The Honesty Of Cluelessness
I was talking to Brian last night about my thoughts about ‘truth’. I’ve realised that we most often use or hear the word ‘truth’ when talking about ‘non-facts’. For example, “The Truth About the Moon Landings” is inevitably about some ridiculous conspiracy which ends up talking about UFOs or the Illuminati or both. As Brian said, questioning the Moon landings is as crazy as questioning the discovery of penicillin. You don’t have to scream about “the truth”. It happened. The end.
Just Googling “the Truth” brings up pages like The Truth Seeker – “Behind the headlines – conspiracies, cover-ups, ancient mysteries and more. Real news and perspectives that you won’t find in the mainstream media.“- Jah- The Truth About…- “The absolute Truth about an expanse of different subjects, from princess Diana’s death, to Genetic Terminator-Seeds and the New World Order conspiracy.“. Just throw ’911′ into your search and a whole host of sites pop up which will dull Occam’s Razor simply by clicking on one of the links.
Far too often people confuse the word “truth” with “fact”. Sure, in some instances “truth” can mean fact – ie True or False: 2+2=4- but more often than not people use it in place of words such as “belief” “feeling” “hypothesis”. I understand and accept that certain things can be “true” within a particular belief structure – “women are inferior” is true to misogynistic men, “children should be beaten” is true to people who believe in corporal punishment, “the world is run by reptilian aliens who take the form of humans” is true to people who are functioning-insane. There is, however, no inherent truth in any of those statements. They are merely “beliefs” and our differences would be based on our particular belief structures.
If, however, one is talking about the Moon landings with someone who believes they were faked then that is a different kettle of fish altogether. I would be talking about ‘facts’ and they would be talking about ‘belief’. Now if that person didn’t know much at all about the Moon landings other than what they’ve heard from conspiracy theorists, yet they were open to the facts, then it would take about 5 minutes’ explanation to make them see how wrong the conspiracy theorists actually are (visit Bad Astronomy for facts refuting some claims).
If the person is a fervent conspiracy theory believer, however, they won’t listen. Much in the same way that a religious person refuses to accept that isn’t really an image of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla, a conspiracy theorist is incapable of seeing the apophenic illusion of reality they’ve constructed as anything other than “the truth”.
Why is it that some people find it impossible to accept ‘facts’? Why is it that some people who are intelligent and skeptical in every other aspect of their lives are happy to throw out rational thought when it comes to things like the Moon landings? Why on the one hand will they question everything the government, scientists and business state, but they happily accept without question the “evidence” spewed out by people who can find a link back to the ‘Illuminati’ in everything? They will happily claim that the sky is pink despite all evidence to the contrary. And, inevitably for these people, a ‘pink sky’ means doom, gloom and death for everyone on the planet and will go on about the “truth” about how the ‘establishment’ is purposely trying to make the sky pinker.
Just like with “feelings”, no one’s “opinion” is wrong. “I love New York.” “I hate New York.” “John Lennon was the best Beatle.” “Paul McCartney was the best Beatle.” “Abortion should be legal.” “Abortion should be illegal.” You can back up your opinions with statements of fact (“New York has less green space than London.” “Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career was more successful” “The number of abortions in countries where it is restricted or illegal is almost exactly the same as the number in countries where it is readily available, but the death rate from illegal abortions is hundreds of times higher.”) but when it comes down to it, your disagreement will be entirely based on your differing belief structures, so in your own ways, you will both be right. (I will say, however, that attempting to inflict a belief structure on other people which prevents them from living their own lives within their own belief structure is flat out wrong.)
Statements like “New York is the headquarters of the Jew World Order.” “Paul McCartney had John Lennon killed” “Abortion is murder”, however, cannot be questioned and discussed properly without having to discuss the topics on which those statements are built, namely the whole concept of the Jewish Conspiracy, the reasons why Paul McCartney would have John Lennon killed, and the belief about what makes up a ‘human being’. The disagreement then isn’t about New York, Paul McCartney or abortion, it’s about some *other* belief structure. And on and on it goes. Eventually, however, you will end up at ‘facts’.
When you and another person are disagreeing about “facts”, then one of you will be wrong. It is not possible for both 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 to be truthful statements. Sure, 2+2=5 could be the more “surprising” or “interesting” statement, but that doesn’t make it “true”. To state that 2+2=5 is “the truth” is not only wrong, but to continue to spread it as “truth” despite being told the facts, is irresponsible.
I don’t trust people who don’t know where their knowledge about a particular topic ends and where their belief begins. I don’t trust people who confuse ‘belief’ with ‘truth’. I trust people who admit to not knowing something. That is what I called ‘the honesty of cluelessness’. Whether it is admitting that they don’t know the first thing about the Moon landings to owning up to the fact that they don’t know how to do a particular task at work, being honest about what they don’t know is something I value highly in another person… and in myself.