Saturday, April 30, 2016

Is there such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth?

Question: "Is there such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth?"

In order to understand absolute or universal truth, we must begin by defining truth. Truth, according to the dictionary, is “conformity to fact or actuality; a statement proven to be or accepted as true.” Some people would say that there is no true reality, only perceptions and opinions. Others would argue that there must be some absolute reality or truth.

One view says that there are no absolutes that define reality. Those who hold this view believe everything is relative to something else, and thus there can be no actual reality. Because of that, there are ultimately no moral absolutes, no authority for deciding if an action is positive or negative, right or wrong. This view leads to “situational ethics,” the belief that what is right or wrong is relative to the situation. There is no right or wrong; therefore, whatever feels or seems right at the time and in that situation is right. Of course, situational ethics leads to a subjective, “whatever feels good” mentality and lifestyle, which has a devastating effect on society and individuals. This is postmodernism, creating a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid.

The other view holds that there are indeed absolute realities and standards that define what is true and what is not. Therefore, actions can be determined to be either right or wrong by how they measure up to those absolute standards. If there are no absolutes, no reality, chaos ensues. Take the law of gravity, for instance. If it were not an absolute, we could not be certain we could stand or sit in one place until we decided to move. Or if two plus two did not always equal four, the effects on civilization would be disastrous. Laws of science and physics would be irrelevant, and commerce would be impossible. What a mess that would be! Thankfully, two plus two does equal four. There is absolute truth, and it can be found and understood.

To make the statement that there is no absolute truth is illogical. Yet, today, many people are embracing a cultural relativism that denies any type of absolute truth. A good question to ask people who say, “There is no absolute truth” is this: “Are you absolutely sure of that?” If they say “yes,” they have made an absolute statement—which itself implies the existence of absolutes. They are saying that the very fact there is no absolute truth is the one and only absolute truth.

Beside the problem of self-contradiction, there are several other logical problems one must overcome to believe that there are no absolute or universal truths. One is that all humans have limited knowledge and finite minds and, therefore, cannot logically make absolute negative statements. A person cannot logically say, “There is no God” (even though many do so), because, in order to make such a statement, he would need to have absolute knowledge of the entire universe from beginning to end. Since that is impossible, the most anyone can logically say is “With the limited knowledge I have, I do not believe there is a God.”

Another problem with the denial of absolute truth/universal truth is that it fails to live up to what we know to be true in our own consciences, our own experiences, and what we see in the real world. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there is nothing ultimately right or wrong about anything. What might be “right” for you does not mean it is “right” for me. While on the surface this type of relativism seems to be appealing, what it means is that everybody sets his own rules to live by and does what he thinks is right. Inevitably, one person’s sense of right will soon clash with another’s. What happens if it is “right” for me to ignore traffic lights, even when they are red? I put many lives at risk. Or I might think it is right to steal from you, and you might think it is not right. Clearly, our standards of right and wrong are in conflict. If there is no absolute truth, no standard of right and wrong that we are all accountable to, then we can never be sure of anything. People would be free to do whatever they want—murder, rape, steal, lie, cheat, etc., and no one could say those things would be wrong. There could be no government, no laws, and no justice, because one could not even say that the majority of the people have the right to make and enforce standards upon the minority. A world without absolutes would be the most horrible world imaginable.

From a spiritual standpoint, this type of relativism results in religious confusion, with no one true religion and no way of having a right relationship with God. All religions would therefore be false because they all make absolute claims regarding the afterlife. It is not uncommon today for people to believe that two diametrically opposed religions could both be equally “true,” even though both religions claim to have the only way to heaven or teach two totally opposite “truths.” People who do not believe in absolute truth ignore these claims and embrace a more tolerant universalism that teaches all religions are equal and all roads lead to heaven. People who embrace this worldview vehemently oppose evangelical Christians who believe the Bible when it says that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that He is the ultimate manifestation of truth and the only way one can get to heaven (John 14:6).

