Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Lying and a World Without Gravity

What the world be like if we couldn’t agree on what time it is or tell the difference between a green and red light? This isn’t a theoretical physics question. It is a political conundrum.

We don’t have to imagine such a world. We live in it.

Consensus scientific evidence says climate change is a reality and human-combusted carbon is a cause. Political conservatives say human-generated climate change is only a belief, not a fact.

Astronauts have gone and returned from the moon – with lunar samples. But a nominee of President Trump for a science post says it’s impossible for humans to survive passing through the Van Allen radiation belts that surround earth.

Almost everyone believes the opioid crisis is a national emergency. Trump’s administration thinks it is just a crisis that can be addressed by prosecuting and incarcerating more people.

The majority of economists think immigration is beneficial to the US economy. Trump’s team sees immigrants as economic and social scourges.

Most corporate leaders view diversity as a value. Trump and his people see it as a threat.

If President Obama was for something, Trump is against it – from approval of gas pipelines to net neutrality to workplace rules.

When you can’t agree on basic facts – and money is no object, you create your own television channel. Staff members start your day with a folder full of glowing stories and gleaming statistics. They may not be true, but they get the heart restarted and the soul reaffirmed after an early morning of tweet storming. It is a world without gravity.

This is what American has been reduced to. While only 30+ Americans trust Trump, almost 60 percent of Republicans still stand behind him. What are they thinking? What have they been listening to as news?

The congressional “debate” over health care is an example of facts gone haywire. Fashioning major policy legislation in a political closet. Slashing Medicaid funding. Destabilizing the individual health insurance market. Agreeing to expose people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer and chronic heart disease  to “the market.” These ideas were touted as ways to improve the quality of health care, reduce health insurance premiums and increase personal choice.

Yeah, the choice of what emergency room to go to when you are sick.

It is hard to have a serious conversation when you can’t agree on the underlying facts you are discussing. It’s like discussing evolution and having one side say all those fossils on earth are fake. You can’t find common ground if there are no common facts.

As a philosophy minor in college, I particularly enjoyed studying sophistry – the intentional use of fallacious arguments to deceive. Sophistry is the philosophical construct for con men. Say whatever is necessary to distract, confuse or confound someone so you can pocket their change and ensilage their thoughts.

Sophistry hasn’t gone out of style. For modern-day practitioners, lying isn’t an ethical dilemma or a character flaw; it’s a skill. Maybe a talent. Certainly a business model.

As a newsman, congressional aide and public affairs professional, I viewed myself was an anti-sophist. My job was to get facts, corroborate them and share them. I can’t say I always got the facts right. I can say I never tried to deal off the bottom of the deck and deceive.

Cynics may say integrity is extinct in America. I couldn’t disagree more. There are examples everyday, in every walk of life of men and women and children acting with humanity, compassion and integrity.

I think of those hardworking, self-respecting people and believe they deserve our best effort at the truth. They can’t make the best decisions for their lives with lies. They deserve the truth, or our best effort at telling the truth. Anything less is a con job, an unAmerican scam.

If you want to enrich the oil industry, don’t gussie it up by denying climate change. If you want to fight opioid addiction, be prepared to fight doctors to who prescribe them too liberally, in too large of doses and without counseling about their dangers. If you want to reform health care, start by finding out how health care works.

Letting charlatans define your world is like priests denying the earth spins around the sun, If you can’t understand Black Lives Matter, introduce yourself to someone carrying a banner and talk to them. If you fear Muslims, call up an imam and strike up a conversation. If the galaxies overwhelm you, find an astronomer who can give you some tips.

If you think the lunar landings were a fake, send email to an astronaut who was on the moon. Then judge for yourself who is telling the truth and who is full of lunar poop.

You don’t need to discard belief to embrace facts. You just need to be able to modify your beliefs in the face of facts. You can’t survive in a world without gravity.


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