What happened to the truth?

Maybe I’m wrong but it sure seems like times have changed. At the risk of sounding like one of those old-timers in the movie Barbershop, it seems that words like integrity, honesty and truth have lost their meaning. As the two major parties clash over everything from healthcare to Afghanistan to global warming, it seems that they can’t even agree on the basic facts. We see this not just our leaders but everywhere around us. The other day when I was in my own barbershop, there was this older gentleman who had conspiracy theories involving the government, our preachers and, well, everybody. He had a lot to say. Unfortunately, a lot of what he had to say was devoid of facts. I don’t blame him. This is the way our society has been going for the last 30 years. Although “truthiness” (a term coined by Stephen Colbert which he defined as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” In other words, stuff that we wish were true.) did not start with President Ronald Reagan, he brought it to the forefront. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative columnist Ann Coulter and others have perfected this means of communication in which you start with something that is the truth and then segue into something that is almost true and end up with something that is completely false. To the unsuspecting observer, you made sense.

To say that the problems in the black community have been caused by the US government is laughable. Sure, maybe government programs like welfare did not help the black community, but it sure did not cause the problems with joblessness and lack of education and our youth growing up without fathers. It did not start with welfare or the Great Society. In The Philadelphia Negro, written back in 1897, W.E.B DuBois describes joblessness, black men fathering multiple kids and a lack of education in the black community. What we see now has been going on for over 100 years!

Do you remember August? The right wing was pushing several items that simply weren’t true. They told us that health-care legislation included death panels. There was no such thing in the legislation. They also told the elderly that, in order to save money, Democrats were trying to kill them off. This is simply a lie. I’m not saying that either the right or the left has a monopoly on truth. Neither side does but give me a break.

One of the common themes that heard over the last several years is that gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage. I simply don’t understand this logic. I don’t know how somebody else who gets married – a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man – I don’t know how they’re going to affect my marriage. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that my marriage is mostly affected by me and my wife. I have a high likelihood of divorce if I forget my wife’s birthday or I buy her something ill-advised like a vacuum cleaner for our anniversary. I simply don’t see how gay marriage is going to affect it.

Finally, the new economic numbers came out for October. The economy still is not making jobs. Republicans have stood up and asked where are the jobs? This is a little gamesmanship being played by the Republicans. 190,000 jobs were lost last month, which is the lowest figure since the recession started. Any economist will tell you that business will need to start making money and feel good about their economic prospects before they begin hiring workers again. If people would like to criticize Obama’s economic plan, they should ask where are the jobs are going to come from? The lackluster Bush recovery was driven by the housing market. The housing market is currently problematic. New jobs are going to have to come from Obama’s green energy initiative.

I guess my point is that many people think that they know the answers to the ills of America. Most of our problems are complex and require a thoughtful solution. Anyone who gives you a knee-jerk answer to a complex question is probably leading you astray. There are definitive truths in our society. We just have to be willing to find them.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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