These are tough times for truth. I speak as someone old enough (73) to remember the time when there was a general consensus about what was true.
Here in the United States, the nightly news was widely watched. If you subscribed to TIME, Life, National Geographic, Saturday Review, and a daily newspaper, you'd be able to keep up on events in the world.
It was relatively rare for there to be a widespread disagreement about facts. Sure, after John Kennedy was assassinated conspiracy theories about the "real killer" surfaced. But they didn't infect the minds of a large proportion of Americans.
Things are different now.
With the rise of the internet, and the decline of mainstream media, people are able to fashion their own personalized take on reality. And almost certainly they'll be able to find a likeminded online community, no matter how outlandish the belief.
Moon landings were faked. Earth is flat. Alien abductions are happening. The Second Coming of Jesus is around the corner. Robert Kennedy Jr. is still alive.
The United States always has been a home for unconventional thinkers, rebels with or without a cause. However, nowadays it's possible for anyone to cobble together a view of reality that's far outside the mainstream without doing much thinking.
All they have to do is find the right web site, Facebook page, online discussion group, or whatever, and the craziest idea, totally unhinged from reality, can be found cloaked in pretensions of truth that can draw gullible individuals in like an alcoholic attracted to a liquor bottle.
Intoxicating. Yet decidedly unhealthy.
Tomorrow the January 6 committee is holding a primetime hearing where they'll detail Donald Trump's actions (more accurately, inactions) while the nation's capitol was being attacked by insurrectionists. I've watched every minute of each hearing so far.
They've been a marvelous lesson in how to go about telling the truth. Talk to people in the know. Crosscheck what they say, especially if there are contradictions. Seek tangible evidence. Weave known facts into a reason-based narrative.
A disturbingly large percentage of Republicans continue to believe Trump's false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. And Trump hasn't stopped with his lie that those who invaded the Capitol were peaceful protesters, not violent insurrectionists.
Such is the power of untruth.
Truth can be uncomfortable. Truth can hurt. Truth can dismantle our most cherished beliefs. Truth can be difficult to discern. So many people prefer to cling to falsehoods. Rather than modify their understanding of reality to match the facts, they use fake facts to manufacture a made-to-order reality.
We all do this to some extent. Sometimes the cold truth of reality is too difficult to endure without putting a warm blanket of fantasy around ourselves. This can be fine. Fiction is a marvelous form of literature. It also can be an effective way of helping us get through tough times.
So long as we realize what we're doing. Research shows that a placebo can make us feel better even if a doctor tells us, "This is just a sugar pill."
That's how I've come to view religion, mysticism, and supernatural forms of spirituality. They're sugar pills, almost certainly lacking any truly effective ingredients. But they can make us feel good. And in a world where so many people feel bad, finding a way to feel better is difficult for me to argue against.
I just don't like it when feeling good is equated with truth. Know the difference.
Like I said, sometimes truth can hurt. If you're a truth seeker, you're going to feel pain at times. But it can be a sweet sort of pain, because even when truth hurts, there's satisfaction in knowing that we're in touch with something real.