Not long ago, a college student, I’ll call Liz, asked me, “But what is truth?”
Her question was neither philosophical, nor obtuse. No, her question fit a more troubling trend. Earlier, Liz had endorsed the concept of “crisis actors.” You may have heard of the term: conspiracy theories that claim mass shooting incidents are simply staged events, to stir anti-gun sentiment.
They claim those 26 who died at Sandy Hook, or the 58 who died at the Vegas Massacre, were fakes. Some harass the victims’ grieving families.
Liz doubts everything, but apparently believes in some YouTube personality whom others follow.
I tried teaching some credibility tests, but I’m not sure of the impact. Some complied to pass; some were stubborn, like one anti-vaxxer who relied on an old, debunked book. I must do more.
For most of my career, we could argue opinions, but now students argue about facts. A challenge.
After all, how can we debate gun control when we cannot even agree that people really died? How can we debate the viability of life on Mars if some don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon? A recent CNN story said the number of flat-earthers swells. And, with the rise of anti-Semitism, we have more Holocaust deniers.
At the Red River Women’s Clinic, women are harassed by protesters, who reportedly claim, “No one will ever love you” or “they won’t let you out.” Does the end justify the means? After these lies, the women still proceed, and the reputation of Christians is tarnished.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.” It’s foundational and yet, in the last few years, we have seen an assault on truth in the public sphere; opinion with no evidence is endorsed. One truth is as good as another.
This dismissal of truth has reached the national stage. We have, for instance, Russian expert Fiona Hill, who had worked under hawkish conservative Republican John Bolton. No Leftie Lib. She said, ‘Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned.” She refers to Russian meddling in the United States. Like all of our intelligence agencies, she says our primary adversary, Russia, meddled in our 2016 election, not Ukraine. Russia promotes divisive rhetoric and false theories on Facebook or YouTube. Yet, one Republican congressman simply responds, “I don’t believe it.”
George Washington warned us “to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” A primary threat to America?: foreign interference. We have proof not only of 2016 interference but of 2020. Yet the names of heroes like Hill are smeared by people without training or skill who, in effect, promote Putin.
If facts become opinions - just options we choose, if we lose facts as our common ground, we will scuttle back into the Dark Ages, with Putin smiling over the chaos.
Ida B. Wells wrote, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” And, I would add, then believe them.