An observation: I was startled to notice how often I qualify factual statements with the word “literally” (see my previous post). I don’t use it the mindless way many people do (my recent favorite: a co-worker who arrived at the office complaining about being delayed by a subway slowdown that “literally took forever!” – but . . . you got here . . .?). But I find I keep needing to make it clear that the things I’m saying are actually true.
I finally realized what prompts this: public discourse today is so poisoned with both ignorance and simple deliberate bullshit that merely asserting something as fact is not taken to be an endorsement of its truth. You have to go further to declare which of your statements are to be taken at face value, if you care whether the audience will believe you are not lying when you say them.
In a world of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, where every single major Republican openly touts creationism and dismisses global warming, where endorsing noxious and proven-false religious, patriotic, and cultural nonsense is an actual requirement of office for candidates from both parties, simply saying things is completely outmoded as a means of asserting their truth. Nobody is expected to believe the things they say anymore; nobody does believe that others believe the things they say. And of course it is then impossible to accept the things other say as things that should be believed, even if those others are regarded as generally honest by the standards of the day (which is to say: consistently amoral liars). Public discourse in the United States has become an exercise of witless yammering between people who do not know the difference between truth and falsehood and people who do not care – a moronic flailing in which knowing the truth and holding to standards of honest discussion not only provide no advantage, but may be a weakness.
I am not a creationist, a science-denialist, or a progenitor of idiotic mythologies about magical beings, economics, or race. But I still can’t just say what I know, or even believe I know, in a simple declarative way, because today most conversation about science, health, religion, economics, race, culture, or politics consists largely of patently false posturing from lying ideologues; it’s assumed that anyone saying anything about any topic of contention is doing so ideologically, and without regard to truth. And in fact, truth is considered irrelevant to promoting one’s position on factual issues: the range of repeatedly-disproven falsehoods that constitute the entire substance of the right-wing position on almost any issue – abortion, climate, gay marriage, evolution, education, immigration, penology, economics . . . – is too vast to overcome, and is well-documented in every case, and that documentation has absolutely no impact on their willingness to keep saying false things, or their followers’ willingness to accept them. Even those who know better, and care about the truth, are forced into conducting the debate on that ground, because so many people have been led to believe that that is the ground of conversation.
It is to the point now that you have to declare when you are saying something you really believe before you can ask that it be taken as a factual assertion. Literally. And that sucks. Figuratively.
* Go ahead; look it up.