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Evidence and Its Degradation

Evidence and Its Degradation

By Dennis Loo (7/1/19)

I recently had the unpleasant experience of dealing directly with someone who doesn’t and can’t distinguish between what is said, or believed might be true, from that which is verifiable, has been verified, and therefore is indisputably true.

To this person these items were indistinguishable from each other; and in fact, what she wanted to be true, and partial personal experience had shown itself to her to be reliable, both trumped verifiable facts for her!

I am afraid this has become all too-common. We are awash in this morass and I don’t think that Trump is alone in this and the exception to this trend, curable by dumping Trump alone: even among those who can’t stand Trump, there are those who suffer from this degradation of the meaning of truth. In fact, among the host of presidential Democratic hopefuls and their fervent followers are those who play fast and loose with the truth; fantasy cannot and is not confined to the GOP, though most people now believe this to be the case. This is, despite its current popularity, a grave and demonstrably false hope. There is widespread revulsion to Trump and what he stands for, and that is a good thing and should not be downplayed. It is an excellent sign and points to what is real and what can be done.

At the same time, however, the notion that somehow the Democrats are the solution to the problems we confront is wrong. The Dems cannot and will not be significantly different – this will quickly become apparent if, as is likely, a Democrat is elected president this time. By quickly, I mean in a matter of a few years, though this would be only apparent if you’re paying attention or you are one of those being shafted and paying attention. Because the Democrats are riding the same horse or system as the Republicans – neoliberalism and globalization.

It is important that we know that those in charge generally do not actually run, control, or really understand the system they preside over. They cannot. This is not a failing in the sense that they – the leaders -- should know better and could do it differently (e.g., as some hoped or mistakenly still believe Obama did). No one in their shoes can do it better, change things and usher in painlessly a new system. That is beyond anyone’s capacity to do, even if they were of the mind to that. And why is that?

There are two basic reasons this is so. The first and most important reason has to do with how all systems work, have always worked, and must work. This goes contrary to what many of us have been taught, but equally important … we all have lived experience doing exactly and precisely this successfully – but that experience runs directly contrary to what we have been told is true!

We all live in multiple systems such as the family, our schools, social systems and workplaces. To get along in those varied systems we do certain things a certain way. If we don’t do this then we don’t stay in that particular system. For instance, our parents (in most cases) teach us and drill into us even before we know why, that we should always say “please” and “thank you” and some version of “you’re welcome.” We are taught that a smile under some or most circumstances is a good and necessary thing. We don’t know why we do it but these behaviors are so necessary that we don’t even think about them and take them for granted as a social nicety; it is conspicuous only when these patterns are absent.

Try opening a door for someone who doesn’t show you some gratitude with a smile or words or gesture and see how you immediately and invariably feel in response.

If you feel cheated somehow, this is how others react too, viscerally, without any need to think about it. You may not even be able to put into words how you’re feeling, it’s so taken for granted, but you are not wrong!

This is true no matter how trivial the favor you are doing is. What is occurring here in the gratitude-not-shown-as-expected is the violation of a basic rule of social interaction. You will likely notice it only when it is not there. If the customary gratitude is shown, however, you will likely not even notice its role, or recognize the key role it plays in everyday life. Yes, this necessary skill is not born in us, it is inculcated in us from a very tender age and as is necessary for it to exist ubiquitously if social life is to exist at all. Imagine social life without it; it would be impossible.

For humans are not automatically born, by virtue of our DNA, human beings. Some of this we must be taught. But we are biologically suited for this all. We all learn at least one language and we are taught how to get along with others or else we are likely to perish.

Contrary then to Descartes’ famous “I think therefore I am,” we are, first and foremost, social beings and rational beings second. Our progression as a species, however, disproportionately rests on the latter taking the lead. I will explain.

Sometimes, truth and the most advanced understanding at any point, may only be embodied in one person, who for the time being, might be alone about something. History is filled with examples of this, e.g., in his lifetime Van Gogh only sold one painting and J.S. Bach, who we now count as a towering genius, was forgotten and his works not performed for 150 years after his death.

Einstein was fortunate to work in a realm where taste didn’t matter so much and many of his findings could be experimentally tested and verified during his lifetime. Many others are not so lucky. Consider the case of Alfred R. Wegenger, by contrast, who proposed Continental Drift Theory in 1912 but his theory, though correct, was widely ridiculed by experts until the 1960s, long after he first proposed it and well after he had died. Or take Galileo’s embarrassing embrace of alleged tides to explain his heliocentric view or certain key elements to Darwin’s initial view of how evolution occurs!

Imagine rock and roll giving proper credit to the musicians who made rock and roll possible!

If all of us did only what the majority around us already believed, or all of us only believed in the tried and true, and we as a group eschewed ever trying the unproven, then we all would avoid making any great errors (although there would have to be some errors still) but there would never be anything new or refreshing of any kind: no changes in music, or fashion, or scientific advances or changes in our language or changes in how we interact, this would be a dull world indeed and impossible to exist that way.

Imagine that those who command militaries never tried a different strategy ever and only did that which had been done before.

To be continued.

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