Tolerance has become the one cardinal virtue of the postmodern society, the one absolute, and, therefore, intolerance is the only evil. Any dogmatic belief—especially a belief in absolute truth—is viewed as intolerance, the ultimate sin. Those who deny absolute truth will often say that it is all right to believe what you want, as long as you do not try to impose your beliefs on others. But this view itself is a belief about what is right and wrong, and those who hold this view most definitely do try to impose it on others. They set up a standard of behavior which they insist others follow, thereby violating the very thing they claim to uphold—another self-contradicting position. Those who hold such a belief simply do not want to be accountable for their actions. If there is absolute truth, then there are absolute standards of right and wrong, and we are accountable to those standards. This accountability is what people are really rejecting when they reject absolute truth.

The denial of absolute truth/universal truth and the cultural relativism that comes with it are the logical result of a society that has embraced the theory of evolution as the explanation for life. If naturalistic evolution is true, then life has no meaning, we have no purpose, and there cannot be any absolute right or wrong. Man is then free to live as he pleases and is accountable to no one for his actions. Yet no matter how much sinful men deny the existence of God and absolute truth, they still will someday stand before Him in judgment. The Bible declares that “…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:19-22).

Is there any evidence for the existence of absolute truth? Yes. First, there is the human conscience, that certain “something” within us that tells us the world should be a certain way, that some things are right and some are wrong. Our conscience convinces us there is something wrong with suffering, starvation, rape, pain, and evil, and it makes us aware that love, generosity, compassion, and peace are positive things for which we should strive. This is universally true in all cultures in all times. The Bible describes the role of the human conscience in Romans 2:14-16: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

The second evidence for the existence of absolute truth is science. Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge, the study of what we know and the quest to know more. Therefore, all scientific study must by necessity be founded upon the belief that there are objective realities existing in the world and these realities can be discovered and proven. Without absolutes, what would there be to study? How could one know that the findings of science are real? In fact, the very laws of science are founded on the existence of absolute truth.

The third evidence for the existence of absolute truth/universal truth is religion. All the religions of the world attempt to give meaning and definition to life. They are born out of mankind’s desire for something more than simple existence. Through religion, humans seek God, hope for the future, forgiveness of sins, peace in the midst of struggle, and answers to our deepest questions. Religion is really evidence that mankind is more than just a highly evolved animal. It is evidence of a higher purpose and of the existence of a personal and purposeful Creator who implanted in man the desire to know Him. And if there is indeed a Creator, then He becomes the standard for absolute truth, and it is His authority that establishes that truth.

Fortunately, there is such a Creator, and He has revealed His truth to us through His Word, the Bible. Knowing absolute truth/universal truth is only possible through a personal relationship with the One who claims to be the Truth—Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be the only way, the only truth, the only life and the only path to God (John 14:6). The fact that absolute truth does exist points us to the truth that there is a sovereign God who created the heavens and the earth and who has revealed Himself to us in order that we might know Him personally through His Son Jesus Christ. That is the absolute truth.
Recommended Resources: True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World by Art Lindsley andLogos Bible Software.

Related Topics:

What is truth?

What are the Ten Commandments?

Is truth relative?

What is moral absolutism?

*This is a information and technology blog, don't you just love when information is technology? Some may grasp that.

Free Yourself From Mental Slavery

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

None but ourselves can fee our minds.  

