Jon Stewart once said, “If you don’t hold true to your values when it’s hard, they are not values, they are hobbies.” Sigh. We miss you, Jon.
This week there was a glimmer of hope in the madness of Washington when Senator Jeff Flake spoke. It was actually encouraging to see someone hold true to their principles and remind all of us that it actually matters to do so. That’s, unfortunately, a rarity these days.
And it really got me thinking, what am I doing? History isn’t going to look back at this time and say “Boy, Sara from Bloomington really made her opinion known on Facebook. And did you see that WaPo article she retweeted? Wow.”
Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
What history will do is look back at this time and remember the things we did to stand up for our country and our values when we were really put to the test – and that has to start with the pursuit of truth. If you want to fight back against post-truth politics and fake news, then here are a few things you can do.
Talk a Walk Outside Your Bubble
Everyone lives in a bubble, whether you want to admit it or not. Most of us are insulated enough that it shifts our view. You must make an effort to break out of your bubble – but you don’t need to be too drastic.
Follow a few thoughtful people in the media who have views that differ from your own. Here’s a hint: That usually isn’t the people who are shouting the loudest. Then watch a few programs on television or read articles from sources outside of your own point of view. When you know what the thoughtful people on the other side of the debate are thinking, then real discourse can happen. Don’t be a part of the problem by creating caricatures in your head or building strawman arguments that demonize people whose politics differ from your own.
Consider Your Response
When you’re hit with new information, you have an instinctive reaction to it. Recognize that and then move past it to consider your response. When you’re sharing things on Facebook, read the article – don’t just share things that warm your little liberal heart or that simply reaffirms your worldview. That’s exactly the tactic Russia used to influence our election. Take your response from your heart to your head and really think about the material you’re sharing with others.
Go Back to the Stats
In college, I called my statistics class “sadistics.” I’m not really a numbers person, but I’ve realized now I need to have at least a couple of verified statistics on hand to create a foundation from reality. Having a grasp of very basic statistics makes you much harder to fool, after all.
This doesn’t mean you have to go out and memorize figures about the economy, but you do need to build some mental shortcuts to help you understand if numbers people try to sell you on are actually possible. You need to know how averages, percentages, and figures work in order to tell if it’s crap or not.
Be as skeptical of the narratives you believe as the ones you don’t. How many times have you gone to Politifact or Snopes in order to argue against a point? Well, you need to do that for points you agree with too. Be skeptical about the things you accept to be true and try to give credence to lines of attack you don’t believe too. You never know what you can find if you dig a little deeper. You may find it’s as big a steaming pile as you thought, but the simple act of looking further into it will help to give you a better understanding of the situation – and arm you with good material in your debates with others.
Just Say No to Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories are the enemy of reality. They take isolated facts and use guesswork to connect the dots. They’re dangerous to all of us and I have no patience for them. I mean, people constantly complain about how the government can’t get their act together to function normally, yet believe in conspiracy theories that would require hundreds of people working together over many years to accomplish a common goal. Yeah – smells fishy to me.
The post-truth era of America is accompanied by a rise in conspiratorial thinking. Hold your politicians and the media accountable for shoveling this crap. The truth is likely not going to be as exciting as the conspiracy, but it’s certainly more productive.
Living in reality and encouraging others to join you there is one of the most important things we can all do right now. Don’t get caught up in the Trump tornado – the game has changed and we must change along with it. The solution is to start from the media and politics we have and work out way out from there. A shared sense of reality is important to a healed, healthy democracy. A post-truth world isn’t going to be good for anyone.
So, thank you, Senator Flake, for saying what so many have been thinking. He said, “We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man and always look for the good. Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does. I plan to spend the remaining 14 months of my Senate term doing just that.”
Let’s join him.