We live in a post-reality world now, one that allows for truth to be whatever the loudest voice says it is. Obviously, this isn’t true for all of us, or even for the majority of us, but it’s true for a sizable minority.
A basketball star says that the earth is flat and because he has tens of thousands of fans and followers, some of whom aren’t that well grounded in reality, a few believe him. The president lies practically every time he opens his mouth and because he has millions of fans and followers, some of them believe him.
How did we get to this point? Mostly by virtue of disgust over the status quo.
A lot of people have become overwhelmed by the world, by current economic conditions and socio-political happenings. They see others getting ahead while they aren’t, or they witness strange events that appear inexplicable, like a single glacier in Greenland increasing in size as the vast majority around the world shrink.
They hear about ocean rise threatening Miami Beach, yet Miami Beach continues to survive. They’re inundated with talk of collusion with Russia and countervailing chants of hoaxes and witch hunts, and then the summary of the Mueller report glosses over the president’s active encouragement of the Russians’ interference in the election.
All these “truths” come at them 100 miles an hour, all these experts telling them something bad is going on, and they have to figure out who to believe because when they look at the world around them, it doesn’t seem that different. The rich and powerful still get preferential treatment; the poor still get shafted.
Not knowing whom to trust, a lot of folks have decided to get their news from extremist sources, usually on the internet, where the people dishing out the mass hysteria often don’t believe it themselves. They just want the ratings and the attention.
A few take action based on information they believe is real, like the idiot who shot up a pizza place because the psychotic Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones convinced him there was a child abuse operation there run by Hillary Clinton. These deluded individuals are dangerous, but fortunately they’re relatively few.
On the converse side, a lot of politicians and other elites talk about how great everything is and how great it’s going to be. They praise themselves for all the wonderful things they’ve done to make people’s lives better. But the reality for most folks isn’t any different than it’s been for the past decade or so.
There’s a disconnect between what people are hearing and the reality on the ground. The result is that we question why we should believe these people in positions of authority. They tell us things that don’t track with our perceptions of the world. They appeal to our emotions to further their careers, ignoring reality because it’s messy and complicated.
It’s much easier to understand the simplistic assertion that doesn’t align with reality. If none of it is real, then why not accept the word of someone who is like us, someone who claims to believe what we want to believe? It’s comforting to latch onto people who seem sure of themselves, who are forceful in their opinions.
The problem, of course, is that most realities don’t care whether you believe in them. Most realities just exist. A few of them (subjective realities like the fact that money has value) exist only because we believe in them. If we all believed money didn’t have value, it wouldn’t.
But for objective reality, our beliefs matter not at all. So it’s discouraging that so many of us have conflated objective and subjective reality, deciding that we can choose whichever truth we want. We need to do a better job of educating ourselves as to what objective reality is.