Lately I’m starting to believe that there are no self-evident truths. I doubt there ever were any self-evident truths, even though our Founders conveniently relied on there being such truths at large in the land.
Truth is not now self-evident if it ever was; it has to be taught. Successfully teaching the truth rests on the tenuous foundation that the teachers have a firm grasp of what the truth is. That’s not a given, especially when much of the teaching these days is done by social media and by sham, ideological news personalities.
Teaching children how to recognize the truth has become a hit-or-miss proposition. For about 30 percent of the population, it’s a clear miss. These folks are steadfast in believing things that are not true. They would bet their mortal souls that what they believe is the truth, despite any sort of proof to the contrary. I suppose they are teaching their children also to believe things that are not true, but let’s hope the kids are smarter.
If truth were self-evident, I wouldn’t worry so much. But not only is truth not so self-evident these days, but it has become acceptable to modify the truth and talk about “inconvenient” truth or about a factional truth based on “alternative” facts.
During my lifetime, humans have released enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to alter the world’s climate. In 1950, the worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide amounted to 6 billion metric tons. Today, the world emits an estimated 34 billion metric tons annually. These are facts, or at least science-based estimates of the truth.
The effects of global warming are growing more obvious and more dire year by year. Sea-level rise will make many low-lying coastal areas uninhabitable by the end of the century if not before. We are already witnessing other unprecedented harmful effects of climate change: droughts and record heatwaves, heavy rainfall events and flooding, melting ice sheets and glaciers.
The truth of global warming should not be trivialized by calling it inconvenient. What is inconvenient can be ignored. In alternative-fact land, global warming is not happening. The truth is that much of the damage that climate change has already done is permanent. Worldwide efforts now to curb the emissions cannot undo the damage but can mitigate the risks…maybe. Global average temperature has already increased by about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It seems to me a small comfort that limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees would be a lesser catastrophe than would occur by allowing the planet to warm by 2 degrees.
Elsewhere in the land of alternate facts and modified truth, the legitimacy of the 2020 election is denied. Recent polling suggests that 30 percent of Americans believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent. To me, the most astonishing alternative fact embraced by more than 30 percent of Americans is the belief that the desecration of the Capitol that occurred on January 6, 2021, was a legitimate protest and not a riot.
The alternative-fact land dwellers have discovered, unfortunately, that they can run for public office and win elections. Not only do they get away with believing cockamamie and lunatic ideas, but they attain positions of political power and make life difficult for the rest of us—those of us who credit the evidence and believe in real facts. Those of us, you might say, for whom the truth is evident.
Whether it is believing in falsehoods about global warming or about the 2020 election, the percentage of the population who seem detached from the truth is already too high, and I have no sense of assurance that their number will not increase. There is a breaking point in all things. Beyond that limit, the truth is no longer a product of the evidence. It becomes instead a fantasy of power and whim.
If enough people deny the truth of global warming, the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will not be achieved, the world’s temperature will continue to rise, and many areas of the planet will become uninhabitable. If enough voters, in denial of the legitimacy of the 2020 election, cast their ballots to choose an autocratic presidency, power will be seized by the executive branch, democracy and rule of law will be superseded, and our traditional forms of government will become unrecognizable.
Some other stuff for later,
- 82In the Senate last week, Mitch McConnell stood at the rostrum. He said in somber voice: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” Further, “self-government, my colleagues, requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect…
- 82On January 13, the House impeached Donald Trump again (he had been impeached before in 2019), this time finding that he “engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” He “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the…
- 76Election day was three weeks ago. Joe Biden won the presidency by well over six million votes in the popular vote, winning a majority of Electoral votes, 306 to 232. More people voted for Biden than for any presidential candidate in history. His 306 electoral votes matched Trump’s total in…