A friend's daughter told her that she heard that if the government let Syrian refugees into the country, middle class people would be forced to take them into their homes. Hundreds of thousands believe unsubstantiated statements that when fact checked are found to be false. The assertion that Barack Obama is a Muslim or is not a natural born U. S. citizen was found to have no basis in fact, yet there are still many who fully believe that the assertions are true and the facts are part of a conspiracy. How many people care at all about the truth?
Adolph Hitler is quoted as saying "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough it will be believed." This has been a technique used by demagogues for centuries. Well-meaning proselytizers and evangelists pass off belief, myth, misinterpretation, hypothesis and fantasy as truth. The less well-meaning make things up to manipulate those who are not motivated to check the facts or who view the facts themselves as lies.
History and recent polls seem to indicate that many, if not most people, are driven by their emotions and are too easily swayed by the big lie told frequently and by skillful speakers.
How many political contests have been won based on the lies and distortions of opposing politicians? People seem not to care whether what they hear is true or false. They hear something that fits their beliefs or soothes their fears or stokes their anger and consider it true because they want it to be true. They support restrictions on the press who dare to refute the pronouncements of those in power and those seeking it. They refuse to discuss their beliefs.
I imagine that supporters of both presidential candidates can read this and say something like "Yeah, that Hillary/Donald are liars and manipulators." Maybe they both are. The only way to find out is to take the time and effort to check the facts. Is the Trump or Clinton Foundation a scam? Does Donald rip off his vendors? Is Hillary hiding the fact that she used her private server illegally? Do a large proportion of illegal immigrants commit crimes? Did the Democrats cause or cure the economic problems in the 2008 recession? Who is responsible for the horror show in the Middle East? Did Donald Trump ever support the Iraq War? Will keeping Syrian refugees out of the country have any meaningful effect on terrorist acts in the U.S.?
Words are not Enough
Words - whether spoken by an authority or written in a book - at best are descriptions or interpretations of truth. At worst, they obscure or distort the truth, replacing it with fictions that lead to false beliefs. Words used with emotion grabbing rhetoric become even more powerful in swaying the listener.
Of course, words are useful. Without them, we would not be able to communicate effectively. However, they are not to be unconditionally trusted.
Experience - your felt sense and objective observations - is the other side of the coin. At times you need words to label and confirm your experience or to guide you into experiencing truth for yourself. However, even experience is not enough. Gut feel is often conditioned by unfounded beliefs - the true believer "feels" the reality of his or her belief because he has bought into a system that washes away objectivity. The true-believer feels fear when deeply held beliefs are challenged. Fear turns to anger and anger to violence. Non-believers and heretics are silenced, abused, shunned, beaten, beheaded or burned.
Can you Handle the Truth?
There is a parable about a person who sees a snake in the semi darkness by the path outside of his house. He shuts himself in, too afraid to go out. The next day, in the light, he sees that the snake is only a rope. In the darkness, the misperception created fear. In the light, perception of the facts led to relief.
In this parable, objective reality brought with it relief from fear. In other situations, the truth is harder to accept than the misperception. The person who wants to have the sense of security that comes from believing a lie about how terrorism can be stopped or how financial security and profit can be achieved will feel better by buying into a fiction. The person fearing terrorism feels secure when he believes that building a wall or restricting immigration will eliminate or minimize the threat. The one seeking profit is happy to believe in the sure-thing investment. The uneducated and insecure will feel better if they buy into a belief about the inferiority of some minority or that a foreign population is the cause of their difficulties. Those who profit from environmental pollution do better to deny that the probable cause of global warming is human use of fossil fuels. .
When comforting beliefs are questioned and the reality of uncertainty and responsibility are confronted there is discomfort and stress. The truth hurts.
It seems as if many people prefer putting off the inevitable confrontation with reality until the last minute rather than exploring and assessing their beliefs in advance. This empowers the demagogues and feeds ignorance. Eventually, the truth will come to light, but until it does, there can be great waste and suffering.
In the end, if you want to know the truth, question everything, including your own most dearly held beliefs and your own experience.
Validate, even when you think you do not have to. Ask questions like "How do you know?" "Is blind faith acceptable?" "Have you checked the facts?" "Who told you that and how did they know?"