Bob Marley

Imagine that someone presents you with a to-do list and tells you that you better hurry and start crossing things off.  Anxiously, you begin working your way through the list.  One of the first to-do’s is sending your resume to be considered for a boring, desk job.  You had hopes and dreams of being an innovator and maybe building your own business, but this person laughs at the mere thought because you could never do that.
The desk job, while not really engaging or challenging, is on the stable, safe path and is the much more practical alternative.  When you finish writing the cover letter to accompany the resume, the overseer criticizes the result and belittles your effort.
Taking a break from marking things off of the list, you watch a little television news. The whole time, the annoying slave driver won’t shut up telling you how you should think and feel about each item that comes on the news justifying why they are right.  They do their commentary long enough to point out that you’re being a “lazy bum” and nagging you to get back to work.
Even when you go to bed, the pest just will not leave you alone.  Standing by the bed, they chatter incessantly, picking apart the events of the day in minute detail, dredging up the events of the past and telling you that you need to worry about this or that in the future.
You’d certainly be justified in wanting to backhand this person and tell them to “shut up!”  Understandably, you probably wouldn’t want to be around this person or consider them very nice, yet many of us allow our own minds to treat us like this, or worse, every day without thinking anything of it.
In his book, Beyond Mental Slavery: A Guide to Breaking Free and Thinking Clearly, Steve Gillman explains that we all have subconscious, reactive programs and mental processes which guide many of our thoughts and decisions and limit the clarity and effectiveness of our thinking.  He writes:
Quick rationalizations provide obvious but ‘untrue’ reasons for our beliefs and actions, biases prevent us from examining new ideas, and desires push us to win arguments rather than search for truth.  We are led around by these parts of our minds that we’re only vaguely aware of.  ….[W]e can either use the mind or be used by it.
To break free, think clearly, and go beyond the mental slavery of our minds, Gillman suggests the following:
  • Challenge your own thinking.  Use your reasoning power against itself to make logical arguments for opposing beliefs and theories.   Be honest with yourself and recognize your own biases.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts.  Learn to observe your mind by developing self awareness and consciousness.  Routinely challenge your assumptions and their origins. Be willing to see how conditioned you might be. Start with a desire for the truth – no matter what it might be.  Meditation and mindfulness practices are a great way to do this.
  • Become aware of the effect that certain words have on you.  Notice which words generate strong reactions or feelings for you. Identify words that carry extra meaning for you or that may mean something different to others.  Doing so will prepare you to listen more objectively and to be less reactive.  He offers exercises in the book to help you do this.
  • Learn to recognize when your thinking is being corrupted by your ego.  Specifically to overcome the influence of the ego, he advises to:
– have fewer opinions
– argue less
– question your motivations and challenge your assumptions
– borrow instead of buying ideas
– become interested in and make the opposing argument
– be open to changing your mind
– understand limitations
– admit ignorance
  • Doubt the reality of any true authority. In fact, stop using the words “authority” or “expert” in your thinking and speech.  He’s not suggesting a lack of respect here; just that you never let someone think FOR you.
  • Do not measure and judge by self-reference.  Become aware of your own mind and its limitations and biases.  Your ideas and beliefs are not the standard against which all things are measured. While your beliefs are natural and obvious to you, others feel the same way about their own beliefs and judgments no matter how conflicting they may be with yours.
  • Question your habitual following of fear’s advice.  Look past fearful thoughts for better ideas and assumptions.  Purposefully, work through the fear and do that which scares you.  Stop serving fear and think and act in spite of it.
Gillman advises that an essential step in breaking free of mental slavery is for a person to make the commitment to themselves to do so.  Like most everything in life, mental slavery can only happen if we allow it.  I can attest that taking control of your mind is taking control of your life.  It has allowed me to dramatically change myself and my life for the better. Gillman writes:
Your progress toward a mind that truly serves your highest purpose will always depend on your willingness to observe yourself.  When you do that, you’ll start to see where you are giving your freedom away in bits and pieces to this or that momentary master.
image source:
 *You may come to find that "systems" exist way beyond wiring and circuits.
  How are you wired?

Promoting creative talent & entrepreneurial projects

Take the Tom Peters challenge. Consider how you would answer his provocative questions about branding applicable to both companies and individuals:
Who are you? 
Why are you here? 
How are you unique? 
How can you make a dramatic difference? 
Who cares? Do you? ....
Peters [above] points out that you don't always need power to implement your ideas. 
His advice to the junior person or putatively powerless: "Don't screw around. Start now. Find an excuse. Any excuse. Do something. Do anything. Get going. Posthaste."

More Peters principles: 
Design rules products and services, too: "Design is the No. 1 determinant of whether a product-service-experience stands out - or does not."
Experience is everything. You don't merely buy a product or service from a company, you have an ongoing experience with it. 
Get passionate. If you can't get excited about what you're doing, don't expect anyone else to care, either. 
Brands are not just for companies, but also for individuals. Think of, and market yourself, as a brand of one. .....
One way that companies, whether they are giants or one-person operations, can distinguish themselves, he says, is by becoming a professional service firm, or PSF. In this model, you break out of cost center/overhead hell by focusing on providing service solutions other companies will pay for.
[from article Peters principles can help you create your brand - 
by Bruce Rosenstein, USA TODAY, Nov 18 2003]

Re-imagine! : Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age - 
by Tom Peters

