Science, philosophy, politics, and religion are frequent topics for writer and public speaker Catherine Giordano.
Who Said, “Truth Isn’t Truth”?
Rudy Giuliani, who was once hailed as “America’s Mayor,” has been reduced to being a shill for Donald Trump. As he tries to defend the indefensible, he frequently ties himself into elocutionary knots.
Sunday, August 19, 2018, was one of those times. The host of Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, was pressing him to explain the many contradictions in the various stories put out by Trump and his defenders about “the Russia thing,” as Trump has called it. Giuliani became extremely agitated and blurted out, “Truth Isn’t truth.”
Giuliani is not the only one in Trump’s orbit who has denied that truth is truth. KellyAnne Conway, a White House adviser to President Trump, when confronted with a fact that didn’t match her narrative, said that there were “alternative facts.”
What Is Truthiness?
Stephen Colbert is famous for his satiric impersonation of a conservative TV host on the Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. On the very first show on October 17, 2005, he did a bit about “truthiness.” He defined truthiness as “a belief in what you feel to be true rather than what the facts will support.” It is “truth that “comes from the gut” and not from facts.
Truthiness became Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year in 2006. It was defined as “truth coming from the gut, not books; preferring to believe what you wish to believe, rather than what is known to be true.”
In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary chose post-truth as the Word of the Year. They defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Colbert said post-truth was a rip-off of truthiness.
Comedian Bill Maher satirizes this trend of using the gut rather than facts as a way to ascertain truth. On his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, he does a bit called “I Don’t Know It for a Fact…I Just Know It’s True.” On one show, when he introduced the bit he explained that he started doing this bit before Donald Trump, but it is particularly relevant now. He said, “There are things I can’t prove, but I just know they are true; and now that, of course, is how we actually operate the government.”
What Is Donald Trump’s Relationship to the Truth?
The issue of truthiness is very relevant now that Donald Trump is President. He lies constantly and his lies are often whoppers. He says things that are obviously untrue and easily proven to be untrue. He tells new lies to cover up for his previous lies. He even contradicts himself—saying one thing, then saying the opposite, and then going back to what he previously said.
The Washington Post has taken to counting the number of lies Trump has told publicly since he became president. The total as of August 1, 2018 (day 528 of his presidency) is 4,229. Do the math—it is an average of 7.6 lies a day.
Trump’s lying is getting worse.
- In the first 100 days of his presidency, the average number of lies was 4.9 per day.
- In June and July of 2018, the number of lies per day was 16. He set a record on July 5, 2018, when he told 79 lies in a single day.
- In the first year of his presidency, he told 2,140 lies, but it only took him six months to double that number.
There is a stunning Washington Post graph and database that illustrates the facts about Trump’s false and misleading claims, i.e. lies. Please take a moment to look at it.
Giuliani tried to clarify his statement that “truth isn’t truth” by saying that “there are different versions of the truth.” No, there are not different versions of the truth; there are not alternative facts. There is the truth that is backed up with evidence and proof and there are false statements (lies or mistaken beliefs). It has become a cliché, but I’ll repeat the phrase attributed to the late Senator Patrick Moynihan: “You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts.”
There is ignorance when you don’t know the facts. There is misinformation when you think something is a fact when it is not. There are falsehoods when you willfully refuse to learn the facts, or deny the facts, or worse yet, tell lies and call them facts. When the evidence shows that you are wrong, you must stop listening to your gut and start accepting reality.
Here Is What They Said
Has America Become Fantasyland?
How did we become a post-truth society? How did we reach the point where people can say the truth isn’t the truth? How did the lines between reality and illusion become so blurred?
Kurt Andersen presents the answer to these questions in his book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History. He takes the reader from colonial times to the present day to demonstrate how the United States has always been a post-truth society, and how this malady is more virulent now than ever before. (Although Andersen focuses mainly on the United States, his analysis applies to other industrialized nations, too.)
- It began with the Protestant Revolution. Once there was only one truth—The Church told people what to believe. But with the Protestant Revolution, everyone could become his own theologian. Many competing religions sprang up, closely followed by religious persecution. The colonists came to the New World to escape this persecution and their desire to find their own personal truth came with them.
- The Enlightenment brought many new philosophies, new scientific findings, and an emphasis on rational thinking to the new world. This was a good thing. However, it also meant that what people had always thought was true, wasn’t necessarily true. The world was changing very fast, too fast for some people. People who wanted to hold on to the “eternal truths” of religion, began to ignore or deny reality.
- America also attracted the disaffected, the dreamers, and the individualists. A person could become whatever he wanted to be. A person could make his own reality.
Are You Living in Fantasyland?
Kurt Andersen maintains that fantasy-based thinking has always thrived in the United States, but it surged in the 1950’s, and after the rise of the internet, reality-based thinking is close to being smothered to death by the omnipresent irrational ideas.
- Do you believe in the literal existence of witches, ghosts, angels, demons, Satan, mermaids, Big Foot, zombies, dragons, or the Loch Ness Monster? If you believe in one or more of these (or many others like these), you may be living in Fantasyland.
- Do you believe in any of the many conspiracy theories that are currently popular, such as, the moon landing was faked, aliens from outer space landed in Roswell, New Mexico and the government is hiding it, the 2012 massacre of the Sandy Hook Elementary School children did not happen, Barack Obama was born in Kenya, or Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizzeria in Washington D.C.? If you believe in any of these (and the many other conspiracy theories), you may be living in Fantasyland.
- Do you deny the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that shows that the Earth is billions of years old, evolution is true, human-made climate change is happening, and vaccines do not cause autism? If you deny the truth of one or more of these (or of any scientific facts you find inconvenient), you may be living in Fantasyland.
- Do you believe in any supernatural phenomena such as the existence of an afterlife, ESP, psychics who can predict the future or talk to the dead, astrology, telekinesis, or mental telepathy? If you believe in one or more of these (and the many others), you may be living in Fantasyland.
How Can We Support Truth?
I get it. Living in Fantasyland is fun and comforting. Sometimes I go to Fantasyland myself.
- Sometimes there is a little corner of my mind that believes in astrology. I do this because astrology says I am an Aquarius, and I like the characteristics ascribed to Aquarians. However, I don’t consult horoscopes for guidance in my life. I know astrology is not true and I am just playing make-believe.
- Sometimes there is a little corner of my mind that likes to think aliens from outer space arrived on Earth thousands of years ago and interacted with humans. I like science fiction, so every now and then I like to think about this. I know this is not true, but it is fun to think about it.
So I am saying, play video games if it is fun for you, engage in cosplay or Civil War reenactments if you enjoy full immersion in fantasy as a form of recreation, and go to church if you like that sort of thing. Take a little vacation in Fantasyland, but always remember where the boundaries are between truth and fantasy.
Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to find the truth. Sometimes rational-thinking is hard. Here are a few tips if you want to be part of the reality-based community.
- Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. (Or see on Fox News.)
- Trust the mainstream media. They fact check everything. Sure, they sometimes get something wrong, but when they do, they correct it promptly.
- Don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias where you believe something just because it fits in with your other beliefs.
- Check for bias in yourself and in the information that you receive. Don’t believe something is true just because you want it to be true.
- Do the research to find the objective evidence for the information you receive.
- Don’t become part of a cult led by a charismatic leader. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Finally, remember that truth is truth. And the truth is out there.
What Do You Think?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Catherine Giordano