Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Don’t Confuse Me With Facts.’

I want to explore facts this morning.   

The idea of fake news and the apparent disregard for the truth in the recent politics of the United States has been rather perplexing to me.  It has been very apparent that facts do not matter in changing people’s minds and convincing them—at least it has a much more limited role that I would have expected. It appears that many of the supporters of Donald Trump are not interested in the facts or truth that their leaders are offering.  It would appear that many of Trump’s supporters have lost their secure position in life and they believe that it is because of the leadership—the political elite generally— and Free Trade and illegal immigration which they have introduced specifically.  Donald Trump was able to tap into that belief and has connected with their discontent.  He has given them the hope that he is the one that can “drain the swamp” and “build the wall” (and make Mexico pay for it) and put things right i.e. return them to a golden age in which they had a secure job and a secure future for themselves and their children.

A poignant example of this was an interview with prominent supporter of Trump—I believe it was Rudy Giuliani.  In the interview he was speaking about the current rate of violent crime being the highest in history.  The interviewer corrected him with facts stating that the crime rate was the lowest it had been in years.  Giuliani responded that it feels like it is so that is the reality.  In effect, that is the way people feel so that is their reality and don’t confuse them with facts.  At the time I was shocked at this view but on reflection I believe he was exactly right.  It is the “reality for the lives of many who live in fear. 

Facts do matter, of course.  There is global warming and we need to address it for our benefit and the benefit of the world.  But there are people who do not believe it is a fact or do not believe it is caused by human activity.  No amount of ‘facts’ are going to change their mind.  Similarly, I’m not sure what it would take to change my mind that global warming is a fact. 

What is at play here is what Carl Jung calls the ‘feeling value”.  Jung does not use feeling to mean emotions such as fear or sadness.  Rather feeling is an orientation that gives value to something.  He addresses this in discussing what is required to engage with the unconscious forces at work within us, “The feeling-value is a very important criterion which psychology cannot do without, because it determines in large measure the role which the content will play in the psychic economy.”

So, if facts and information do not have the primary position in influencing much of our actions, what then can we turn to?  The answer is, at least in part, story.  In two occasions this week I have encountered people who have addressed the need for story to enable people to engage one another when we are not on the same wave-length.  The first is one of the Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan Priest:
I am convinced that many, if not most, modern neuroses are a direct result of the lack of a common, shared story under which our individual stories are written. As a result, our tiny lives lack a transcendent referent, a larger significance, a universal meaning. Our common life is a “dis-aster,” literally disconnected from the cosmic “stars.” We are lost in insignificance.

The other was an interview with Lyndsey Stonebridge who is a scholar on the life and works of   the philosopher Hannah Arendt.  Arendt is best known for coining the phase ‘the banality of evil’ in her study of Adolf Eichmann. The interview was an episode of the NPR program On Being, where she was interviews by the host, Krista Tippett.  Below is an excerpt from the transcript of the interview:
Thinking and Friendship in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now

Ms. Stonebridge: Testimony.

Ms. Tippett: It needs experience. It needs human experience around it. Yeah.

Ms. Stonebridge: Yeah. And so I think she — that was why testimony was important to her. It’s why history and the sense of a myth were all important to her because it’s what makes truth meaningful to people together in a community. If you want a culture that’s going to take on fake news, and the political lie, I say as someone who teaches literature and history, what you need is a culture of the arts and humanity. What you need is more storytelling. What you need is more discourse. What you need is more imagination. What you need is more creation in that way, and more of a sense of what it is that ties us to those words and ties us to those stories.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. We need three dimensional — we need stories and facts and conversations between people and all of that working together.

Both of these excerpts point to the same place i.e. that we need to have shared stories that enable us to relate to one another and to the larger world.  We need to be able to discern how our stories, individually and collectively, fit into the meta-stories of our world.  That is how we know that our lives have value and we are valued.  That is where and how we will find meaning. 

Blessings on your journey to discover your story and the stories of others.  

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