The Utility of Alternative Facts
Ever since George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, which was a lie, and he told his father he could not tell a lie, which was a lie, we’ve been mesmerized by alternative facts. Or rather, myths masquerading as facts. And those myths are powerful.
In Provo, Utah, there is a statue of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson holding hands in a circle kneeling in prayer. For any student of American history who understood the proclivities of our founding fathers, many of whom were Deists, including the three above, this rendition is absurd. Yet there are those who want to believe that our nation was founded by devout Christians whose mission was to fulfill the Gospels. If that were the case why did they prohibit the establishment of a state religion, or the free exercise of religion, in the Constitution? Why is there no mention of God in the Constitution? (Look it up…don’t confuse it with Jefferson’s “nature’s god” in the Declaration of Independence.)
And Utah was founded by a group of zealots who believed that a farm boy in New York was visited by the Angel Moroni who revealed that ancient Egyptian golden tablets were buried in a hill that later became translated into the book of Mormon through a specialized looking glass used to dictate the contents to his wife on the other side of a curtain in their cabin. What followed was The Principle, which asserted that the highest levels of heaven were reserved for those with plural wives, and guess what, you could even have your own planet if you were righteous enough. Lest you think this is fantastic, know that millions throughout the world believe this stuff, and their ranks are growing, due, in part, to an aggressive missionary outreach with young men in white shirts on bicycles.
In case you think that Mormons are the only ones susceptible to delusions, think again. Check this out from Genesis:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
So we’re not supposed to know stuff.Or to gain knowledge about good and evil. Which begs the question, why did the Lord God not want us to know about good and evil? Since adherents to the Bible tell us that God has given us Free Agency, how are we to exercise it without being able to ascertain good from evil? So many questions.
And another thing. If Abel and Cain were the sons of the first couple—Adam and Eve, why then after Cain killed Abel was he banished to Nod, and who the hell was his wife?
Again, from Genesis:
So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.
So there must have been some humanoids living contemporaneously just east of The Garden. Maybe they were Neandrathals. But maybe I’m just using too much of the logic that the serpent and Eve gave me by eating the fruit.
Which brings me to a fancy word: epistemology. According to Merriam Webster, it means:
The study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.
In other words, how do we know what we know? What is the touchstone of truth? How can we distinguish between reality and bullshit? Inquiring minds want to know.
Before we get in deeper, and many intelligent minds have, I posit the utility of bullshit, or, alternative facts.
Fast forwarding to our current Era of Alternative Facts, and consequently Alternative Reality as purported by our Commander in Chief, I present to you the following assertions:
- Obama was not born in this country
- Ted Cruz’s father was in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy
- Mexico are not sending us their finest. They are sending criminals, rapists
- There were more people at my inauguration than any previous
- Protesters are paid outside agitators
- There were three million illegals that voted in the election
- Chicago gangs are full of illegals
- Climate change is a hoax
- The travel ban went very smoothly
- I know more than the Generals about how to deal with ISIS
- I will build a wall and make Mexico pay for it
The frustration is no matter how many “facts” we present to counter the “alternative facts”, many will gravitate to the alternative facts because they conform to their own biases to begin with. So the mantra is: “Don’t tell people the truth. Tell them what they want to believe.” I once had a colleague who said he hated facts that interfered with his opinion. Don’t we all?
Lyndon Johnson when he was running for Congress in his early years told his campaign manager to spread the rumor that his opponent had sex with sheep. When the manager protested that it wasn’t true, Johnson apparently asserted that he knew that, but he wanted to see his opponent try to deny it.
So whether we’re talking about golden tablets, the voracity of the tale of the Garden of Eden, or sex with sheep, we know that alternative facts have great power. In fact, apparently they will Trump facts every time.