I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to shake the concept of belief out of their skulls, but the dangers implicit in this mentality are currently on display in truly frightening ways. US Intelligence Agencies have concluded that Russian Intelligence Services penetrated the US Government’s IT resources.
The stolen materials were shared with Wikileaks, who then broadcast what was contained in the private email communications from the team of one of the two Presidential Candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election. The President-Elect of the United States has chosen to attack the US Intelligence community, who have uncovered this disturbing information, and take up sides with the Russian Government. Today, Sean Hannity of FOX News, who apparently will take on a new role as propagandist, tweeted this after his interview with Wikileaks’ notorious Julian Assange:
Which brings me to the crux of my point: Believing has nothing to do with it. A quick look at the list of things that people believe should convince one that there has to be a better way of knowing what’s true:
Things People Believe that they Shouldn’t
- Bigfoot is out there
- The Lochness Monster is real
- They’ve been abducted by aliens
- A Rabbit’s foot can be “lucky”
- Astrology is real
- Evolution isn’t true
- Psychics can predict the future
- Vaccines cause autism
- Acupuncture does something
- Angels are real
- Demons are real
- Ghosts exist
- Houses can be haunted
- 9/11 was an inside job
- The Newtown Sandy Hook massacre was staged
- The moon landing was fake
- The Earth is flat
We shouldn’t be asking what anyone believes! The questions we should be asking are, what does the evidence suggest? Is the evidence compelling, and is the source(s) credible? Is there contrary evidence to consider? Does the evidence support a particular hypothesis? What conclusions can we draw now, using the available evidence? Do those conclusions require making assumptions for which we have no evidence?
There is manipulation, diversion, deflection and misdirection at play here, and people who are unaware of their own innate biases are being led astray. People’s beliefs are given credibility, posted in online or print headlines, or plastered across TV screens. What we believe is irrelevant. What can be shown and proven to be a candidate for the truth is what matters. Bald-faced assertions with no evidence of their veracity must be dismissed, and no one needs to compile evidence for why they should be dismissed. There’s no need to do their work for them. The person who asserts something has the obligation to provide proof that it’s true, or at least plausibly could be true. There is no obligation for anyone to prove that something someone else asserts isn’t true. That my friends, is another technique called shifting the burden of proof.
Allow me to demonstrate:
- I have an original, autographed Babe Ruth baseball card in a safe deposit box, believe me.
You ask me to produce it, but I tell you that I can’t get to it now, because it’s in a bank in another state where I used to live. But I’m hurt that you don’t believe me, or I start getting angry that you doubt me. Being a bright and skeptical person, you could begin to search the Worldwide Web to determine how many original autographed Babe Ruth baseball cards are in existence, and perhaps if we know who owns them. You could check with experts in sports memorabilia to get their opinion on the likelihood of my owning such an item. Or… you could tell me that it seems highly unlikely that I have such an item and that unless I can produce it, you don’t believe me. As uncomfortable as that last option is, it is the correct option. You are under no burden to prove that I don’t have the card.
Fact checking has become a regular part of our daily lives now, and that’s a good thing. But fact checking comes well down the line from the original claim and may never be seen, or may be seen after the damage is done and people have been sold the lie. What needs to happen is that in real time, baseless claims needs to be challenged. The media, whose job it is to report the truth, needs to immediately stop assisting the braggarts and liars and start calling them out on their unsubstantiated remarks. Even putting the word “alleges” or “claims” in front of the person’s statement would be a great start.
“Donald Trump alleges he knows things no one else knows about the hacking of government accounts,” would be a better headline than “Donald Trump says he knows things no one else knows…” Here, I’ve rewritten just a few recent headlines:
- “Trump claims that he believes Julian Assange is telling the truth, although he has no evidence to support it.”
- “Mitch McConnell just asserts that he doesn’t believe the American people will tolerate blocking Trump’s SCOTUS nominee.”
- Conservative writer: “Atheists who raised money for Christian charity were doing it for publicity,” although he provides no basis for his statement.
This kind of real time qualification of people’s baseless claims will go a long way toward alerting the reading public that this statement hasn’t been vetted; no one has demonstrated its truthfulness to date. We need to be skeptical, we should demand proof and we should stop just believing things because someone said it, no matter how pretty, famous, smart or powerful they may be.