I'm a small vineyard. And I'm not willing to sacrifice the way I make wine to get into Safeway. ....Tori Amos

As a creative person myself, I understand what it's like to live a creative life. I write these books for us so that we can learn from each other and share ideas about how to get ahead and finally find the freedom to do what we really love -- create.Lee Silber
quotes from Self-Promotion For The Creative Person
by Lee Silber

I love it. I love it! [self-promotion]. I do embrace it. When I was a kid, I wanted every day to be show-and-tell day. 
I was also the "wake-up fairy in kindergarten.That's what I am doing today. I feel like I still have my magic wand and that I'm showing and telling. ... It thrills me to meet people and go out and speak.
Sark - author of many books, inc.: Sark's Journal and Play!Book

Today, as you are reading these pages, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of truly brilliant ideas being generated in the minds of timid people. 
They will never see the light of day because the artists are unable to sell them -- they are too nervous, too intimidated, or simply lack the skills to communicate their ideas with clarity and enthusiasm. 
Chuck Green, graphic artist and author

"There's a huge myth among writers that someone will save them from having to [pitch]...  But once they take responsibility and see that it's a critical part of their job, they can have fun with it... 
You're turning someone else on to what turns you on. You have a passion for something and you're there to find out if anyone wants to play with you. 
The most important question to ask yourself is where in your own experience does this story come from? ... 
Why do you love this project? Why you care is why they will care."
  Heidi Wall    [Flash Forward Institute]  // from Writers Guild / WGA article: Pitching Coaches

"Talent is the last thing you need. The idea is everything, and it can be developed into a
salable book or script. When I hear people say, I wrote a better book than this or that one
that got published, I know they either got discouraged and gave up, they didn't make the
right contacts, or they were too obnoxious to work with.

That's why there are so many books out there that aren't very well written or that aren't
effective. The author may not have had talent, but he was persistent, had access, and
he was a fun person to work with."

   Kenneth Atchity (Atchity Entertainment/Editorial International

~ ~ ~

"Some people think of the Web as a cavernous online library.
Others consider it an electronic global village. But the Web is
also the world's biggest stage.

If you're an expert in a field that people care about, if you're connected
to people whom others want to meet, or if you have a sense of style
that lots of people enjoy, you can reach a potential audience of millions --
and have impact around the world. You can become a star."
  from article "The Web Can Make You a Star!" by Gina Imperato []
~ ~ ~
[What can freelancers do to create a brand identity online?]
"First of all, I don't believe anyone should call himself or herself a freelancer.
The word freelancer conjures up images of someone who is unemployed and
unreliable. I advocate that everybody should use a business name, whether you
are a freelancer or not. Pick a business name that incorporates your name and
what you do, such as Bill Smith Graphic Design.

"When picking a domain name for a Web site, it should be short and include
a benefit, like I'm told that when your most
defining keyword is part of your domain name, you do far better with search engine
placement. So brand yourself with a keyword of what you do or a benefit."

   from Q&A with Raleigh Pinskey in ONN newsletter
Raleigh Pinskey.  101 Ways Promote to Yourself   related site

 ~ ~  ~ ~
"I've seen the bad side of what [record companies] can do. I want to decide who I am
before I jump into the public eye and ask someone else to put a personality on me...
I'm not looking for anonymity or looking to use my parents as my way in.
I'm totally happy with exactly where I'm at."
Sally Taylor (singer-songwriter; daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon)
  [ June 10, 1999]

~ ~  ~ ~
"The message behind the book [Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines]
is that creating a work of your own expression is extremely empowering.
I think that's what's so beautiful about this movement--these kids are doing
whatever they want to do; however it looks, whatever it says, they're doing it.
And not only that, but they're getting it out into the world."

writer Francesca Lia Block

~ ~  ~ ~

"Be bold. I kiddingly say that I give chutzpah lessons. So much of this is about having
the wherewithal and the confidence to believe that you can do it. Women tend to spend
way too much time preparing instead of just winging it. And the fact is, we can succeed
by just winging it. There are times when taking a leap is better for you than taking
another course."
Denise Brosseau
  cofounder: Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, about her "most basic message
  to first-time entrepreneurs" [ Dec.00]

