For millennia, people naturally, almost instinctively, understood that truth is objective rather than subjective. In other words, truth is what is actually so about something as distinguished from what people guess, feel, think, or believe is so. Furthermore, no one, no matter his/her strength of conviction, educational level, or social status can transform a non-truth into a truth.
This understanding of truth has informed virtually every kind of search ever undertaken and every procedure and tool invented to accomplish it. The principles of logic were established to guide the pursuit of truth in philosophy, science, history, and other fields. The telescope was invented to learn the truth about distant objects; the microscope, the truth about objects too small for the unaided eye to see; the X-ray and MRI, the truth about the interior of human bodies.
Throughout the ages, human experience has repeatedly confirmed this natural understanding of truth. Challenges to it have arisen from time to time, and some have held sway among theoreticians, but few have had much impact on mainstream culture.
A notable exception, however, is the challenge raised by Humanistic Psychology in the present age. That school of psychology teaches that we all create our own truth, indeed our own reality. This goes far beyond saying people’s interpretations and opinions differ and that some are correct and others mistaken. Instead, it claims that no one is ever mistaken—whatever people believe to be true is true, really true, for no other reason than that they believe it. This clearly implies that we are not only entitled to form our own opinions; we are equally entitled to have those opinions considered valid.
That sense of entitlement explains why so many people become shocked and outraged when someone disagrees with them. In their minds the person is questioning, not just a mere idea, but an incontrovertible truth, as well as violating a constitutional—no, more than that, an EXISTENTIAL right. Assaulted with what they consider such an egregious insult, it is no wonder their automatic response is to call the questioner a racist, bigot, homophobe, xenophobe, and/or a misogynist, or, as has lately become popular, to compare him to Hitler, Stalin, or both.
That sense of entitlement also explains why what talk shows promote as intelligent dialogue is often no more than serial monologue punctuated by loud, frantic interruptions. Each participant is thinking, “If I wait my turn, the audience will hear less of my truth, which will be a tremendous disservice to them and to the universe.”
Such nonsense about truth has become deeply embedded in our culture. Perhaps its most obvious and dangerous manifestation is in elected officials’ inability to work harmoniously and govern effectively. Such nonsense will therefore be difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, the following four habits will be a good beginning:
- Reject the comforting but absurd notion that we create our own truth. Whenever we encounter a problem to be solved or an issue to be resolved, we should remind ourselves that we are being challenged to gather information or evidence and discover the best solution or the most logical, wisest answer.
- Remember the handicaps we all have in common, the clouded minds and weakened wills that lead us into error and sin. On the error side, we are apt to receive information less than perfectly, process it less than adequately, and draw conclusions from it less than logically. The good thinkers among us make fewer and less egregious errors, to be sure, but that is mainly because they remember their handicaps better and exercise greater caution than others.
- Be keenly aware of our preconceptions and biases. We all have them, though we may pretend otherwise, so we need to make the effort to acknowledge them and to prevent them from controlling our judgments. This means going out of our way to give as fair a hearing to people or points of view we dislike as we do to those we like. Only in this way can we be sure we are pursuing the truth rather than self-affirmation.
- Stifle the urge to immediately accept “breaking news” and circulate it in public forums like Facebook or Twitter. It is helpful to remember the adage, “A lie has traveled half way around the world by the time the truth gets its boots on.” As this adage suggests, chances are the first shocking report we hear will be partly, if not entirely, false. Instead of rushing to be among the first to comment, we need to wait until more facts are available, then check and compare several different sources (for example, both conservative and liberal media), before drawing a conclusion.
It may seem impossible that a small number of individuals can change the attitude toward truth held by hundreds of millions of others simply by developing a different attitude, demonstrating it their daily lives, and encouraging others to do likewise. But that is exactly how the prevailing irrationality about truth came to dominance. There is every reason to believe that rationality can succeed in the same way.
Copyright © 2019 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved