Who Do You Believe?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Having come from a background grounded in science, I have long been schooled in the scientific method, and how proofs of theories are generated and verified. Provided with a statement regarding the world around me, I ask to see the reference or the proof of veracity of that statement. Unfortunately, much of the world relies on their belief in the authority of the speaker, rather than verifying the truth of the proposition. This system worked reasonably well as long as people could agree who it was that spoke with authority, and the people with authority did not misuse the trust that was placed in them.

One of the mottoes of the 60’s was “Question Authority”. With the Vietnam War, Watergate, sordid political scandals at the highest levels, sex and financial scandals in churches, the belief in authority began to seriously crumble. Mixed and conflicting messages from those in the health care fields helped to undermine the authority of doctors and scientists, especially as reports of fraudulent scientific studies made headlines.

The two largest changes to fracture people’s beliefs occurred when TV news no longer reported the news with an attempt to balance controversial issues, but degraded itself to entertainment, whose success was measured on profits for the owners, and the internet allowed the proliferation of individual “news” blogs posting statements that lacked any semblance of fact checking previously required by mainstream media. The credibility of these sites seemed more based on the number of followers and those willing to resend items they read which fit their view of the world. The resulting schism is escalating a process of polarization that makes a mockery of our country being called the United States of America.

With each passing day, we are becoming fans of rival teams, where our only concern seems to be if our side is winning. It’s a telling statistic that forty years ago, only about ten percent of couples who dated (or their parents) cared about the political affiliation of their partner. That number is now over sixty percent, and rising. When I was in college, like most students everywhere, we had long discussions about life and the world, and we rarely agreed on what opinions were put forth, but enjoyed lively debates amongst each other without feeling that the person whose opinion was different than our own was a complete moron or a heartless exploiter of other people. This open discussion has changed significantly. Now, colleges and the workplace are filled with gender politics, race politics, liberal versus conservative politics, with each side in any given issue so entrenched in their position that they have no interest in hearing anything which does not agree with their particular viewpoint.

This type of division plays into the hands of media promoters and politicians who can count on an increasingly rabid fan base for ongoing growth and support. Regardless if you watch CNN or Fox News, you will not see any event covered by either outlet that sounds like they are both reporting on the same occurrence. This type of bias then fuels the growing rift between the Blue and Red parts of the country. If we are allowed to demonize those whose viewpoints are different than our own, we can never respect them enough to consider the merit in their view of life, and allows us to become ever more insular, living in our own bubbles, convinced of the absolute rightness of our own position, and unable to respect as people those whose views are different than our own.

We recently shared a meal with a couple who we have known for close to forty years, who we consider good and decent people. We are also aware that their political, social, and in some way religious views are different than ours. We encounter this amongst a number of our acquaintances, and deal with it by simply avoiding talking about those things in which we know we disagree. Part of the reason we don’t discuss these topics is because we know that we don’t respect their sources of information, that they don’t respect ours, and we haven’t been able to find an acceptable definition of terms around which a debate can be had. In the case of our friends I just mentioned, we trusted in their innate decency as people that we nonetheless talked about a number of topics about which we disagreed, but regarding which we were willing to listen to their side of the story. We didn’t convince either side about the rightness of our individual viewpoints, but just by the fact that we could talk with each other helped us to have a sense of hope that our friendship was not just based on convenience, but mutual respect.

We need to look at our choice of who represents us not only by a single binary issue such as abortion, but by the character of the person, and how much they are able to recognize what is good for all their constituents, rather than an isolated segment. Most importantly, we need to stop allowing others to paint as devils those who don’t support whatever cause or issue we believe, and accord them the respect of being human without necessarily believing what we profess.

This entry was posted in America, Lies, News and politics, Politics, The Internet, Thoughts & Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Who Do You Believe?

  1. Michael Grossman says:

    HURRAY!

    —m

    >

  2. Here here! I rarely post political opinions online. I have, however, reached out to a few friends who hold differing opinions and engaged in private conversations about topics we disagree on. I first ask if there is an interest in such dialogue. I lay out some ground rules – both of us must to be willing to maintain that either person could be wrong, we could both be wrong, and we will not devolve to name calling or simplistic rhetoric.

    I have a couple of these conversations going on right now. It is rare to find the person willing to admit that information and conclusions have nuance and are often more difficult to unpack than a soundbite allows.

  3. I believe in myself, took me years & heartbreaks to realize that. I believe in a God who accepted me for who I am. I believe in people who truly live a life of kindness & goodness. Thanks for an inspiring read.

  4. timfergudon says:

    Thank you for tackling an emotionally difficult subject in an objective way! I like how you started with “viewing a statement by looking at how the proofs of the veracity of the statement are generated and verified”. In the first two years of my PhD program in Pharmacology at the University of Texas at San Antonio School of Medicine we had a required course in how to verify research. A fascinating course on how renowned research institutions with brilliant scientific researchers deliberately designed their research to deceive other researchers, physicians and the public. Usually this was accomplished by manipulating not the verified proofs but the statistical (down stream) data to change outcomes! Analogy, “it is not about who votes in an election, nor about how many vote. The only thing that matters is who COUNTS the votes “. Stalin! We Lie Lilly… I mean Ely Lilly and the original Women’s Health initiative study is a classic example! I would like to discuss it with you, and yes I have a strong cynical bias against any medical research!!! Tim 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

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