Reality Doesn't Just Go Away Because You Will It
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
-- Philip K. Dick
"My view is what it is because maybe it's of my experiences..."
"All forms of truths should be heard. Whether they're based on fact or personal experience. No one is better or worse."
"Your facts don't change my opinion."
A few years back, MTV released an hour-long documentary called "White People." Before you quickly dismiss it as yet another examination of...er...white people [shrug], take a look. It's worth the time. The gist is simple: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas approaches young white people from a different angle than the shaming attacks that seem fairly standard. He really asks hard questions and seems to be trying to understand their bias before presenting facts to them. In other words, he approaches young white people in exactly the way the social justice and identity politics folks want the whites to approach them. With empathy and curiosity.
One young woman, after being interviewed briefly, admits that she feels discriminated against because POC get all the college scholarships. It's an argument we've heard before from those who feel affirmative action has gone too far. Instead of rolling his eyes or looking at her like she's a fucking idiot, Vargas listens. He asks questions. Then he goes and gets the facts; whites are 40% more likely to receive scholarships than POC. He gently presents the facts and her reaction is that of a near refusal to believe because her anecdotal experience informs her differently. It is that dissonance between her personal experience and the objective truth that conflicts her. But facts is facts, my friends. And after some discomfort, she admits that perhaps she is wrong.
When I was a public school teacher, I had a quote at the top of my wall: "The opinion of the intelligent outweighs the certainty of the ignorant." I've written about this before and I'm certain I'll write about it again. Opinions are "your truth." And while "your truth" is great on an emotional level if it butts heads with reality, it behooves you to look hard at reality and admit that "your truth" is wrong. We HATE admitting when we're wrong so the first course of action is to simply dismiss the facts as manipulated or false. And sometimes the facts have been manipulated so you need to dig deeper.
Some will argue that there are facts and there opinions and that they are distinct. Not true. It is a fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists have demonstrated that climate change is predominantly man-made and it is my opinion (given I am not a scientist) that they are correct. On top of that, once my opinion was formed, I did some reading of my own on the effects of man on the climate which merely solidified my opinion. I even read the pseudo science that countered this belief and found both the funding sources and the qualifications of these Big Oil purchased scientists to be untrustworthy.
And that's where we come to triangulation.
Three is a powerful number.
Back to the woman in "White People." Her feelings and personal experience told her she was being discriminated against because she was white. Vargas presented her with factual info that contradicted her personal experience. Then he asked her friend - a minority - what his experience was - he confirmed that, as a minority of several ethnicities, he couldn't get a scholarship, either. Three points of contact. Two will almost always align. The truth is revealed.
Here's the thing: your "personal truth" informs your reactions to the world. According to the documentary, most white people live among white people and have little "in person" contact with people of color. Their personal truth is informed with a huge deficit of information. What information they receive concerning black and brown humans comes from television and the movies. Does it surprise you these people are terrified of young black men and women? That they don't understand the complexities of white privilege? If your "personal truth" is only informed by your experiences in the world, without some attempt to triangulate and educate yourself, it is by the very definition, "the certainty of the ignorant."
I should point out that this formula applies to people of color as well as whites, to atheists as well as religious types, to those in the North as well as those in the South, to women as well as men.
In the middle school I taught in, one of the things we did was to coordinate lessons three times a year school-wide. If it was decided we were covering the Holocaust, every teacher found ways to teach about that history through their medium. One year, we decided to cover the near genocide of the Native Americans. In music class, we studied the instruments and role music served their daily lives but I noticed something odd. Throughout the studies, the kids were getting an odd fetishized version of who the Native Americans were as people. The message they were getting was that of people so inherently good, so in tune with the Earth, that this image committed the fact that they were humans rather than precious angels of spiritual superiority to themselves.
So, I had them watch three movies in class: Far and Away, Dances with Wolves, and Little Big Man.
Far and Away is about the Irish coming over to America, encountering the specific obstacles of immigration and eventually taking Oklahoma. There is exactly one shot of Native Americans in the film - a dispirited reaction as the whites ( the Sooners) took the last place on Earth the United States government had allowed them on the continent. Dances with Wolves painted the Native Americans as somehow otherworldly and perfect with the demon white man coming in and learning how to live through their native ways. Little Big Man shows the Native Americans as humans - funny, horny, hypocritical, loving, filled with joy and pain, betraying one another and sometimes full of shit. Just like my students. Just like me.
Three points of information. A fuller perspective on these people. The opinion of the intelligent.
The Truth is a complicated thing and anyone claiming that their truth is more valid than another's without factual information and another take on it is highly likely full of shit. And without some outside perspective, some research, some fucking education on their certainty, their perspective represents A truth but only a tiny one. One in 7 billion, in fact. And those are pretty scant odds of being the Truth.