Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Errors and Consequences

Despite the fact that there are many people, on any side of any given dispute, who are all in favor of "live and let live," the fact of the matter is that there will always be those who are quite vocal in their understanding that "incorrect" beliefs have consequences. This understanding, regardless of its accuracy or even reasonableness, is what so often drives so many discussions (online and in the real world) off the rails.

The problem, as in many other situations, is easier identified than fixed. When we fear the repercussions of the incorrect beliefs of others, we seek to ensure that they believe the correct things - and that those who would convince them again of incorrect things are silenced.

Religion is, despite what some people would tell you, a matter of faith. And having been raised Roman Catholic, I had always understood the quick and dirty definition of faith to be the belief in things unseen - or, to be somewhat more accurate about it, unprovable. Of course, "unprovable" is a nebulous term - what I find myself unable to prove might be very easy to verify for someone else.

For the most part, what any given person has faith in is of little interest to others. I have a certain amount of faith, for example, that Pluto is actually out there, cruising along in its distant orbital path. I'm pretty sure that no-one cares about this one way or the other.

Other times, however, people perceive consequences in the beliefs of others, and that's when things become dicey. A few years ago Bill Nye (the Science Guy) took creationists to task for teaching their belief that the world and its inhabitants are the results of specific acts of divine creation. Not so much, he says, out of the idea that such belief is never appropriate, but that teaching it to children helps close them off from the sciences, which is problematic in that the United States needs, in Mr. Nye's opinion, more scientists and engineers. While there are few people who have gone on record with the idea that there is a danger in not being a creationist, it doesn't take long to find people who are certain that an insufficient level of Christian belief (or at least lip service to those beliefs) invites divine retribution.

This is becoming salient again, due to Donald Trump's penchant for lying (or bullshitting, if you view it that way). There are growing calls for "the Media" to actively involve itself in fact-checking him. But, to take some of the latest statements that the President-Elect has made, the issue isn't the truth of falsehood of the statements themselves. When Donald Trump claims that there was election fraud to tunes of millions of votes in Virginia, New Hampshire and California and that "the Media" is helping to cover it up, what he's really doing is communicating to his supporters that he _is_ the legitimate President of the United States of America, and not someone who owes his victory last month solely to the election-distorting rules of the Electoral College. And, let us not forget, that "the Media" is dishonest and working against him. No matter what the results on an investigation into the election (not that one would ever happen) would conclude, Mr. Trump has no really option but to continue in that vein. And while Democrats and other factions of the American Left may look on slack-jawed at the brazenness with which Mr. Trump ignores "the truth," the simple fact of the matter is that no level of attacking or truth-squadding is going to change what's actually happening: that Donald Trump is feeding off of people's visceral, emotional reaction to feeling that they've been left behind in favor of others for the past eight years. The loss of Congress on the part of the Democrats left President Obama in the position of needing to resort to Executive Orders to advance his policy priorities, and those priorities turned out to be too narrowly tailored to garner the support of people in states that Hillary Clinton needed to win.

The fear of repercussions from Trump supporters believing wrong things isn't going to serve the Democrats well. At least, not as well as showing people in swing states how their policies will enhance their lives will.

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