~ ~  ~ ~

"Successful people know how to create support for their efforts.
Unsuccessful people keep themselves isolated. Failing to build
a support system for your career is a serious form of self-sabotage,
especially in the entertainment industry..."
Linda Buzzell [from How to Make It in Hollywood]

~ ~  ~ ~
 "We have it backwards.. we try to figure out what the market will bear and then try and
write for that. The reality, which is very well disguised, is that we determine the market
by what we write... when someone does that writing, we suddenly discover 'Oh!" there's
a market for it.' .. we are the origin of the market as writers... my book The Artist's Way
has sold probably a million and a half books by now.
When I sent it to my agent [they] said, 'Julia, there's no market for this.' So I self-published
the book, and of course discovered there was quite a market for it."      Julia Cameron
Artist Blogs: Why Every Artist Needs a Blog - by Kristin Royce
As an artist, the key to selling more artwork is maximizing its exposure. The internet is an increasingly popular tool for promoting original art, and if done properly, can be quite profitable. One of the most effective (and free!) online marketing tools for artists is the blog. Artist blogs provide an easy way to display your art, discuss your creative process, post exhibition announcements and more. Best of all, blogs require no working knowledge of HTML and the search engines love their dynamic content.
Being Unique is a Good Thing... Isn't It? - by C.J. Hayden
New entrepreneurs frequently hear the advice to "be unique" in their marketing. The basic idea is a valuable one - to get attention in a crowded marketplace, you must stand out in some way. Distinguishing your product or service from the competition can make your marketing more effective. But how different should you be?
How Do You Market Yourself When You're Not an Extrovert? - by C.J. Hayden
It seems that the vast majority of marketing advice is aimed at extroverts. "Go to networking mixers and meet new people," the authorities say. "Make cold calls." "Speak in front of groups." If you are an introvert, these experts might as well be telling you to fly to the moon. What if you don't enjoy large gatherings, hate to call strangers on the phone, dislike being the center of attention, and loathe small talk? Can you still do well at marketing?
Inspiring my career as a self-supporting artist - by Suzanne Falter-Barns"My dad, John Falter.. taught me how one can have a highly successful, profitable, and glorious career as a self-supporting artist..."
Those "Crazy" Business Ideas Often Turn Out to Be the Best - by Valerie Young
As the great actor Katherine Hepburn once said, "Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting." Some of the most interesting means of support begin as a crazy idea. The key is to keep coming up with them, then when you find one you love, recognize that the only sane response is to go for it.
To Attract Attention, You have to Show Off - C.J. Hayden, MCC
Recently, a client of mine complained, "I'm really good at what I do. I shouldn't have to market myself." In fact, he is quite good at his profession, but the problem is that not enough prospective clients know about him. Like many professionals, he is reluctant to talk about his accomplishments. "It feels like bragging," he says. "Doesn't it make me seem unprofessional?" 
If thoughts like these often cross your mind, ask yourself this -- who are the biggest names in your profession? In your line of work, who might be considered unquestioned experts, those with maximum credibility? Now, how did you get to know about those people's work?
Did you read an article or book they had written, hear them interviewed, learn about them on the web? Or perhaps you were told about them by others who had heard them speak or read their words.

*Do you have a talent or product that you'd like to bring to market? Allow Sys Nica to assist you within that endeavor.
 Highly skilled SEO professionals target your specific audience in your specific locations.
We will increase your analytics within 24 hours verifiable through your hit counter.

I blog information, don't shoot the messenger / Obama Arms ISIS

As the world of total contradictions we are all living in continues to get more surreal by the day, we learn in the 1st video below from Infowars that the very same day our commander-thief is pushing gun control upon Americans, he's also arming ISIS in just the latest sign that the 2016 (s)election may not happen at all as the 'new world order' pushes chaos all across the world with America in the bullseye once again.

War is breaking out all around us, from the 1000-year weather event that recently pummeled South Carolina and the East coast a result of weather warfare to the Syrian crisis where Brandon Smith at Alt-Market recently asked "will the globalists trigger another world war"to the homefront, where a political battle to save the 2nd Amendment and the US Constitution is breaking out once again. Videographer  MrThriveAndSurvive tells us in the 2nd video why he strongly believes there will be no 'political festivities' in 2016 because Obama and the nwo are getting ready to pull the 'chaos' trigger.

