Truth Over Team Sport:
Politics, Moral Honesty, and why I took the Pro-Truth Pledge
I recently took the Pro-Truth Pledge. I share exactly what this is several paragraphs down. But first, I want to share why I took it, and why I think you should too. Not only that, but why you may find it quite rewarding to openly share it, including among those you frequently disagree with politically.
The Pledge is about truth and honesty within politics. It is essentially about an open, public commitment to valuing truth — even uncomfortable truth — over comforting lies and fake news. This is a worthwhile cause, as much as any. It is worth doing, regardless of your politics. Truth, honesty, intellectual integrity and scientific thinking have no borders. Closed-minded levels of Left and Right ideology, and the egotistical, tribal core of our hyper-polarized discourse, have undermined the virtue of honest free inquiry and a respect for truth, for facts, and for a willingness to be wrong. They have killed our curiosity, and aligned American politics — even among average people — against everything that has made science and philosophy beautiful and enduring since ancient Greece.
We reflexively take “sides” with our own Political Tribe, our own Ideology, like a team sport. In doing this, our ideology — our precious political platform — has eroded our genuine desire to see our blind spots. To try to know when we’re sharing bogus information, or to even care if were wrong.
Its OK to make mistakes and accidentally post false information, bad “scientific” studies, or fake news. Its the **attitude** of humility and skepticism, or honesty and moral sincerity, with which we correct those mistakes, and encourage our friends and peers to as well. We’re becoming meme-generators for falsehoods, at the expense of the core values of evidence and truth that our very way of life is founded on.
Our intellectual and ethical concern for truth helps form the bedrock of our durability as free and flourishing society. However, our intellectual ethics — our concern for the credibility of our sources, our ‘facts’, our memes, our links to other articles, and our repetitious sharing of news stories we agree with - has diminished, along with our chances of remaining a free and relatively prosperous society.
We need to put truth and intellectual honesty above our politics — and strive to stop playing a ‘team sport’. Politics should be about what is real, what is true, and what is virtuous, not which tribe we belong to.
Here is the content of the Pro-Truth Pledge:
I Pledge To:
Share the truth
- Balance: I will share true information, even if it does not support my opinion.
- Sacrifice: I will not share falsehoods, even in service to a cause I believe is good.
- Verify: Before I share information, I will make a reasonable effort to ensure it is true, for instance by using reliable fact-checking websites or evaluating the scientific consensus on the topic.
- Source: I will share my sources, providing a way for others to verify my information.
- Clarify: I will express myself in ways that clearly distinguishes between what is my opinion and what are the facts.
Honor the truth
- Acknowledge: When others share facts, I will acknowledge that the facts are true, even when I disagree with the person’s conclusions or position.
- Retract: If my information is challenged, I will verify that it is true before repeating it and retract it if I cannot verify it.
- Defend: I will defend others when they come under attack for sharing the truth, even if we have different values.
- Align: I will align my opinions and my actions with facts, regardless of whether the facts support my intuitions and values.
Encourage the truth
- Request Retractions: I will ask people who share information that reliable sources have shown to be false to retract their statements, even if they are friends or allies.
- Challenge: I will challenge compassionately those around me to stop using sources that are known as systematically unreliable, even if they support my perspective.
- Respect Expertise: I will recognize the opinions of those who have substantially more expertise on a topic than myself as more likely to be accurate in their assessments in cases where the facts cannot be determined accurately, while reserving the right to choose whether to update my opinions toward their perspective.
- Celebrate Updating: I will celebrate those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs toward the truth.
Reinvigorating our intellectual curiosity, humility and sense of wonderment
There is a particularly soothing and beautiful collection of music that comes to mind, from the original Cosmos. The show (and wonderful book), featuring the late Carl Sagan, is something I grew up with as a child and as a very young lover of science. To anyone considering taking the pro-Truth Pledge, but who may have doubts about how it will impact their ability to remain comfortable as a warrior against the ‘other side’, here is a starting point: I sincerely encourage you, just for one day or night, to set aside your favorite political news channel, radio show or filter bubble. Instead, listen to this soundtrack, and read something written by Carl Sagan. Observe the difference in tone, in curiosity, in love of truth and in the passion for bettering oneself to feel comfortable being wrong in search of what is real.
As you do this, I encourage you to perhaps listen to this clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxl1vwsQJq4) and try to empty your mind of as much ego, ideological attachment and sense of political ‘self’ as you can. Perhaps go outside on a clear night and gaze up at the stars, and consider the real meaning behind the Truth Pledge. Why it is not only important, but potentially liberating, in the sense of humble curiosity and passion for intellectual honesty it seeks to cultivate in people across the country, and perhaps around the world. For everyone who can muster up the desire, I encourage you to step outside your echo chamber, just for a brief and wonderful moment, and contemplate the wonders of the unknown. Reflect on the open and hidden, known and undiscovered wonders of reality, and of intellectual, genuine curiosity. In doing this, ponder and reflect on the vastness of the Cosmos — and of our own ignorance.
With this comes a humility and wonderment more fulfilling than any amount of grandiose ideological identity or unwavering political ideology. Set your mind free, and set sail to new horizons of skepticism, curiosity, and intellectual freedom.