What do you do if you find yourself living in a world where facts no longer matter to most people?
From the New York Times coverage of the historic British vote to leave the European Union:
The British campaign featured assertions and allegations tossed around with little regard to the facts. Both sides played to emotion, and the most common emotion played upon was fear.
Sure, it could describe the current U.S. Presidential campaign, but it could also describe myriad other campaigns about the environment and climate change, energy, food and health, poverty, war, immigration, politics, economics, laws and justice...the list goes on.
If there's an issue being debated, there's probably someone out there making an argument that is not based in fact and that plays upon our fears. Unfortunately, those are probably also the most well-funded, successful players in the campaign. Anyone asking for a reasoned, logical, fact-based approach are probably drowned out quickly if they're ever even heard at all.
I recently had a chance to tour the Museum of Communism in Prague. (The painting above is there but I can't find the artist's name; I'll update the post if I do.) The simple but well done exhibit details the tumultuous history of the Czech Republic and surrounding regions as they accepted and then later rebelled against various oppressive and xenophobic forms of government and related social norms.
Two themes stood out to me:
- When people stop examining and weighing facts in favor of doing what appeals to their emotional comfort, you can get them to agree to and even vigorously rally behind changes that clearly work against their best interests.
- Journalists and the media have a critical role in reporting and contextualizing facts about a given issue.
From what I can tell, some of the worst chapters in human history seem to follow the moments where these two dynamics are weakest. People fail each other in the worst ways when we ignore facts and devalue the accountability that comes with good journalism.
What's the antidote to the poison of living in a post fact world?
Things that take a long time and mostly start during childhood. Solid and well-rounded education. Media literacy. Learning to understand, appreciate and work with others who are not like us. Political and economic structures that prioritize human well-being over rewarding corporate wealth and concentration of power. Social structures that celebrate diversity, cooperation and sustainable living. True freedom of the press and support for investigative journalism. Governments that operate with transparency and accountability. Public discourse that embraces fact-finding and truth-seeking as paramount.
Wherever you live, it's worth asking: are the people in power working toward these things? Am I working toward these things? Or are we somehow enabling life in a post fact world?