"There will be no election in 2016. For this to be accomplished, chaos must be present in the land for the people to accept it. A presidential order which severely limits guns in this country would do it. A so called 'natural disaster' on mammoth proportions would also do the trick. Some way and some how - there must be chaos in order to have the people accept a 'delay' in the elections" our videographer tells us. He also tells us he'll be happy to admit he is wrong come November 2016. 

With still more than 12 months to go until that time, there is still plenty of time for things to come completely unhinged here in America. What could possibly go wrong? Much more on that below videos. 

With Russia recently declaring a holy war against ISIS while Barack Obama and the West continue to arm them, Vladimir Putin has almost surreally become the defender of Western Christianity while Obama becomes its' destroyer. As the NY Post tells us in this linked story, Barack Obama has just made Vladimir Putin the most powerful leader in the world.

Meanwhile, as Yahoo news pushes an October 7th doomsday 'end of the world' story (yes, that's today), we see various events converging all around us on economic and political fronts that, left unchecked, could easily spell the end of the 2016 election before it really starts. 

Presidential candidate Ben Carson warned over a year ago that anarchy might be used to cancel the 2016 election and with warnings that ISIS is flowing into America through our wide open southern border in Texas to several recent highly publicized 'mass shootings' around the country, who really believes that Obama's globalists WON'T use the chaos factor to complete their task of taking America down?
The Inquisitr put out a story back on September 2, 2015 where they explored this very possibility after an Alex Jones radio show broadcast with former Clinton insider Larry Nichols who warned that Obama is planning on setting up an 'Islamic Caliphate' in America.:
Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate who the Associated Press notes is rising in the polls, said a number of times that he believes the 2016 election may not happen at all.
In an interview with liberal talk show host Alan Colmes last year, before he announced his candidacy, Carson hinted that the nation was headed for major strife.
“If in fact we continue to have all these decrees being made the way they’re being made, if in fact we don’t fight the kind of war that needs to be fought in order to really put an end to the threat that is brought on by ISIS, if we continue along a pathway of financial irresponsibility, if we continue along a path of envy, greed, and hatred — what happened with Occupy Wall Street will be a cakewalk compared to what will begin to happen in this country.”
“I don’t want to find out, I really don’t want to find out,” Carson said. “I don’t want to continue down this pathway that we are going down. This pathway where everything is framed in a political sense and our representatives are not working for the people, they’re working for their party.”
As the website Obama 2016 tells us.:
Are you ready for an Election Obama 2016? Do you know how an Obama Third Term will affect you and your family? How would the political climate change in an Obama2016? Would a Presidential Barack Obama in 2016 create a benevolent leader or a tyrant?
History tells us we could get a heavy handed dictator (Castro, Chavez, or Mao) and a President for life? Or a benevolent leader such as Lincoln, Washington, Gandhi, Charlemagne, or Augustus; who can bring us into a new renaissance? Only Time will tell.
Most people believed ObamaCare would not become law of the land.  The Press thought NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) would never become law.  In the past few years, changes in our lives have been quicker and more dramatic.


The U.S. Currency Law That Could Decimate Your Savings

Soon the U.S. dollar will be worthless. Protect your savings and your retirement before it is too late!
Protect Yourself Now

Just how stupid are we? Facing the truth about Donald Trump’s America

*Before I share this, "Hillary and Cruz are no better. We're being forced to decide between shit that sinks and shit that floats". Nonetheless, they are all shit.

