Blog, Philosophy, Sociology

The Post Reality Society: Truth in the Age of Disinformation

This is a book about the application of philosophy to some of our most pressing problems and issues. More specifically, it’s about why Americans are divided more than ever over the nature of Truth and Reality.

“From the very beginning, when life takes us under its strict discipline, a resistance stirs within us against the relentlessness and monotony of the laws of thought and against the demands of reality-testing. Reason becomes the enemy.” [Emphasis ours]

Sigmund Freud

“Far too many Americans seem to have become persuaded that what’s true is what you say is true — not what exists in actual reality. Facts are seen as fluid, flexible and adjustable according to one’s personal beliefs, political inclinations or business interests.”

Linda Buzzell

Preface

Introduction: The Battle Over Truth and Reality

This is a book about the application of philosophy to some of our most pressing problems and issues. More specifically, it’s about why Americans are divided more than ever over the nature of Truth and Reality. Indeed, much of the current political divide and dismal polarization is over what different factions take as Truth and Reality. And, if philosophy is about anything, it is about what’s “true” and what’s “real.” But then, it’s also about what’s “good and just,” as well as what’s “beautiful.”

In a word, we don’t inhabit the same realities any longer, if we ever did. For instance, the recent clashes over whether it’s necessary and safe to vaccinate one’s children and whether global warming is real are just two of the many examples of the on-going battles over what’s “real” and what’s “true.”

Apparently, for more and more people, Reality is nothing more than what one believes and feels deeply about. And because we obviously don’t share the same feelings about crucial events and issues, Reality is more personal and malleable than ever.

It’s not just that facts don’t matter much any more, but rather, what one calls “facts” is a function of what one regards as Reality.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, there is a huge gap between what scientists and the general public think about key, hot button issues such as evolution, genetically modified food, global warming, nuclear power, pesticides, etc. For instance, scientists are far more certain than the general public that: (a) global warming is caused by humans, (b) evolution is a well-established scientific fact, and (c) vaccinations against childhood diseases should be made mandatory.

“In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20-percentage-point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science…”

In brief, the public and the scientific community not only see the world very differently, but they have fundamentally different ideas about the nature of Reality itself. These differences are far from trivial. They affect greatly what one believes one should do, if indeed anything at all, with regard to some of our most pressing problems such as global warming. In short, the battle over what’s real and what’s true has very important consequences.

Again, the differences between scientists and the general public is just one of the many battles occurring daily between the proponents of very different versions of Reality and Truth. Thus, religious fundamentalists of all stripes—Christian, Muslim, or Jewish–have profoundly different views of the nature of religion and its place in daily life than their more moderate counterparts.The views of Islamic extremists such as ISIS and Boko Haram regarding the use of terror and violence are not only repugnant to the overwhelming body of ordinary, lawing abiding, and peaceful Muslims, but are a gross misinterpretation of Islam. More accurately, the unmitigated use of terror and violence is a throwback to a 7th century, medieval version of Islam.

Members of the Tea Party obviously do not share the same views regarding taxes and the need for compromise than more moderate Republicans. Democrats and Republicans don’t share much in common on the important issues of the day. Indeed, they differ often and much over what’s “truly important.”

Add to these the heated battles over the role of guns in American society, whether gays should have the right to marry, whether to drill or not to drill for more oil, whether to transport dirty oil from Canada to Louisiana, and it seems that we are truly engaged in Reality Wars of the first order. More than ever, it feels that we at the breaking point, that civilization as we have known it is in dire danger of falling apart.

The Thesis

Even though I may not always refer to them explicitly, I naturally draw upon some of the best minds in Western philosophy and science that have historically thought about the nature of Truth and Reality. But more importantly, The Post Reality Society is about what the proponents of the most highly divergent views of those alive today regard as Reality and Truth. What are the different views of Reality that both divide and unite us? What are the forces that form and nurture different views of Reality? And, does this understanding help us in any way to heal the differences that are tearing us apart?

The primary thesis bears repeating. We are divided politically and socially because we are divided fundamentally over what we take as Reality and Truth. For this reason alone, it behooves us more than ever to explore different versions of Reality and Truth.

Laying out differing views explicitly allows us to answer, “In the age of social media and citizen journalists where everyone is supposedly an ‘expert,’ is Reality no more than what one ‘feels deeply?’ Are all views truly equal? Is there any role for “hard facts?” Indeed, are there any ‘hard facts’ any longer?”

The Post Reality Society is a hard look at ourselves. The goal is not only to help us understand ourselves better, but to see what if anything can help to heal the bitter divisions that are literally tearing us apart.

The fundamental battle is between those systems that believe basically in testing their views of Reality versus those that do not. Equally, the battle is between those that are open to change and those that are rigid and closed. It is also between those that believe that their Truths are given and fixed and those for whom they are constantly under construction and revision.

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