Story by Suzan Michalski '18
The search for truth has become a top priority for many. During the 2016 presidential elections, the email scandal involving Hillary Clinton inevitably placed the issue of “truth” at the center of the debate between the two opponents. On social media and in the news, we constantly hear journalists and media figures calling on the American public to combat Trump’s ideology with facts. During the Academy Awards, the New York Times released a short advertisement titled, “The Truth,” which concluded with the statement that "the truth is more important now than ever." With all this discussion about finding the truth, we must inevitably ask ourselves: what is truth?
Truth is a profound and noble pursuit, commonly associated with facts and evidence. To find the truth, therefore, one must supposedly present an argument backed up with studies, statistics, and data. To base an argument off of one’s gut instinct is often seen as invalid; a worldview based on emotional impulses such as fear, as some define Trump’s ideology, is not always acceptable.
When it comes to politics in particular, many believe that facts and knowledge provide the best means to find the truth and thus create policies. During the early 20th century, known as the Progressive era, many scholars and Progressive leaders sought to apply scientific methods to fields such as economics and politics. This era witnessed the creation of unelected federal organizations run by appointed officials and “experts” such as the Federal Trade Commission. Today, as shown by the election of Trump, Americans are increasingly suspicious of such teams of “experts” in the government. The rise of ideas such as “fake news” further highlights many people’s distrust of outlets meant to disseminate information-- in other words, the media. Many people no longer have confidence in the institutions of our society that were once intended to spread facts. Thus, America is beginning to lose faith in the “truth”.
I do not see this as inherently bad. In reality, no person or group can claim to be a propagator of truth. When it comes to topics such as politics, we should learn to see truth not as facts and data, but as each person’s individual viewpoint. Throughout our lifetimes, we accumulate countless experiences and we acquire a wealth of information about our own lives. It is impossible to know everything about something or somebody and align everything properly. In the end, we are just guessing-- a stab in the dark.
This is not to say we should abandon the use of research and evidence. I am only proposing that we stop assuming that there is one definite truth and that we validate people’s worldview regardless of how it may contrast with the reality we know. We may like to think that by acquiring facts and research, we can find a position that accurately reflects reality-- but this is just a flaw in our reasoning. Our research will always fall victim to the endless list of logical fallacies we are prone to: cognitive dissonance, survivorship bias, swimmer’s body illusion, clustering illusion, social proof, confirmation bias, and authority bias, just to name a handful. You may try to approach things as rationally as possible; however, as my father once told me, “good luck overcoming the human condition.” These fallacies are widespread in many fields within the social sciences. Of course, research is incredibly valuable in that it aids each person in forming their own viewpoint. But, the truth should not end with facts and research. Rather, it only begins there: the real truth we seek lies somewhere between the perspectives of those who stand to look.