Recently, Fox revived “The X Files” and in the latest show there was a lesson for people who follow politics.  The episode featured a horror-movie scene in which billions of people come down with life-threatening illnesses traceable – ready conspiracy nuts! – to an evil vaccine. This a laughable storyline.  Fox would have been within its rights to refuse to broadcast the show on the grounds of implausibility.  But in modern-day America there’s a ready appetite for anti-science thinking of this sort. The lesson for political junkies is that ignorance runs rampant through our society.
Years ago I wouldn’t have been bothered by a TV series that exploits our darkest emotions anymore than I worried about the tabloids being sold at check-out counters with crazy headlines like the one featured above: “ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS A WOMAN! Shocking pix found in White House basement.” It was just entertainment, right?
But after what we’ve seen in this campaign cycle who can now rest easy?  There’s every reason to worry that millions of people take sheer nonsense seriously.  Their ignorance is making them sitting ducks for politicians like Donald “I love the poorly educated” Trump.  Election 2016 is turning into a civics teacher’s case study from hell.
From the moment he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower at the launch of his improbable presidential campaign back in June, Trump has been offering simplistic solutions to complicated problems. To wit, to take just two examples: To stop Mexicans from crossing the border he’d build a wall.  To prevent terrorist attacks on the United States he’d stop all Muslims from coming here.
Each proposal has been eviscerated in the media based on the critiques of experts who have pointed out that his proposed solutions barely withstand cursory analysis.  His wall wouldn’t be beautiful and the Mexican government won’t pay for it.  Muslims can’t be excluded without wrecking havoc with our alliances in the Middle East, making us less, not more, safe.
But his voters haven’t cared.  Nor have they worried when the media have caught him in one lie after another.  Politifact has called him out for lying more than any of the other candidates, but to little effect.  This has prompted some to think that Trump is the Teflon candidate and it appears he can get away with saying anything.  As he himself remarked, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Eight years ago I wrote a book to draw attention to the problem of gross public ignorance.  It carried an attention-getting title:  Just How Stupid Are We?  Facing the Truth About the American Voter.  The book is filled with statistics like these:
● A majority of Americans don’t know which party is in control of Congress.
● A majority can’t name the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
● A majority don’t know we have three branches of government.
The reaction I often got when I presented these statistics at lectures was that people don’t need to know a lot of facts.  The posted comments on an interview I did on CNN when the book came out – an interview that has drawn more than a million views – indicate that a lot of people hold facts in low regard.

