What's Wrong with the Truth?
Or - Truth in the Public Realm: How Fake News and Political Correctness are Destroying Democracies
This was a speech I gave on October 17, 2017 to a service club.
This weekend I will be finishing my 72nd year of life. Over the course of my life I have been vetted many times – no label has ever stuck. I’m not here to impose an agenda and I hope you are not here to play "gotcha". I want you to listen with an open mind so we can have an adult discussion.
Fake new in the hands of those who have no power is only annoying.
Fake news in the hands of those who have power is ominous.
Fake news tied to a political correctness that has far outgrown its original purpose for good is devastating.
We need to put definitions to both. Fake news is not fabricated news. Fabricated news is when you make up something that isn’t true, such as, Martians have been sighted in the Utah desert – (although I think this one may be true). Fake news is the manipulation of public information to make it fit an accepted agenda, usually an agenda of the status quo.
You’ve heard of wishful thinking – Political correctness is wishful talking. Instead of “say it ain’t so”, all we have to do now is “say it is so” and, magically, it’s done.
Political correctness started out as a way to rub the rough edges off us, to make our society more polite and more engaging. But over the years we’ve experienced mission creep and today political correctness has made us afraid of living life, of seeing the world as it actually is. We have turned over the control of our lives, our thoughts to an unwritten controlling force. Political correctness has us saying with our mouths what our hearts know to be untrue.
In a PC world avoiding confrontation and struggle at all costs is sacred. PC is the sweet words and images that tell us that complex problems have been solved without the struggle and confrontation that is often necessary actually taking place: Sanitized words don’t solve anything
In their excessive forms both fake news and PC can be public deception or short cuts. Let me give you an example of what these things looks like.
In 2015, at the height of the immigration crisis, I walked throughout the five eastern states of Germany and witnessed what was going on first-hand. Here are two pictures that I referred to in my last talk with you here, after that walk. On the one hand we have a picture of what was happening daily on the ground. On the other hand we have the actual picture that appeared in most newspapers at the same time. Notice a difference?
I am proposing to you that because of political correctness (i.e. how things "ought" to have been instead of how things actually were) that the one picture was widely distributed and the other was not; and so we see an example of political correctness creating fake news. It happens daily.
Since that time we have seen the consequences of this phenomenon grow into a reality. Germans, who once lived in a picture perfect society –carefree and secure—are now cautious where they go and when – for good reason. In 2015/16 over 1 million immigrants, such as we saw in the picture, entered the country and because of political correctness there were no checks of any kind.
Three weeks ago Germany had its Federal election, and, as a reaction to the immigration crisis, a right wing party, that didn’t even exist in the previous federal election, got 12.6% of the vote and has thrown the outcome of the election into a quandary.
As of today, Germany is not able to form a government - the Chancellor only has 33% support
At the end of WWII the four Allied powers that ruled Germany imposed a new constitution, basic laws, and rewrote the nation’s history and education curriculum. An iron clad rule of law was imposed on a people that even their own Chancellor said could not be trusted.
In this last election outside information was blocked by the government. In the week before the election people were told to stay home if they were thinking about voting for opposition parties who were not acceptable to the government. Actual public debate was not allowed. Facebook was forced to hire 600 more censors. Two sophisticated private investigation firms were hired by the government to block keystrokes: Monitor everything.
All these moves were publically announced for intimidation effect. The press was in lockstep with the government, maintaining the status quo – peace at all cost. In Germany the aim of the election process was to simply move the garden gnomes around in the backyard and to ensure that there was no change. Political correctness silenced any attempts at discussion.
For us these actions would smack of the Gestapo or Stasi – we should be horrified.
Any section of society that has a collective voice has a right to be heard without harassment – that’s our democracy. In Germany today the government refuses to speak with or even acknowledge the existence of legitimate opposition. And government produced fake news has been justified as a legitimate tool.
One could safely say that in both the US and Germany we are witnessing a rebellion against the controlling nature where governments make people unfree. In both countries, prior to their recent elections, many normal people sensed something was wrong. In America dramatic change was our answer.
Most of us would agree that democratic governments, with relatively unlimited resources of money and information have an obligation to use that power for public good. To misuse it for fake and deceptive spin, to damage and distort, is clearly wrong.
Yet this is the world that we live in today. Fake news has become so prevalent that it's very hard to find information in the public realm that is truly objective, and political correctness continually makes us believe that we are progressing far more rapidly than we are. `
In reality nothing changes or can change.
Because PC makes us afraid of the world as it actually is: courage is no longer an admired virtue in society. It has minimized the need for sacrifice. No one is called to account and PC provides a convenient way to avoid the true messiness crucial to a working democracy.
