tangled tentacles of "proof" begin to multiply and it becomes harder and harder to unwind the tangled lies to find the truth.

Some Tools and Guidelines to Help You Find the Truth

A while back I shared some politically-neutral resources that can help you navigate all these "realities" and find that elusive treasure that is the real, verifiable truth. As we in the U.S. enter another politically-intense period, it might be useful to re-visit these and apply them to your own quest to find what's real and true amidst all the noisy rhetoric. They might help you become that well-informed voter that is needed if we are to save our democracies.

The Truth Finder:
3 Questions & Lots of Links to
Help You Distinguish Fact from Fiction


Media-Induced Ignorance & How to Neutralize It
(Is this news, opinion or a scientifically proven fact?)

5 Things You Can Do to Get Positive Political Results in a
Soul-Numbing, Negative Media World (w/ links to tools & resources)