Few Americans knew we lived in a “post-truth” era until the new President arrived—one who thinks “truth” is a four-letter word.

Two four-letter words: “Fake” and “News.”

Sartre to Comey: You misread me completely

FBI Director Coomey felt “mildly nauseous” that his announcement Hilary Clinton was, once again, under investigation rammed her campaign over the guardrail like an Abrams tank and a 1970 Honda Civic. Even so, he claims, he sticks by his decision because it was the right thing to do.

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

(Even though the investigation turned up nothing and, we later learned, the FBI possessed no reliable clue to suggest it would.)

This could be a footnote:

Forty percent of American voters will dismiss the last two sections as fake news the instant they read them.

I take that back. Trump voters will never read this article. They aren’t likely to read The BeZine. Many don’t read unless they know the publication will parrot their thoughts.

We entered a “post-truth” era because pundits grew weary of “post-modernism.” Post-modernism was the eighties; we needed to move on.

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

We entered a “post-truth” era because pundits grew weary of “post-modernism.” Post-modernism was the eighties; we needed to move on.

Postmodern criticism noticed a disconnect between the expression of truth and the demands of commercial media.1 Memory is short; new is better.

“New is better” defines post-truth thought too, but post-modernism saw irony in the pursuit of the new. In the post-truth era, new is all that matters.

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

My first professors taught me truth is black and white. Everything else is relativism. Then I transferred from a Texas university, which required Bible classes in every degree plan, to Michigan, where professors brought up Jesus when they stubbed their toes.

My department had three tenured professors—an existentialist, a Jesuit and a phenomenologist. Truth became relative, and three times as confusing.

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

Neurophilosophy and post-modernism rose to prominence together. Neurophilosophers reduced every thought to a corresponding brain state. In short, truth is chemically induced.

Derrida sank their ship before it sailed.

To borrow from the neurophilosophers’ vocabulary: Derrida suggested that a finding in neural research can be mapped to a brain state, but we can’t map the brain state of one mind to the same brain state in another.

His version went something like this:

Ideas can’t be contained in the sentence that frames them. They break free and transmute over generations, languages and even a simple conversation.

mage components courtesy of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Draper Labs, and Nicolas P. Rougier.
Building Connections
Neurons build connections that shape the way we think. The more we focus on one idea, the less able we are to recognize evidence we might be wrong.

 

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

 

Neuroscience scattered more nails across the road to truth. Our brains beat back new ideas with a one-two punch.
The amygdala throws the right punch. They produce a fear response to ideas that challenge core beliefs every bit as intense as the fear response to a shark closing its jaws around our heads.

Neurons set up the left-jab with a select and protect shuffle. When we embrace an idea as either truth or fake news, our brains build a neural connection, or bridge to memory. When we accept new evidence to support that belief, they make the connection stronger. Over time, our brains reduce conflicting information to white noise. We couldn’t see the truth if it smacked us in the face and said, “Your brain is clogged with crap and it’s time for a neural cleanse.”

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

Historians suggest the post-truth era began when civilizations used education and the arts to promote conformity and thought control. Even Athens, the birthplace of democracy, manipulated citizens at the margins of power with games, festivals and the occasional call to vote.2 No surprise then that the Athenians condemned Socrates for teaching his followers to question everything.

More relevant than it seems

When Jackie Robinson signed with Montreal, the Minor League Baseball Commissioner claimed:

It is those of the carpet-bagger stripe of the white race, under the guise of helping, but in truth using the Negro for their own selfish ends, who retard the race. It is my opinion that if the Negro is left alone and aided by his own unselfish friends of the white race, he will work out his own salvation in all lines of endeavor.

Neuron image: Nicolas P. Rougier

 

When he sentenced Jesus to death, Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” No doubt he stuck to his decision as the right thing too. What’s the death of one poor Jew against the cooperation of Israel’s religious leaders?

The irony of flexible thinking: Flexible thinkers push the envelope and expand the frontiers of freedom and knowledge. Sometimes, however, those in power exploit that flexibility to suppress and oppress those they rule.

Upper right: The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David. Lower left: Christ before Pilate by Munkácsy Mihály
Convicting the wise to shelter the sheep.
The deaths of Jesus and Socrates were mandated, in part, by the need to retain political power and influence.

It’s all in who you serve

Jesus claimed to be the truth—not an idea, but a person. Followers won’t admit it, but Jesus never viewed “truth” to be objective reality independent from people’s needs. He believed we experience truth through our connection to others and how well we treat them. Treat others as we desire to be treated and the truth connects us all. Use others for our own ends, no matter how we rationalize our conduct, and we trade truth for convenience.


  1. e.g., disseminating commercial memes. ↩︎
  2. Ralph Casey, “The Story of Propaganda,” Historians.org, https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/the-story-of-propaganda ↩︎

One thought on “How Comey Learned to Live with Nausea | Phillip Stevens

  1. Great piece, Phillip. Thought provoking and stimulating read. The only hope for finding the truth that comes anywhere near to approaching the absolute truth is through the connections between people that you mention in your last paragraph. I’m not an active Christian, but I do believe in the power of love and compassion, as well as learning to respect others for their beliefs and opinions. Personally, I’m a long way from achieving this, but we have no option other than to keep trying.

    Like

Discussion is welcome! Thank you ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s