What Is Truth in Politics?
One thing that most Americans can agree on about politics is the saturation of confusion and frustration in political life, especially of late. Truth and facts have become loaded terms, susceptible to reinterpretation depending on your side of the aisle. Often it seems that the loudest voice wins, regardless of its veracity. But even if you believe in the “truth” of truth and its necessity for making informed political judgements, each of us is still profoundly influenced by emotion as we form our worldview. Each of us, whether we realize it or not, have gut-level reactions to news or events that are often difficult to override.
In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I now wade into the contentious waters of political analysis, hoping to offer a voice of both compassion and reason. This article serves as an introduction to my philosophy of politics.
For as long as I can remember, I have placed significant importance on trying to understand the other side of things, whether cultural, philosophical or political. I value making this effort in order to guide my personal perceptions of reality as well as a tool to help build bridges across social divides. As I write, in this article and hopefully in articles to come, I want to be upfront about my inclinations and experiences. I consider myself a left-leaning independent that prizes integrity, temperance, and a commitment to societal justice in politics. I study world politics and have lived in and visited a variety of cultural settings, which has influenced how I see the world. I am also Christian and have spent many years in communities that often emphasize conservative political and social attitudes. I am currently fully immersed in the world of academia, but I also know what it means to get my hands dirty.
I have chosen two concepts, Veritas and Pietas as guides when writing about or discussing politics. These translate to truth and duty or piety. Truth is not confined to one viewpoint or side of the ideological spectrum. Truth will always eventually break free from human confinement when individuals seek to monopolize it for personal gain. Duty or piety represents the why and how behind truth-speaking. We do so out of sanctity, commitment, and love for each other, and therefore, the manner in which truth is spoken is of great importance. Together, these concepts present a powerful possibility, which with some effort can help us return to a place of harmony in the wake of contentious times. I do not claim be an expert on everything, and I invite constructive correction as a means for searching out truth together.
The 2016 election will serve as a landmark in U.S. political history. It has driven the casual news consumer to constantly check in on the latest tweets, scandals, and conspiracy theories. Never before have the instruments of disinformation and distrust been so widely leveraged against the American public by both domestic opportunists and foreign adversaries. The high-strung anxiety stemming from political rancor over the past year has caused some people to double down on narrow streams of biased information that work to confirm their viewpoints, and others to throw up their hands in frustration at the convolutions of our distressing situation.
These circumstances challenge us to reach new heights of introspections and self-awareness when it comes to media digestion. The next time you’re reading a particular news story, take a moment and ask yourself ‘how does this make me feel?’ When politics becomes a battle of feelings over ideas, we end up with lots of pain and little to show for it. When we use a news story to tell ourselves that the world is a certain way and that it is ok to hate this person or party or group of people, then we are usually caught manipulating the truth into what we want it to be.
Political psychology suggests that once we form political viewpoints and begin voting for a particular party, we then regularly select information that confirms our prior beliefs and dismiss information that conflicts with what we hope is happening. Just as many news media outlets have a particular ideological slant, our brains are also filtering information to congeal with our interpretation of the world. In fact, there’s strong evidence the subconscious part of our brains heavily influences how the conscious part of our brains reflects on politics. Essentially, input from the media and our social circles impresses on to us instinctual cues, like “immigrants-bad”, or “democrats-good,” which then heavily influences how we think and act.
Subjecting one’s self to hundreds of hours of cable news with a particular political slant is only a slightly dissimilar to self-imposed brainwashing. Just as we do not expect an unhealthy diet of food to not have physical consequences, we should also not assume that media consumption will not dramatically impacts on our political attitudes. We are also experts at accurately pinpointing the problems of opposing social or political groups, but dismal at acknowledging the shortcomings of our own. Are we aware of all of this? Typically not, but one of the most powerful ways to try and overcome these preset attitudes is recognizing the ingrained nature of our presupposition and questioning our thoughts and feelings as we process political information.
Without direct contact with the truth, we are all living in separate worlds, each following divergent roads that lead to isolation and disconnect. It feels good to the think that we are on the right side of things, but more often than not, we are not willing to make an effort to understand the opposing side. This is natural because we risk losing the feeling of being superior and are fearful of what the truth may turn out to be. When we stop trusting others, then we stop investing in our political system, and eventually with few left to carry it, the democratic system dies. Let us speak truth gently, motivated by the duty of our commitment to one another.