Archive for the ‘Stephen Colbert’ Tag

Anti-Intellectualism and Right-Wing Populism   1 comment

Truthiness, Alternative Facts, and Damn Lies

Stephen Colbert, during his years of hosting The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, spoke, in the character of a composite of most of the on-air talent at the FOX News Channel of “truthiness,” defined as

the quality or seeming or feeling true, even when being false.

“Truthiness” is the quality of anti-intellectualism, of the distrust of expertise and reference works.  Objective reality, the character of Stephen Colbert said on October 17, 2005, is

all fact and no heart.

The television persona of Colbert rejected objective reality.

Objectively, surveys revealed that more self-described conservatives than self-described liberals did not get the joke.  More self-described conservatives than self-described liberals failed to realize that Colbert was playing a character.

That which Colbert said in political satire has become the governing strategy of the Trump Administration.  One may recall that, in early 2017, Kellyanne Conway used a now-infamous term:

alternative facts.

Her boss is a proponent and purveyor of alternative facts, half-truths, conspiracy theories, and what Samuel L. Clemens called

damn lies.

Anti-intellectualism is a political and religious tradition in the United States and elsewhere.  (Traditions are, by definition, old, so I choose not to call anti-intellectualism an “old tradition.”)    Related to anti-intellectualism is another tradition, distrust of science.  I trust science and consider myself an intellectual, of course.  Another cousin, so to speak, is the distrust of expertise.  I like experts, people who have read, studied, researched, et cetera.  They are well-informed, by definition.  I do not pretend that they are infallible, but I trust them before I trust an uninformed person on the street.  If that makes me an elitist, so be it.

Right-wing populism embraces truthiness and alternative facts as it rejects intellectualism, expertise, and science.  This tendency is proving deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing should NOT be controversial, but they are.  The Coronavirus will not vanish one day, magically.  No, it will remain with us for a very long time.  The Bubonic Plague still exists, but how often does it become a news story?  COVID-19 will eventually join the ranks of generally contained diseases that break out here and there, now and again, with limited effects.  We will get to that day sooner rather than later by acting responsibly, both collectively and individually, and by trusting that people who study this disease know more about it than people who do not.

Unfortunately, as human psychology proves, ego defense mechanisms are generally impervious to objective reality.  The least effective way to convince one to change one’s mind may be to present objective information, especially if one’s ego is invested in an erroneous belief.  Consider opposition to vaccination, O reader.  I understand why, centuries ago, when vaccination was new, that many people feared it.  However, given that vaccination has proven effective, fear of it is irrational and contrary to objective reality.

Aside:  I report that the worst reaction I had to an immunization was the exception to the rule.  My standard reaction is none, except for momentary discomfort; I despise needles.  I recall, however, that I passed out momentarily once.  On the other hand, I got a piece of chocolate, so I cannot complain.

This pandemic presents people with a choice:  Behave responsibly and reject misinformation or embrace conspiracy theories and racist, nativistic, xenophobic, and objectively false statements and those who peddle them.