THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE is 46 billion light years in all directions, which is an astronomically huge truth in the greater scheme of things, but apparently a mere quantum of data as facts go these days. That it points up how humanity has but a relative viewpoint in which to draw its ultimate conclusions about the nature of the universe in which we live is of little interest to most people.
Light provides another example of how limited the human perspective is, for the light which illuminates our world is but a very narrow band within the full spectrum. We do not see gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet rays, infrared rays, microwaves and radio waves among others, nor do we know what the greater mass which makes up the universe is and so simply call it “dark matter” and “dark energy”.
Why, then, do so many people profess to know the ultimate “truth” of the human situation?
Indeed, people go to war over matters of belief, while facts such as those cited above generally pass for being nothing more than a trifling distraction in today’s world. It makes one wonder if we humans are collapsing down into a black hole of our own making and taking truth down with us in the process?
It certainly can feel that way these days when one pulls up in front of a TV set to listen to the news shows, for there we find that our political discourse is sluggishly streaming forth at our feet in such a murky and messy way that it has us slipping and sliding all over the place. It has us flailing our arms and dancing about as if we have all been thrown down into a massive mosh pit of turmoil and chaos as some anarchic punk rock band thrashes away above us, the discordant noise of it drowning out the very voice of reason with such force that we can scarcely hear ourselves think anymore.
Even among friends and family these days people can be vigorously at odds over issues. One person is staunchly “right wing”, while another is fervently “left wing”. It is as if the polarization of society is so severe and tornado-like anymore that the once great broad spectrum of people in the middle have all whirled off onto the edges and only a vacuum remains in the center.
Is this the case, though? Are we all extremists nowadays?
I don’t think so. I think that in reality most of us are – in our hearts at least – centrists. When it comes to issues, we are generally conservative in some instances and liberal in others. In other words, we are a mix of notions and ideals, which is to say that our positions are a fusion of viewpoints acquired over the years by exposure to events and by those who influence us the most. As the saying goes, nothing is black or white in truth. It is all shades of gray.
We should, therefore, agree to disagree with great civility over issues, not grow furiously strident and righteous. Yet, people do, which is why it seems as if the so-called “post-truth era” really has arrived and it is not just a metaphorical appellation or an over the top label. This is not a good thing, of course. There are genuine consequences to ignoring facts. It can precipitate extremely heated moments among people and cause emotion to run high. Bracing commentary can result.
Quite interestingly, disbelief over the various positions taken cuts both ways. Those on each end of the spectrum simply cannot believe that the other believes as he or she believes. “Why can you not see the truth of the matter?” people say.
There is a major difference between “knowing” and “believing”, however. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, no one is entitled to insist that their opinion is “the” truth simply because they say it is, not if it flies in the face of the facts. The question is: Do you “know” a thing to be true or are you simply echoing the opinions of others?
In fairness, it is no easy task to make sense of events these days; not in the age of information warfare.
What is the “average person in the street” to make of events when he or she sees angry uprisings over corruption at the highest levels of government right around the world and political division manifesting in acts of violence from extremists, whether instigated by the left or the right? As for the war-torn regions of the world, they are so riddled with complexity today that no one is quite sure which side is even which anymore, never mind where one’s national loyalties should lie.
Meanwhile, the phrase “fake news” is now so ubiquitous that the “facts” surrounding any situation seem almost impossible to decipher. One person calls a certain news channel’s reporting fraudulent and the other refutes that contention by hurling the same derogatory accusation at the outlet the denouncer favors.
Is the free press really the “enemy of the people” though? Is there any social media outlet which does not put any spin whatsoever on its news stories? Do any group of journalists or reporters have the “true grasp of the facts” nowadays?
The “average person in the street” has no idea. How can he or she? People who are not privy to what is going on behind the scenes cannot possibly have true insight into what is being negotiated, disputed, compromised or agreed upon by those in power.
What is crucial, therefore, is that we – “the average person in the street” – keep our wits about us, for the world seems a powder-keg ready to blow. One wrong spark and who knows how catastrophic or calamitous it could all go.
We don’t want to live in fear, though, and we mustn’t. It is imperative that we face the turmoil and the chaos while staying calm and keeping level heads. We must do what we can to not add to the collective tension in our interaction with others. After all, the world does not need more inflammatory comments nor another round of incendiary remarks. What it needs is for all of us to respect one another and to try and understand perspectives which are not our own.
In the last analysis, there is no absolute right or wrong and “truth” itself has many facets. If we at least try to be honest about how our own perspective is limited and note this fact ahead of speaking it would prove beneficial. Honesty goes a long way and civility is an utterly vital virtue.
If we are the spiritual beings so many of us believe ourselves to be, then our first effort must be to follow the advice of the ancient wisdom masters who said, “Know thyself” above everything else. This includes being honest about our own prejudices and biases.
Once we genuinely know ourselves, we then need to stay “true” to our own higher ideals even if certain leaders lack integrity, say virtually anything in order to advance their personal agendas and give truth such a terrible spin that it leaves everyone reeling.
In the end, of course, none of us is perfect or all-knowing, so let us keep the peace first and foremost. That way we can pursue “truth” with cooler heads.