Chapter 3. The Truth and Civil Debate

“Don't raise your voice; improve your argument.”[1] —Desmond Tutu, Human Rights and Anti-apartheid Activist

“In all debates let truth be thy aim; not victory, or an unjust interest.”[2] —William Penn, Quaker Leader and Political Activist

In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the Word of the Year. They define it as: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”[3] Some people associate post-truth with politics, but it has a much broader application. This word exemplifies a problem that goes way beyond politics and which seeps into our daily interactions with one another. A post-truth era eats away at society’s integrity.

According to Forbes, “the old adage was that we lived in an age of ‘information overload.’ Now we're dealing with ‘misinformation overload,’ says [neuroscientist and author Daniel] Levitin. It's easier, he says, to make a webpage that looks as authentic as a real news site like The New York Times or FORBES. Years before such pursuits were tougher: cranks churned out their missives on basement printing presses, easily identified by the smudged or crooked type . . . Viral untruths get even more credibility now with millions of likes and re-tweets.”[4]

All this misinformation can lead to some heated, yet misinformed debates between people. How can we hear each other and get to the truth in these moments? Levitin thinks it’s important to “get humble. ‘If you have humility, you’re open to learning . . . If you think you know everything, it’s impossible to learn. So approach new claims with some questions. “Who said so?” “What’s the evidence for it?”’”[5]

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