Some of you might know that I recently went to America, partly for a holiday and partly to work on the recent election campaign. I said during this trip that America is like our bigger brother. A brilliant brother. A brother that put people on the moon, that ended world wars, that created the internet, that gave us Star Wars.
Empires rise and empires fall, and I do wonder if the great American empire has just entered the start of the end. But this election was not about American achievements. For me it was about two things; decency and facts. I have worked most of my adult life for decent, highly respected servants of the public. I was always taught that decent people should admit their mistakes. Be honest with people and they will respect you for it. But that is not what just happened in America yesterday.
A serial liar found a dangerous new path to electoral victory. For me this symbolises the terrifying possibilities available to tyrants in a post-fact world. And, as always, when tyrants come to power we need to ask ourselves how we allowed this to happen. A big part of it is that people around the world now simply allow lies to be told and manipulation to occur. Every time we hear someone say something that we know isn’t true just to avoid conflict or to appear polite we normalise bullshit. We do this. Not Donald Trump or Pete Evans or Deepak Chopra. We do it to ourselves.
So, the next time you hear someone saying something that isn’t true, call them out for it. Politely, empathetically, factually inform them. Show them the evidence. Normalise the truth.
But more importantly than that, if someone is trying to correct something you believe to be true, be open to it. I’m not saying you need to entertain every crackpot idea that might be out there, but unless you are informing your opinions with the whole body of evidence, you’re being lazy, and you may well be deceiving yourself.
And if you’re talking to an expert – an elite if you like – just assume they are correct unless you find sufficient evidence to the contrary. Then discuss that evidence with them if you can. You’d be surprised how willing experts are to communicate with interested members of the public.
And identify your own cultural cognition. Every time you believe something just because of who you are and not because of what is demonstrably true you allow yourself to be manipulated. You do this. I do this. We all do it.
But if you’re scared of a post-fact world you can do something about that. Form an opinion only after you’ve considered all the facts. And change your mind if new facts become available. Science, reason, facts and evidence. Genuine critical thinking. Arm your children with these powerful tools today. They’re really going to need them.
I would say ‘good luck, America’, but luck is bullshit. And I hate bullshit.