The truth matters… because it always wins
Economists and laptop philosophers still argue over their varying interpretations of John Maynard Keynes’ 1923 comment in “A Tract on Monetary Reform”: “In the long run we are all dead.” But the non-economic-theory, real-world validity of his statement is indisputable: No one here — as Jim Morrison observed — gets out alive.
Reality, on the other hand, survives everything. Call it what you will — the laws of nature, cold hard facts, the truth — there are certain things on this planet and in this universe that prevail because that’s the way things are. No matter what “narratives” or “spin” we try to impose on such reality, no matter what religious, political, ideological or philosophical lens we try to understand it with, actual reality is impervious to our efforts. The best we can aim for is to understand that reality for what it in fact is, and to find reality-based ways to deal with it to make our existence better rather than worse.
Nobody benefited, for example, from labeling AIDS (or, for that matter, ebola or the plague or leprosy or ergot poisoning) as a “punishment” or a “judgment” by God for some perceived sin or moral failure by the person suffering from it. Our collective existence improved only through our efforts’ to understand those maladies for what they in reality were … and then working to find real solutions to treat those maladies.
It’s arrogance to believe anything else.
Yes, our experience of reality is colored by each of our unique perceptions and beliefs. And that understanding can drive us to do many things that either help or harm ourselves and others. But we do not, as Karl Rove reportedly told New York Times Magazine writer Ron Suskind in 2004, “create our own reality.” That type of so-called reality exists only in our own heads (and, oh boy, can that mental reality mess us up — see, for example, “mass psychogenic illness”). The reality of the real world — sooner or later — always comes crashing down on that mental simulacrum.
That’s why we would be wise to, for instance, approach the “existential” threat posed by terrorist movements today with a sober assessment of what solutions have been shown to work best with similar threats in the past. (And, yes, there have always been similar threats in the past: while the capabilities for mass destruction and obscene amounts of human carnage have advanced, tragically, along with our advancing technologies, the fundamental motivations driving such movements haven’t changed much over the centuries.) Studies of the most effective real-world solutions — such as a 2008 RAND analysis of the eventual fate of 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006 — have found that police work, intelligence and even political talks have had much more success than going to “war.”
“All terrorist groups eventually end,” the RAND study stated. “The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members. Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.”
In that light, it should be clear that actions based on emotion, hidden agendas and propaganda are not the best way forward. We should all try to remember that the next time some leader or would-be leader tries to get the public fired up for some costly and painful battle of “good” versus “evil.”
Similarly, we as a species would do ourselves — and many other species with which we share this planet — a favor by acknowledging there are other truly existential threats that can’t be wished or spun or shouted away just because some of us don’t like the societal implications of cold hard facts.
Fact: global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have been rising steadily since the start of the Industrial Age.
Fact: that extra carbon dioxide has come largely from human activities ranging from coal-fired power and the internal combustion engine to the skyrocketing amounts of animals we raise and kill for meat.
Fact: carbon dioxide — like other increasingly abundant and human-generated gases like methane and nitrogen oxides — contributes to a planetary greenhouse effect whose mechanics have been well understood by scientists for more than a century.
Fact: the global average temperature has been rising for well over 100 years now.
Whether we accept those facts wholeheartedly — or try tooth-and-nail to deny them — doesn’t matter to the facts. The reality is that those facts, unless we choose to act on them in a reality-based way, will have — already are having — many impacts on our planetary system that will radically change the relatively stable climate that humanity evolved in. We have a choice in what the future reality will be, but — whatever we choose to do — that reality will come crashing down on us all the same.
Reality has a way of doing that.