It is an interesting phenomenon to observe the genesis of a new species of words. That’s right, words; words that singularly capture an idea or construct that would otherwise be a phrase or murky “feeling.” As if crawling out of the intellectual primordial ooze, a whole phylum of novel and derived utterances emerged into the discourse of language during my generation.
Outsourcing, freebasing, rebooting, texting, monetize, collateral damage, and my favorite “truthiness,” now grace our ears as if pornography were art. Yet, like porn, people tune into these forms of verbal exhibitionism and mimic them until the seed becomes a living organism. But “truthiness,” is an idea which augments an area of thought or understanding that often leaves itself deliberately vague, thus inviting invaders from every stripe and every direction. “And the truth shall make you free,” goes the biblical injunction, and it is precisely because actual truth often hits us in the gut, our survival chakras, which make the effect so poignant. But when we confuse, because of a lack of emotional or intellectual literacy, the sorting out of the minerals of truth from the slag of the emotion that might carry it, we wind up with “truthiness.”
It took a comedian, Stephen Colbert, to bring to bear the natural absurdity of assuming that just because something emotionally activates us, doesn’t at all mean that the proposition that it is attached to is true in interpretation; let alone, accurate in the facts. But in the times of my life, where sophistication has graced every aspect of human endeavor, we can see that deception and misrepresentation have kept up, if not outpaced, the specialization in other areas. Lying is to truth as squares are to circles. You can fit the truth inside a lie (a round peg in a square hole) but it is impossible to make a lie fit inside of truth (a square peg in a round hole.) Yet, in this day and age, we see debates and discussion where the hammer of pounding emotion delivers us propositions that venture far from the facts, but also ad an opinion carried upon a wavelength of extreme emotion
In the end, a potent adage from comedian Bill Maher comes to mind. “You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts.” And when we let our emotions, as well intended they are, protect us, crowd-out facts, or willingly suppress the search for information outside the speaker’s own opinion, then we fail ourselves, our country and, yes, in the long-run, even the survival of the species. Us!
Sadly, in a day where marketing has trumped investigation, and entertainment and information team up in a vaudevillian dance of distraction, we find ourselves outclassed by media onslaughts so slick that even if outright deception could be detected, we’d be too engaged in passive watching to complain about it. And once again, it takes a comedian to spot and name the phenomenon. Robert Wuhl, in his clever and engaging HBO special Assume the Position, reminds us of a truth about lies. “When the legend sells better than the truth, print the legend.” And in an unconscionable act of propagandizing to children, the Texas Board of State Education has embraced this credo with the selection of its 2010 choice of text books.
What next? Was Neil Diamond the first man on the moon, or was it Neil Young?