Some Lines Need to be Blurred For A While
Here’s a random fact I learned during the pandemic: you can judge the health of the economy by how many people are going to the dentist. I didn’t know that, but it came back to me when I read this from an interview in this morning’s New York Times with former President Barak Obama:
“Mr. Obama centers much of his concern on ‘truth decay’ [I laughed.] — the decline of agreement on central facts and a blurring of lines between fact and opinion in civic life. The term comes from a report published by the RAND Corporation in 2018 that was included on Mr. Obama’s summer reading list that same year. He told The Atlantic:
“‘If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.’”
I admit I had to turn to the OED. Epistemology: The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
Ohhh. Well, yeah.
My favorite Shakespeare character has long been the eponymous Shrew of The Taming of the Shrew — Katherina Minola. At the end of the play, there is a scene wherein she and her new groom, Petruchio, argue about whether it is the sun or the moon which shines upon them. Every time he declares it’s the moon, she corrects him. It’s the sun.
The gentleman is making a point in that scene, and Kate is just about to tumble onto the secret of his game. Essentially, he’s telling her, Kate, sweeting, pick your battles. Does it really matter if it’s the sun or the moon?
She’s adamant that she’s standing for the truth. But at the moment her mind opens, she sees his point.
I think we might take a leaf out of Kate and Petruchio’s grimoire — notably a book of spells kept by a magickal practitioner on stratagems and how they work out.
Mr. Obama told CBS’ 60 Minutes, “I do think that a new president can set a new tone. That’s not going to solve all the gridlock in Washington. I think we’re going to have to work with the media and with the tech companies to find ways to inform the public better about the issues and to bolster the standards that ensure we can separate truth from fiction. I think that we have to work at a local level. When you start getting to the local level, mayors, county commissioners, et cetera, they’ve actually got to make real decisions. It’s not abstractions. It’s like, ‘We need to fix this road. We need to get this snow plowed. We need to make sure our kids have a safe playground to play in.’ And at that level, I don’t think people have that kind of visceral hatred. And that’s where we have to start in terms of rebuilding the social trust we need for democracy to work.”
Petruchio is on his high horse with Kate about just learning to get along, that it doesn’t matter what it looks like to others as long as it is well between the two of them.
Social trust is like that. I don’t have to agree with your tweet to agree that the sidewalk needs repair, or the tree needs trimming, or the neighborhood needs a leaf-raking day. Social trust is built locally.
Mr. Obama maintains, “There is no longer a ‘common baseline of fact and a common story.’”
Maybe not, but there can be.
What’s needed are storytellers. Storytellers like you and me.
I live in a house between two lifelong Republicans. One is die-hard and works in local law enforcement. The other is more moderate and chose Mr. Biden this time — the first time he’s ever voted outside party lines. They’re both telling stories about how life is. So am I.
On the local level, we agree admirably. I stay out of their politics, but they both know I write about these things, and I’m sure they suspect that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. No matter, though, when their families are hurt, both ask me for prayer — especially for their children and grandchildren. One of them rakes my leaves and both do the snow-clearing.
Our local story is one of peace and social trust.
I’m willing to let the political lines be blurry because our personal lines are crystal clear, in high def. We all want to live safely and peaceably in our homes.
That’s the only secure foundation there is to begin to rewrite the social trust of which we are in such dire need, Beloved.
To be honest, I think of it rather like the chalk drawing adventure in Mary Poppins. The images are clear on the sidewalk. That’s what allows them to fall into the picture. Inside, it’s cartoon-clear. But then it begins to rain, the pictures smudge, and they need to come out of the drawing.
Withdraw your attention from the blurry, disagreeable parts of the story — just for now, Beloved.
Let’s allow things to become calm again. Start local. Be in the story that is all around you, and perhaps, when it’s time again to pick up politics, it won’t be politics as usual, but we will have, hopefully, built enough social trust again that we can unblur those lines.
Only then can we tweet, The truth decay has ended. #TruthDecay
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.