Hercules. The Scarlet Pimpernel. Paul Bunyan and Babe, his Blue Ox. Pecos Bill. Robin Hood and his Merry Men. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Santa Claus and his reindeer. The Easter Bunny. Bigfoot (Yeti). The Kraken. Albino alligators in the New York City sewers. UFO’s.
We mostly believe or at least, we secretly want to believe, in mythical heroes and creatures, or magic or ghosts or ESP or any one of a lot of weird things. Face it, we like our myths, even if we actually don’t think they are really real.
We are schooled early on to accept many things on faith. Certainly, we are biased by our family, society or culture to accept some specific beliefs or religion. A by-word of most parents is “Because I told you so!” We often take things on ‘faith’.
It often helps to have faith in something greater than ourselves. But skepticism is good to some degree, too — it can keep us honest and aware. Rational thinking is one of the things that separates us from the beasts, but it can also create problems. Faith is fine, but not if it becomes detrimental to us.
We face many “alternate truths” these days.
“There is no climate crisis. All this global warming stuff is just manufactured to generate money for scientists and allow socialists to attack capitalism.”
“Biden didn’t win the election. Fraudulent vote counting and rigged voting machines gave Democrats millions of Trump’s votes. Stop the steal!”
“This whole COVID pandemic is a conspiracy to make the drug companies rich and get tracking chips implanted into our arms. I don’t need a vaccination or to wear a mask or socially distance, and bars should be open! The casualty numbers are made up. Has anyone actually known anyone who died from COVID?”
“People should just get a job, pay for their own health care, and not wait for government handouts. Capitalism made this country great and we need to fight socialism at every turn. Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps like I did!”
“When we lower taxes for the rich and big companies, they’ll use the savings to invest in their workers and new ventures. Trickle-down economics is a big win-win for everyone.”
“All this enviro stuff is just BS that’s costing us jobs. Companies know what’s best for their business and employees and will do what’s right.”
“It was the WMD’s that got us into the Iraq war. We had to stop Hussain from using them or it would have been Armageddon!”
“Obama was born in Kenya and he is a Muslim. That’s why he wanted to socialize health care, tax capitalists, and coddle Blacks. (And don’t forget that tan suit!)”
What to believe, what to disbelieve, and what to do about it?
In most cases, there actually is someone that knows the truth from the lies. Usually the question isn’t black or white, but requires interpretation and analysis. Most of us don’t have the expertise or time to do that evaluation, so we must decide whether we can accept the conclusions of the experts or not. It is really okay to trust the experts.
Scientifically, we have proven processes and peer reviews to sort out the known from the less understood, unknown or poorly substantiated. That’s why we rely on doctors and scientists rather than shamans. We also rely on peer-group opinion, even though it does not necessarily reflect studied or thoughtful evaluation.
Bias is real and exists in each of us. We like to accept ‘facts’ that support our beliefs and reject those that oppose them. Information sources may reflect particular points of view. The hard part is to recognize our biases and prevent them from tainting our decisions — the best decision making is based on hard data.
It can be hard to tell the mythical from the real. Sometimes truth is less fun than myth. Sometimes people just lie. Life’s decisions are difficult and sometimes we get it wrong. We have to keep our eyes open, our wits about us, and try to maintain faith in ourselves and our own values.
When in doubt, let’s trust our intellect, seek out experts and remember to examine ourselves for bias.