Terry Lamphier: The truth of the matter | TheUnion.com

Terry Lamphier: The truth of the matter

“I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation” — from the ‘60s song, “Eve of Destruction.”

Thanks to The Union’s publisher, Don Rogers, for broaching the subject of “truthing.”

In our current extremely heightened toxic climate of “alt-truths,” it’s worth a moment to examine the concept of truth or “facts.”

Some say truth is what science tells us. Others note that truth is what victors in battles record for history. Yet others say it is what their heart or gut tells them. More recently, “truth is what I saw on social media.”

We know that sometimes scientists get it wrong, victors in battle write their own version of the truth, and our hearts and guts react to what we think we know.

In regards to the latter, the matter of establishing truth is complicated by those who through intellectual shortcomings or laziness occupy a “values void,” choosing instead to rely on family inculcated beliefs and personal (too often narrow) experiences — all flavored by a constant and seemingly insurmountable barrage of careless, even deliberate, distortions of truth by the self-serving, ill-informed or ignorant.

Truths/facts do matter, but only as long as there is a social contract to recognize and agree upon at least some of them.

That’s not the world we live in today.

Mainstream news, typically well-researched and verified by multiple sources, is now dismissed as “fake” unless it lines up with one’s personal point of view.

Meanwhile, the poison of political propaganda, while not new, has become constant and ubiquitous, almost daily dominating our personal lives. Sowing mistrust has become the new weapon of war for political and economic dominance by appealing to our ignorance and emotions under the guise of “freedom of speech.” Think caustic AM radio.

“Cancel culture,” while valuable in challenging long-held beliefs and forcing overdue social changes, is not the answer if it erases history’s truths instead of putting them in context (thereby risking repeats of past errors). How is it different from the Taliban destroying centuries old religious cliff statues?

Without accepted facts and history — a common culture — to guide us, we are left with our emotions, not intellect, to guide our lives. Feelings, emotions, intuition, etc., can be important and valuable guides, but only as long as there are rational underpinnings.

That’s not the world we live in today.

The path we are on — drifting further from some sort of collective values — only weakens us. Someone once said something to the effect that if we don’t hang together, we will hang separately. Someone else addressed the question of how using terrorism — and promoting false narratives is a form of terrorism — on innocents helps their cause: By sowing a sense of helplessness and chaos, it leads to a frustrated populace demanding leadership change. Sound familiar?

So if we, collectively, are bound and determined to go way beyond the relatively healthy old ‘60s meme of “question authority,” where do we go?

A possible guide is to ask yourself: Will actions create winners and losers, “win/win” or acceptable compromise? Do we “Make America Great Again,” with its subtext of force, or “Build Back Better,” with its subtext of constructive actions?

The pandemic, with its massive global loss of life and near collapse of our nation’s consumption-based economy, has dramatically touched us all, be it the loss of loved ones, jobs or a business built over years with one’s sweat and blood.

But is the collective public good served when a local restaurant owner defies scientists and government officials (“we’re staying open” … “based on a gut feeling … that this was good versus evil”)? This person’s personal “truths” devolve into anarchy when he unilaterally defies collective truths with actions that put others at risk.

What about a recent guest columnist who disparages our president’s agenda with exaggerations and falsehoods, claiming it will lead to “gun confiscation … mandating zero carbon emissions … vaccine mandates … censorship … eliminating school choice and/or abolishing charter schools … promoting transgenderism” (missing, apparently, the distinction between “acknowledging” and “promoting”).

Or The Union’s somewhat centrist columnist condemning our governor for not doing a better job of managing California (with its 10% of the U.S. population that collectively is responsible for the fifth-largest economy in the world) during a global pandemic that no one globally was prepared for?

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

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