This book focuses on truth, beliefs that best match empirical evidence. Truth contrasts with truthiness, beliefs supported primarily by emotions and feelings. When political satirist Steven Colbert celebrated the rise of “truthiness,” he called attention to an important pathology in our body politic. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common and acceptable for public figures to boost whatever beliefs they feel will help their cause. Nowadays children mostly consume misleading and harmful information. We are poisoning their information environment as dangerously as sugary foods ruin nutrition and toxins pollute air, water, and soil.
Societies sometimes organize to regulate or eliminate pollutants. Lead and mercury were used for centuries before they were largely outlawed. Over the last few decades, we began to limit smog-producing gases, acid-rain components, and asthma-inducing particulates in our air. Recently the entire world has been struggling with the fact that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide lead to higher global temperatures that kill forests, wipe out glaciers, and inundate low-lying islands and coastal areas. These problems, and others, can’t be solved unless our people understand the issues and wrestle with options. That requires operating on truth, not truthiness. However, society’s most powerful players are addicted to lying and foment truthiness fever purposefully.
Colbert highlighted a broad class of lying. Truthiness is a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, or intellectual examination of facts. By allowing truthiness to trump truthfulness, we cede our right to intelligent debate and decision-making. The most powerful, emotional, resonant voices prevail in all contests when facts don’t matter.
This book seeks to amplify Colbert’s observation to address the apparent plague of lying, a state of Truthiness Fever, where most people are either busy polluting the information environment or suffering the consequences of daily involuntary ingestion of propaganda substituting for facts. In a world where billions of people ingest the same information, manufactured by a small number of self-interested lawless polluters, we risk a global plague. This plague causes vast numbers of people to take inappropriate actions based on toxic beliefs. If we don’t clean up the environment, we can expect powerful interests to further manipulate and control the citizenry, and for increasingly cynical people to tune out information, becoming Homo non-sapiens.
Truthiness Fever addresses a rampant for-profit and for-power campaign to scare people, to create frenzied responses to fears, and to make them distrust “others.” Where propagandists and demagogues of earlier times may have been primarily focused on political power, political and commercial players both conduct these divisive campaigns today. Moreover, political and financial interests increasingly co-mingle and cooperate. So our society is driven crazy by people who profit by intentionally misleading and misinforming people. If left unchecked, that would cause us to spiral down, faster and faster. This book tries to alert and inform people so they can get started on the important recovery work needed. Specifically, the book identifies 10 steps we can implement now to turn things around.