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INFORMATION BUFFET

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to receive information. Apparently the first 18 Articles enshrine the basic human right to not wear masks during a pandemic.

Clearly democracy, a system of government dependent on people making free choices, requires that those choices be based on an assessment of relevant, accurate facts. Otherwise, we could someday elect a crazy person!

But what is the nature of information? Is there objective truth? Is everyone’s perception of truth equally valid? Does everyone get their own truth? Who are the reliable arbiters of truth? Isn’t Pink Floyd’s “Wish you Were Here” album awesome? Did you notice that each of your fingers is alive and might even have a soul? OK, I think I’m going to eat some Bar-B-Que potato chips, take a nap and finish this later!

To me, there is an objective truth. One of the phrases-in-fashion that makes my head explode is “He (or She) spoke their truth”. We do not each get our own truth! There is one objective truth defined as that which is true, that which actually happened. We may have different interpretations on what happened or different opinions about it. But something happened, which means that something else did not.

What prompted this post was my Facebook page. Along with the pictures of everyone’s nachos, (thanks for that!) there are the usual heated political debates. But for the most part, they never develop into anything meaningful because it’s difficult to discuss how facts fit into a philosophical framework if you can’t agree on what those facts are.

When I was young, I would watch Walter Cronkite almost every night (which partially explains why I couldn’t get a date for the prom). So did almost everyone in America. You and I may disagree, but at least we all had the same root facts to anchor our argument. This is what is happening in Viet Nam. This is what Martin Luther King said. This is how many games the Phillies have lost in a row.

Those days are obviously and tragically long gone. Now, if you watch Rachel Maddow, you will think that Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless they helped him dig up dirt on Joe Biden. If instead you watch Sean Hannity, you will never have heard of Ukraine, but you’ll know that Joe Biden is currently being fed applesauce in an Alzheimer’s Memory Care Unit. And it’s not just that the information is different. We are told that people who don’t believe the same facts as we do are “lazy”, “Corrupt”, “Stupid” and “Hate America”.

Back to my Facebook page: Someone will post some article about how Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or any Democrat really is part of some underground pedophile ring. They write “Shocking!”, which it absolutely would be. If it were true.

To be fair (while rejecting a false equivalency, since misinformation is not equally disseminated between the parties) there are some posts of left-wing organizations that say false things like “Mike Pence Plans to Invoke 25th Amendment to Get Rid of Trump” (if only…). Either way, it’s hard to have an enlightening discussion that consists exclusively of “That’s not true!” “Yes it is!”, “No it’s not!”, “Yes it is!”

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that it’s not just the media which does this. According to Donald Trump, who is a very stable genius (It’s true! I read it on Facebook!), every single story ever written which criticized him in any way is “Fake News”. He calls allegations that he said something which he said on NATIONAL TELEVISION “fake news”. Frankly, if I could do that, my entire academic transcript would be fake news. But his followers just accept it, to the point that often when Trump does something, lets just say…problematic from a sanity perspective, “Fake News” is the entirety of the response from his supporters.

In a great world, there would be one oracle of factual truth. In an even better world, that would be me. And in a perfect world, I could monetize that somehow.

But the point is that a Democracy cannot function if facts are subjective or irrelevant or available to select like items at a buffet. Hell, a roof-inspection couldn’t function like that.

ROOF INSPECTOR: Your roof is not up to code.

HOME OWNER: Yes it is.

ROOF INSPECTOR: No. It isn’t. Shingles are falling off the roof as we speak. There! One just hit you in the nose. You’re bleeding!

HOME OWNER: That’s a lie. And my roof is fine. And I don’t have a roof, and there’s no house here. And you’re a cuck!

ROOF INSPECTOR: What?? I don’t even know what…

HOME OWNER: And I’m not the racist. You’re the racist!!

You can see how the mutability of information makes even the most basic interactions impossible.

This is largely what is behind the seemingly never-ending hostility that permeates our society these days. The only way out of this is to recognize that we may disagree, but that truth matters, even if it doesn’t entirely support our position. And we must demand whatever sources of information we use actually inform us and not just make us feel better about how right our pre-conceived notions are.

I would tape myself reading this and post it on-line, if YouTube wasn’t a secret plot by the Swedes and the Denver Broncos to get us to all shave our backs and sell the hair to George Soros. It’s true! I just saw it on Twitter!

Written by

Long-time state House and Senate member, author of PA’s Medical Marijuana law, also creator of “shit-gibbon!” Comedian, professor, father of 2 awesome children!

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