The Truth

I’m honestly not sure anymore. Is there such a thing as The Truth? If so, is it important?

This was a post a friend of mine put up on Facebook that really got me thinking:

A new poll reveals Americans have a wildly overstated view of COVID-19’s impact with respect to total infections and total deaths as percentage of the population.

Poll Question: How many people in your country have had COVID-19
Americans Answered: 20% (66M)Reality: 1% (3.3M)

Poll Question: How many people in your country have died from COVID-19
Americans Answered: 9% (29.5M)Reality: 0.04% (131K)Americans overstated the death number by 225 times.

So, here’s my question: is this a bug or a feature? Is mis-informing people, maybe to the point of fear, a good thing if it produces the result you want (more caution, more mask-wearing, etc)? Do the ends justify the means?

The second question: if it is fair game… is it fair game for everyone? Is it fair game for the people you disagree with to exaggerate, say, the damage of protestors? Maybe to characterize them as rioters so that you fear them?

Let’s zoom out even further, with respect to the election:

Is this ok? I’m personally comfortable saying these were misleading, after reading them.

But if so, is this ok? I think this is misleading too. Am I wrong? This was not blocked as misleading.

I think a lot of truth is black and white, but not all of it. Even the parts that are black-and-white are subject to uncertainty, mistakes, and new learnings as time progresses. Moreover, if you trust gatekeepers to be truth-evaluators, you’re probably asking the impossible. At best you’re asking them to be editors for a narrative that reflects their worldview. They can’t do any better.

Here are a few big questions:

  1. Should truth be policed? If so, who do you trust to police it?
  2. Is it ever the case that things that are untrue/misleading are still net-positive to spread?

I’d argue (1) no, I don’t trust anyone, I want transparency on the source and would not trust every downstream gatekeeper. And (2) that it’s possibly true, but I still want people to be free to speak ‘truth’ against those arguments.

What do you think?

I’d never voted for a winning President before.

My whole adult life has consisted of me believing that our political parties were pretty similar. I’ve always voted for an irrelevant candidate to ‘send a message.’ It surely wasn’t a loud message, but during elections people could write stories when votes for my candidate exceeded the margin of victory. There was the minor “if only we could have won over that demographic” tone that gave me some solace that there was a tiny message.

2020 was was the first time in my life that I voted for the candidate who won. The reason didn’t have much to do with policy positions. It really all started when Trump took office, and his negative tone around public schools and other topics continued as if he weren’t now the president. He’d publicly criticize the “failing public schools” as if he had no responsibility for fixing the problem. As time went on, his adversarial attitude towards the states took me aback. This is the President of the United States. Clearly this person didn’t believe that leading the whole country was part of the job description.

Here of course is where “sending a message” becomes a particularly laughable goal. The message I sent to this president wasn’t “I’d really like you to be more like this candidate” it was “you can count me out as one of your constituents.”

This is what scares me far more than any policy. These days, 70mm+ Americans are going to have voted for the losing candidate:

Those people count! They are nearly half of this country.

That’s problem #1. I will actively vote against any candidate who doesn’t believe half the country counts, even if I’d otherwise agree with them politically. It’s un-democratic.

Now problem #2… is this what people actually want? It’s my biggest fear. Political conversation on Facebook has gone toxic, and folks are splintering off into other platforms to talk amongst “like minded” individuals. They’re getting radicalized by our software systems. Is there any doubt that this behavior -literally separating ourselves from each other- will push people further into an us-versus-them, winner-take-all, with-us-or-against-us mentality?

To me, Biden sends the right message: compromise and unity. But, is that what Americans even want anymore? Is anyone else worried?