My rebuttal is that the ignorance of basic facts like these reflects a level of inattentiveness that is unhealthy in a society that purports to be free and democratic.  That inattentiveness can be dangerous was shown in 2003 when a majority of Americans told pollsters they believed the United States should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had attacked America on 9-11. The explanation, of course, was that the Bush administration had irresponsibly dropped hints that Saddam was responsible for 9-11, leading low-information voters to draw the inference that this was the reason we were attacking Iraq.  But, seriously, they couldn’t see through the smokescreen?  People, we have a problem when a majority of Americans can’t get the basic facts right about the most important event of our time.
Alas, though my book made the Amazon bestseller list I didn’t convince the mainstream media that ignorance is a threat to our democracy.  Then, Donald Trump came along.
Now suddenly mainstream media pundits have discovered how ignorant millions of voters are.  See this and this and this and this.  More importantly, the concern with low-information voters has become widespread.  Many are now wondering what country they’re living in.  They cannot believe a politician can make all the false claims Trump has – like saying that thousands of Muslims danced on the roofs of apartment buildings in Jersey City as they watched the Twin Towers collapse on 9-11 – and get away with it.
This is, however, no time to moan.  We’ve gotten a profound lesson about the limits of American democracy at a relatively cheap price.   Ordinarily countries facing a hard truth like this (think Germany) have to sustain a period of deprivation and disaster over an extended period before seeing the light.  Thus far we’ve only had to put up with Donald Trump for the past seven months. Trump may still wreck the GOP but with a little luck we won’t be calling him Mr. President. (I do shudder to think what might happen if terrorists strike.  We could be one 9-11 away from a Trump presidency.)
But what exactly is the truth we need to face? The answer science gives us (the title of my last book and this essay notwithstanding) is not that people fall for slick charlatans like Trump because they’re stupid.  The standard issue human comes with a brain filled with 86 billion neurons, which is more than enough to digest the political questions that come before the public.  Indeed, by many  measures we’re smarter today than our grandparents’ generation.  The problem is that we humans didn’t evolve to live in the world in which we find ourselves.  As the social scientists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby put it, the human mind was “designed to solve the day-to-day problems of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. These stone age priorities produced a brain far better at solving some problems than others.”
I argue in my new book, Political Animals, that there are four failings common to human beings as a result of our Stone-Age brain that hinder us in politics.
First, most people find it easy to ignore politics because it usually involves people they don’t know.  As human beings we evolved to care about people in our immediate vicinity.  Our nervous system kicks into action usually only when we meet people face-to-face.  Reading about them or seeing them on television doesn’t trigger the same focus and response:  our eyes don’t widen, our nostrils don’t flair, and our heart doesn’t speed up.  While a good TV debate can inspire us for a moment to pay attention, it’s unlikely to provide the sustained interest in politics needed for deciding urgent and complicated matters happening at a distance.
Second, we find it hard to size up politicians correctly.  The reason for this is that we rely on instant impressions.  Studies show we begin making up our mind about people in less time than it takes to blink.  This is something our Stone-Age ancestors found was useful when out on a hunt or sitting around a campfire. But our situation is different from theirs.  They lived in small communities where everybody knew everybody.  Under those circumstances an instant impression was all one often needed at a particular moment since an individual likely already knew plenty about the person with whom they were interacting.  Alas, voters often don’t know much of anything about the politicians they see on television.  But the act of seeing them tricks their brain into making an instant and confident assessment.  This stops voters from worrying that they need to bolster their impressions by consulting experts and reading news stories from a broad array of ideological viewpoints.  Why study when you can rely on your gut instinct?
Third, we aren’t inclined to reward politicians who tell us hard truths.  You don’t need to study science to know this, to be sure.  Walter Mondale taught us this in 1984.  He thought the American people would reward him for telling them that he was going to raise their taxes. Instead, they re-elected his opponent Ronald Reagan in a landslide.  But why are we this way?  Science suggests that one reason is that we evolved to win in social settings and in such situations the truth doesn’t matter as much as sheer doggedness.  We don’t want the truth to prevail, as Harvard’s Steven Pinker informs us, we want our version of the truth to prevail, for in the end what we’re really concerned with is maintaining our status or enhancing it.  What happens when our beliefs come into conflict with reality?  We experience cognitive dissonance.  Because this is very unpleasant we do everything we can to make it go away.  Sometimes, we do this by changing our opinion.  But most of the time we return to a state of well-being by simply ignoring the evidence we find discomforting.  This is known as Disconfirmation Bias and it afflicts all of us, both the ignorant and the educated. (So does its cousin, Confirmation Bias, which leads people to look for evidence that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.)
Fourth, we frequently fail to show empathy in circumstances that clearly cry out for it.  This is easy to explain.  We evolved to show empathy for people we know.  It takes special effort to empathize with people who don’t dress like us or look like us. And heaven help people who live in a place Americans can’t find on a map.  Should they suddenly be deemed a national threat the call will go out to bomb them back to the Stone Age with no consideration given to the toll this undoubtedly would take on civilians in the vicinity.
What can be done?  We can hope and pray that Donald Trump isn’t elected president, for one thing.  But long-term we need to teach voters not to trust their instincts in politics because our instincts often don’t work.  That’s the clear lesson of the Trump campaign, which has been drawing support by playing on voters’ fears and anger, feelings that come naturally to them when Trump triggers ancient instincts (like fear of The Other) that swamp more thoughtful responses. Doing politics in a modern mass democracy, in other words, is an unnatural act.
Teaching this lesson doesn’t sound like a job for historians, but in one way it is.  Studying history is all about putting events into context. And as it turns out, voters need to learn the importance of context. Given the mismatch between our Stone-Age brain and the problems we face in the 21st century, we should only trust our political instincts when those instincts are serviceable in a modern context.  If they aren’t (and most of the time they aren’t), then higher order cognitive thinking is required.
I don’t have much confidence that people in general will be willing on their own to undertake the effort.  As Daniel Kahneman teaches us, our brain is lazy.  We look for short cuts (like relying on our instincts) to avoid thinking. But cultural norms can be established to help.
Just why mass ignorance seems to be afflicting our politics at this moment is a complicated question.  But here again history can be helpful.  The answer seems to be that the institutions voters formerly could turn to for help have withered.  Few today, for example, can turn to their union for guidance as few Americans belong to a union.  Nor do churches for the most part offer the kind of guidance they used to.  This has left millions of voters on their own.  Lacking information, millions do what you would expect.  They go with their gut.

Rick Shenkman is the editor of HNN and the author of Political Animals:  How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, January 2016). You can follow him on Twitter. He blogs at stoneagebrain.

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