How Do We Know What Is True?
Aristotle was one of our earliest advocates for Virtues in human behavior. He believed that a virtuous person would make good choices in life, and thus have a moral and ethical approach to action. Honesty, courage, generosity, kindness–these are all virtues.
One virtue that most people claim that they hold dear is honesty–telling the truth. We may debate a little about questions like, “Do you like my new haircut?” and how one might answer that when the haircut is….interesting. But all in all, most of us hold fast that honesty is important–we should all tell the truth.
Our American culture is going through a period where it is pretty hard to know when anyone is telling the truth. The concept of Fake News is not as new as one might think, however. We have had bias, fabrication, exaggeration and outright lying in popular culture for a very long time. Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public about the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon proclaimed that he was not a crook, until it became quite clear that he was. Ads in the 1920s promised that smoking cigarettes would benefit breathing, even when it was becoming more and more obvious that smoking might kill a person.
Still, the vast amounts of both advertising and news, of social argument and social division is increasingly accessible and visible today through 24 hour TV, social media, phone notifications, and much more. We are bombarded with detail, data, and stories all day. How do we deal with it all? How do we know what the Truth is?
People who do comedy for a living are becoming prophetic in our world. Comedians have always pointed out the idiosyncrasies in human lives. But our political comedians are being a set of voices that, increasingly, point out ethical and philosophical realities to all of us. They have become the Court Jesters–poking holes in power.
“The Word-Truthiness” Stephen Colbert for The Colbert Report, October 2005