On occasion I have wondered how the knowledge of the Roman Empire was lost and Europe descended into the Dark Ages. Part of it was a rejection of knowledge that conflicted with beliefs, the Roman Catholic Church leading the way in banning inconvenient facts. Another part of it was opportunistic leaders, both religious and secular, who benefited from an ignorant and more easily led populace. Frighteningly, were are seeing a recurrence of these phenomenon in the person of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer, and his ignorance embracing followers who prefer to accept "alternate facts" when the truth and reality undercut their beliefs and prejudices. It's as if they live in an alternate universe that is protected by propaganda outlets like Breitbart and Fox News that maintain a bubble detached from objective reality. A piece in The New Yorker looks at the disturbing trend and the danger it poses. Here are highlights:
[T]this White House, unlike any other, has already crossed the threshold into a space where facts appear to mean nothing.
Eventually, the President’s daily policy outrages, his caustic insults, and his childish Twitter rants will fade into history. But it will take years to gauge the impact of having a habitual liar as President. When words like “science” and “progress” become unmoored from their meaning, the effects are incalculable. And let’s not kid ourselves: those words today are under assault with a ferocity we have not seen for hundreds of years.
The United States is now a country with dozens of unofficial government “resistance” Twitter accounts.
What happens to a society that accepts denialism as a way of life? Nearly a decade ago, I published a book about the growing number of people who, when confronted with an unpleasant reality, chose to embrace a more comfortable lie. Denialism—whether it stems from suspicions about vaccines, dread of G.M.O.s, or even confusion about climate science—is often rooted in fear. . . . . Reason, patience, and education don’t always work. But they go further in confronting those fears than self-satisfied condescension.
But we are now led, in an age of unimaginable scientific achievement, by the most narcissistic and thoughtless denialist ever to have entered public life. His denialism is not based in fear, it’s based in arrogance. And it must not be forgotten that denialism kills. Climate change, which Trump has denied and dismissed, has already had a grave impact on the world’s poorest people. Far from making America safer, Trump’s immigration plan will cause clear harm, not least to American soldiers.
How many of our country’s schoolteachers must consider, every day, whether to explain to their students that the President is a liar? The alternative—simply accepting those lies—would be devastating. It would change our language and change us, if we let it.
On April 22nd, Earth Day, scientists will march on Washington to show their fealty to facts. There are people, in science and out of it, who are opposed to the idea of theoretically detached researchers showing themselves to be political in this way. They might better ask in what world would Americans have to stage a march to honor reality. Unfortunately, that world is now upon us. Facts deserve our support. And lies do not.