Thomas Jefferson once said that if you give the American people the truth, and time to reflect, they will come to the right answers - get it right. Fake news and PC have bypassed that process.
Words and images in our society tell us that problems are already solved. For example, we are asked to believe that a great many surgeons, scientists and professors are black, and every other corporate officer is a woman. Every set-up photo shows us picture perfect examples of diversity in harmonious settings.
In reality the actual numbers have changed very little over the last few decades and we give out PC titles without real authority or equal pay. Our eyes tell us that only one in a hundred surgeons are black and that women do not have equal authority in the workforce with men, and we still hang out with our friends, as before.
PC is magnifying small segments of society and giving them a much larger voice and presence than they actually have. What’s wrong with the truth? And if we don’t like something, why aren’t we fixing it instead of pretending that it is already fixed?
We are living in a dream world so we don’t have to deal with the real one.
In the world we live in today we have to disconnect what our brains and senses are telling us.
Fake news comes mostly from our leaders – there is no inflation, the inner city problems are solved, we can have universal health care at a low cost, offshoring and outsourcing to increase corporate profits and boost the economy is a good thing. Images and words of this realm tell us everything is rosy.
Barbara Tuchman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian tells us that human nature never changes. But we are finding that those human virtues that have been a foundation for nearly 3000 years have been upended.
Today only one virtue is revered – tolerance.
It is not simply tolerance of other people’s views but tolerance of all things – that is all things except anything that is not politically correct.
Some say that we are giving the American public what they want to hear – we all wish to hear the words forever and believe them true. To believe that peace, prosperity and comfort will continue, regardless of our actions.
As Americans we are taught there are no problems to fear, only challenges to be conquered. We are ready for any fight. We have probably been the most optimistic society that has ever existed. So, when it started out, political correctness seemed a beneficial thing for society. It meant we’d progressed, we’d achieved a stage of civilization that no one before had ever reached.
What happened? We’ve had years and years of lofty rhetoric without providing any effective solutions for the nation’s complex problems. And today we are more divided than ever and unable to have civilized dialogue. The more promises made and broken, the more anger there is. But nobody knows who to be angry at.
Anyone who does want to engage in the process of talking about needed change runs the real risk of PC’s lethal weapon – labeling – a devastating body blow to anyone who wants to ask the right questions – anyone who desires a reality check.
Those who wish to begin the difficult dialogue, including all the factors necessary for discussion, are silenced by the “body blows” of racist, homophobe, intolerant, old-fashioned, against progress, opposed to diversity etc. Intellect is about finding those ties that help us understand complex events. But today PC brands that person a conspiracy theorist.
During the terrible period of the Inquisition, the millions of victims were those who merely disagreed with the orthodoxy of the establishment. Anyone who disagrees today is labeled, excluded and not allowed into the discussion. Nothing gets done because we are enforcing silence on large segments of our population, creating tension and resentment. This notorious silence has, throughout history, been an essential prerequisite for the acceptance of any and all evil.
Here’s an example: Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was to a degree protected for decades by political correctness. The concept of a Jewish movie mogul preying upon helpless young women was just too much to handle.
The silence is the cover up.
Political correctness is also training our young people to be terrified that their words will be misinterpreted and that society will ostracize them. They won’t get jobs, they won’t be “in”.
We are conditioning ourselves to only hear one story and if the truth doesn’t fit we repel it.
"All that's strong is always wrong – what is old is cold – go along to get along." This is a world where young people grow up repeating PC mantras – win-win, don’t keep score, everyone gets a trophy, all boats are rising.
My students at Bradley seem to have two criteria when they speak -- say publically what you think others want to hear and be as progressive sounding as possible. Cling to a soft and reassuring pillow as a substitute for experiencing life as it actually is. Students today have little tensile strength but a great need for counseling.
We are experiencing dramatic and revolutionary change as a reaction to the lack of forthright information. The democratic process has been uncoupled from the fundamental requirement of an informed population as people are being fed cotton candy. The inspired system of Jefferson (including Jefferson himself) has virtually been eliminated as a method for society to go forward.
The world we live in is one where governments use fake news and spin as a substitute for bringing objective truth to the public, and where fear predominates among our youth and families that we will somehow offend the tenets of PC.
We have hundreds of Facebook friends but very few real ones. When push comes to shove only the real ones count.
Struggle should pull us together but fake news and political correctness have covered up our problems causing repression and making our society weak, unprepared and unable to handle the real challenges that history tells us will certainly come again.
I have a topic in my Honors classes called “Solving the world’s problems” and my aim today certainly wasn’t to try and do that. The title of today’s talk was to introduce to you how fake news and political correctness are destroying democracies, and I hope that awareness is what we have achieved in this room.