The Truth Will Set You Free
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
The mainstream media reported that the sun rose in the eastern sky this morning at 6:12 AM. I take that to be true. The news program then followed with the usual blood and guts stories, stories on the political scene, and the national economy. After the report of the sunrise, the "truth" in any of these news stories needs to be critically examined. The news media, whether mainstream or alternative, have a profit-based motive to sensationalize or catastrophize. All human beings, conservatives and liberals alike, feel anxiety and the information provided by the news tends to be attractive or repulsive but nonetheless effecting our anxiety levels. It would be helpful to our anxiety levels to know that the information being provided is the truth and not a kernel of truth exaggerated for the purpose of sensationalism.
A self-proclaimed research technologist by the name of Aviv Ovadaya observed that as a society we are approaching an "information Apocalypse," which could lead to "reality apathy" or people just giving up on finding the truth because it is too indistinguishable from misinformation. I would suggest that perhaps that apathy is also result of anxiety exhaustion.
Yet another perspective is offered by Plato in the seventh book of "The Republic." It is the allegory of the cave. Plato tells the story in the context of education which is the point of this short article. The short version of this allegory is that a lifelong slave who had been chained in a cave believes that the world is a puppet stage backlit behind a curtain in a way that he sees shadows hauling objects. Until he escapes, he believes that is the truth of the world. Upon his escape, he goes out into the sunlight of the world and slowly begins to learn the new truth of the world. He goes back to the cave to free his fellow prisoners and tells them about the true world outside. The prisoners do not want to be free because a they are comfortable in their own ignorance and they are hostile to person who want to give them more information true or not. Plato uses the cave and the freedom of the outside world to make the point that things you thought to be true are not always so. Daniel Kahan, a Yale psychology professor, suggests that advocating beliefs contrary to the ones that prevail in one's group, risks estrangement from the others on whom one depends for support. Beliefs can soothe anxiety. Truth can be anxiety producing.
In the book the "Knowledge Illusion" written by two CU professors, the main point amongst many is that our current world is so complicated that we have come to rely on the collective wisdom or truth as espoused by a "tribe" or group to which we have acclimated. Groups do offer material and emotional support. The group might be either a political party, religious group, social group or viewers of a news site. Our individual filters give way to the group or tribe's filters. Those filters feel right when they soothe or reinforce closely held belief, regardless of the truth.
I strive to regain confidence in my independence of thought, common sense and judgment. I want to wander out from the cave into the sunlight. The practice of law can afford me that opportunity. Recently, I have had the opportunity and pleasure of researching questions to which I had no answers. Subjects like the efficacy of trademarks in the digital age, sales commission agents teaming up together to balance or restrain the overreaching of their principal, or the recourse for the homeowners against a national bank whose overly aggressive actions resulted in foreclosure of their homes. It is hard to find the "truth" in these situations since nothing seems black or white anymore. Maybe Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "A Few Good Men" was right when he said: "You want the truth, you can't handle the truth." So, the question I pose is can there be a single truth in our complicated world of various shades of gray that we can handle?